By Rosalena Morrell, RCAP Public Affairs Fellow
From August 17-19, 2021, The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) will be hosting our annual National Conference. The National Conference is an opportunity for the regional affiliates that make up RCAP’s network, made up of more than 300 Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs) to come together and share their knowledge and experiences to better serve rural communities across the country. The Conference also coincides with the celebration of National Water Quality Month to emphasize the importance of clean, safe water in our communities, homes, and environment. The various learning tracks of the conference cover topics such as operations, regulations, management and finance for water, wastewater, and solid waste as well as sessions on some of RCAP’s newer rural endeavors including economic development and community facilities that all tie back to the larger issue of water quality and the quality of life in rural America.
To better understand what to expect at the National Conference, we sat down with Lisa Fought, Training and Technical Services Specialist, one of the main planners of the event. As a former TAP with the Great Lakes RCAP, the Great Lakes Community Assistance Partnership, Lisa has experience as both a participant and planner of the National Conference.
For those unfamiliar, what is the RCAP National Conference?
The National Conference aims to provide best practices and training to the people who are on the ground, in communities, doing the work. We have so few opportunities to come together across the regions and this is a chance to connect with people doing similar work all across the country. The National Conference is also a showcase of the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge we have across the network. We have over 3000 TAPs on the ground doing this work in all 50 states and U.S. territories. It is a reminder, on a national scale, of just how amazing the people who work for the network are.
When you were a TAP, what was the National Conference like for you?
When I was a TAP, the biggest benefit of the conference for me was the networking. It is an opportunity to connect with the other TAPs as well as staff from the National Office. TAPs can feel isolated because a lot of us work remotely. I worked remotely for twenty years. The face to face (and virtual) connection with people is really important.
What is your experience like now as a member of the National team?
I now have an appreciation for the amount of effort and work that goes into planning the conference. I see that the National Office is really trying to address the needs and wants of the people in the field. That’s not an easy task because you have 300 different needs and wants. We really try to be conscious of what everyone wants to get out of the conference.
What is it like having to plan a Virtual Conference?
A virtual conference allows for potentially all TAPs to participate whereas, in person, regions may have a limited amount of travel funds to send participants. The networking and intra-personal elements can be harder remotely, though we are doing our best to set up virtual networking opportunities. Some people are also fatigued from having to connect in this way for over a year, but we’ll see what happens as the COVID-19 pandemic clears and play it one day at a time.
Are there any sessions or elements of the Conference you are particularly excited about this year?
All of them! Every session we have this year has relevance to someone. We try to provide a menu of choices for people to participate in a variety of sessions. Coming in as a new TAP years ago, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so it can be hard to choose with so many great options. We have some really amazing staff across the country who were willing to take the time to design and deliver a session (or more), and it just demonstrates again the depth and breadth of knowledge we have in this network.
This year I’m really looking forward to interacting with everyone in the field. I’m interested in hearing the different experiences, reconnecting, and creating a space to tap into each other’s knowledge. Everyone has their own specialties and sharing this allows us to best serve the communities we’re working with.
Do you have any guidance for first-time attendees to help them maximize their conference experience?
We hope everyone will have patience. Since the conference is virtual, it’s possible (probable) we may have some technological glitches. Attendees should also be willing to listen and learn from presenters and one another. It’s important to highlight that, even though someone may be new to RCAP, that doesn’t mean they are new to this arena. Everyone comes to this network with their own set of skills and knowledge to share that the rest of us can learn from. I’m really hoping to have active and engaged participants this year because that makes the conference so much more meaningful for everyone.