Sustainable Utility Management

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This Workshop in a Box was developed as a collaborative effort between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It supports rural and small water and wastewater systems in addressing their unique challenges, and in more effectively providing sustainable services to their communities.

Why Focus on Sustainable Utility Management?

Rural and small systems face significant management and operational challenges. There is no “one size fits all” solution to help rural and small systems effectively provide sustainable services to the communities they serve. Instead, our focus on sustainable utility management gives a rural water specialist a simple and objective way to evaluate their system’s strength and areas for improvement. The center leverages the Rural and Small Systems Guidebook to Sustainable Utility Management (Guidebook) produced as a result of an agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture.  The Guidebook introduces ten key management areas and it provides activities and tools for the rural and small systems to better communication and build support for improving the systems over time.

The Workshop in a Box is a packet that contains a series of materials and instructions for utilities, technical assistance (TA) providers, water sector associations, and trainers. The packet supports conducting workshops based on the ten key management areas of sustainably managed systems (management areas), as described in the Rural and Small Systems Guidebook to Sustainable Utility Management (Guidebook).  The Guidebook is included as a resource in this Workshop in a Box packet. The Workshop in a Box provides guidance for workshop preparations, execution, and copies of all materials to run a successful workshop on sustainable utility management improvement.

The information presented in Workshop in a Box and Guidebook draws on the results of four pilot workshops conducted by EPA and USDA, and 140+ workshops conducted by USDA, EPA, trainers and TA providers from 2013–2016 across all 50 states. The content also draws on feedback from managers of rural and small systems who attended those workshops, and feedback from the trainers and TA providers who have conducted the workshops. Additionally, several small systems and water systems operations specialists provided input as the packet and guide were developed

At each workshop, participants are introduced to the ten key management areas, and then asked to conduct a short self-assessment of their operations in relation to the management areas. Participants also identify management improvement opportunities at their systems based on the assessment. The workshop further provides an opportunity for participants to share experiences from their systems to better understand how to implement improvements and have a basis for working with staff and community members to operate more effectively. Participants are also introduced to a compendium of resources that could help them implement the improvements identified during the assessment.

Based on the approaches used and the lessons learned at these workshops, this Workshop in a Box is designed to help organizations host their own workshops. The intended audience for this resource includes rural and small systems managers. By making improvements in any of the ten key management areas through methods outlined in the Workshop in a Box and the Guidebook, at a pace consistent with their most pressing challenges, systems will be able to deliver increasingly efficient, higher-quality services.

Document Organization and Supplementary Materials

The information in the Workshop in a Box is organized in the order in which a workshop would be executed. It begins in the planning stages, moves through the steps of preparation, and concludes with the workshop itself. Supplemental materials are also included as attachments to the main document. These materials are everything needed to conduct the workshop, from promotional brochures and informational emails to presentation slides and worksheets. Many of the materials are presented as templates that the user can customize with specific event dates and other information.