By: Zach Green, Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP)
As we all
know, COVID-19 has put us in some tough spots throughout the course of
2020. However, it is during these trying
times that some outside of the box thinking can lead to some real, tangible
gains. Prior to COVID-19, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and CADMUS Group had been hard at work
developing a new set of training materials to help educate water stakeholders
on the value of partnerships. RCAP
joined the mix shortly after the draft materials were finished and was able to
leverage its national training network and philanthropic support to pilot the
RCAP Solutions (RSOL), Southeastern Rural Community Assistance Project
(SERCAP), and the Great Lake Community Action Partnership (GLCAP) all agreed to
play a role in delivering this new training.
The first pivot in delivery came just months before several of the
regions were set to facilitate the in-person trainings—COVID-19 had brought a
halt to all in-person gatherings. This
meant that the group had to either cancel the trainings or come up with a
viable alternative to in-person delivery.
Virtualization of the training was the clear and obvious choice. Taking the materials online was not the only
unique change. All the regional partners
agreed to partake in the delivery of each other’s virtual trainings, to assist
with widespread facilitation.
However, the materials were not necessarily designed for an online format—a huge part of the training toolkit was dependent on open discussion and activities revolving around several worksheets. These training modules were also designed specifically for water systems so in order to be inclusive of both water and wastewater, the RCAP team modified the materials to include both topics since collaboration and partnerships can be a huge benefit to either system type. There was also a full day’s worth of material that needed to be covered without overwhelming the audience. The training was converted to an online format and the materials were broken into two 2-hour sessions, spread out across two days.
Module 1: Capacity Development
Provides foundational knowledge to help systems understand the benefits of forming partnerships to increase technical, managerial, and financial capacity (TMF). TMF capacity allows systems to have the capability to consistently provide safe drinking water to the public while meeting regulatory compliance. It is important to always remember that TMF capacity is like a three-legged stool. The stool cannot support any weight without all three legs.
Module 2: Partnerships Overview
Defines the four types of partnerships that are
consistently referenced throughout all of the modules (Figure 1).
Cooperation: Systems collaborating
without a contract in place.
Assistance: Systems contracting with one
another or outside service providers.
Governance: Systems create a new
management entity designed to serve the independent systems that formed it.
Transfer: Systems engage in mergers,
mutual transfers of existing entities, or the creation of new entities.
Module 3: Current Partnerships Activity Exercise
Helps systems identify partnership
activities that they are already engaging in.
Self-reflection followed by a discussion session that gives the systems
an opportunity to hear what other systems are already doing.
Facilitated via breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are the online version of
small group discussions. This setting gave
communities ample time to discuss their partnership activities with others in
their small group. The activity was
closed out by bringing all the groups back together and sharing key findings with the entire audience.
Module 4: Identifying Challenges
Allows systems an opportunity to identify their
challenges and strengths. Systems were
encouraged to self-reflect and identify areas of capacity they were struggling
to meet. Then, the group was able to
discuss how partnerships might be used to help overcome those challenges or
improve upon any pre-existing strengths.
Facilitated through both breakout
rooms and an entire group discussion setting.
Module 5: Identifying and Assessing Partnership Opportunities
Discusses how systems can identify
and engage in potential partnerships. It
also covers the basics of how to assess whether a potential partnership is a
practical tool to overcome any identified challenges. The module also goes into greater detail
about the positives and the negatives of the four partnership types that were
An exercise where systems identified ways to expand
upon their partnership activities.
an existing partnership with a new partner.
an existing partnership with a new activity.
Facilitated via breakout rooms and in
an entire group discussion setting.
Module 7: Implementing Possible Partnership Solutions
Explains the implementation process of previously
identified partnership solutions.
strategies with stakeholders
of community champions
Module 8: Action Plan Exercise
An exercise that helps attendees put together an
action plan to implement possible partnership solutions.
Can be delivered in a one-on-one
setting outside of the training, upon request by the community.
Informal Cooperation –Birmingham
Water Works offered their internal training program to other public water
systems in the area (Birmingham, Alabama)
Contractual Assistance – Beckham
County Rural Water contracted with a for-profit company to manage and operate
aspects of their system (Beckham County, Oklahoma)
Shared Governance/Joint Powers Agency
– Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority pushed for the passage of
legislation that allowed them to create a new joint water association (Lower
Rio, New Mexico)
Ownership Transfer – Vinton County
sold its water system to Jackson County
Over a 3-month period, the training was delivered to attendees in the following states:
Attendees included public water/wastewater system staff, elected officials, contractors, consultants, local development districts, federal and state agency staff, and technical assistance providers. Overall, the training was well-received, as 94% of the survey respondents indicated that they would recommend this workshop to their peers. A common theme among the survey respondents was that they all found the mix of activity-based discussion modules with informational PowerPoint-driven modules to be the most impactful part of the workshop. Further, the approach of having three different technical assistance providers from three different regions of the country presenting the material added value for the participants. As the training’s success is evidenced by this respondent’s feedback, “one of the most valuable assets during the training was having folks available that were knowledgeable of the different topics discussed.”
RCAP Inc., RSOL, SERCAP, and GLCAP were able to all come together to partner on
the delivery of this training, leading communities on the topic of partnerships
by way of example. Undoubtedly, some of
the best elements of this entire process happened as a direct result of the
impact of COVID-19. The feedback gathered during this entire
process will be used by all the partners to continue to allow us to better
support our rural communities all across the nation. This Partnerships Training Toolkit will be
released nationally to the public in 2021.