At the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI), we engage with and support many different kinds of people, groups and enterprises working in water and food security and in natural resource conservation. One of the policy team’s core activities is strategy consulting — we’re fortunate to work with public and private sector partners globally and to be able to synthesize and transfer what we learn across many geographies and contexts. Throughout our engagements, helping others grow while growing ourselves is a core value. So, when the North Platte Natural Resources District (NPNRD) reached out to us in early 2021 for a conversation about water quality management strategies, we were happy to help. This was a great opportunity for our team to apply our facilitation and strategic thinking skills to support the important work being done by NPNRD in our home state of Nebraska. It was also a chance for us to refine our use of multiple online collaboration tools in a series of fully-virtual sessions.
In Nebraska, the 23 natural resources districts are a type of local government, funded largely by property taxes, governed by locally elected boards and tasked with conserving natural resources. The NPNRD covers an area of more than three million acres in the panhandle of western Nebraska. At a time of multiple challenges to rural livelihoods that depend on water stewardship, NPNRD staff have been working to envision new partnerships and strategies to meet their conservation mandate through innovative and cost-effective approaches.
Over three 90-minute sessions and several weeks, NPNRD General Manager John Berge, Assistant Manager Barb Hoehn , and Water Department Manager Scott Schaneman worked with us to map and clarify their understanding of key stakeholders for water quality and nutrient management in western Nebraska. They developed a roadmap of desired outcomes over the next few years, as well as thinking through impact pathways, important milestones and key partners. Together, we developed and iterated on a visualization of the key stakeholders that grouped people and organizations by their functional relationships to nutrient management and to the NPNRD.
“The sessions that we held with DWFI were excellent. Kate and Nick did an excellent job of keeping us on task and helping us to develop outcomes-based management and outreach to our growers. Each session was thought provoking and allowed for maximum creativity while we hone in on our implementation strategy for our new nitrogen regulation.”
- John Berge, General Manager at NPNRD
Each staff member came with their own perspective and vision for the future, which made for excellent dialogue and several “aha” moments. Throughout the process, there was a great deal of discussion between the team about how the district currently engages with each stakeholder and how they’d like to see these relationships grow or evolve.
Our first two sessions were conducted virtually over Zoom with DWFI’s Kate Gibson and Nick Brozović facilitating and managing the technology. We used online Etherpads to capture simultaneous brainstorming from each session; Miro boards to allow for real-time visualization and ordering of the categories and insights captured; and broadcasting software (OBS Studio) to allow us to present multiple content streams in a single Zoom window and to streamline the viewing experience. Outputs from these first two sessions included: desired outcomes and mileposts in the form of a two-year roadmap; a categorization of key stakeholders by primary function related to water quality and nutrient management; and several hours of video.
Following these two sessions, we synthesized and wrote up key points of the discussion. DWFI’s Ankit Chandra developed a visual representation of NPNRD’s stakeholder map. After another session and further iteration based on feedback, outputs were ready for the NPNRD team for their internal strategic discussions, as well as for future outreach and education efforts.
Our DWFI team thoroughly enjoyed working with John, Barb and Scott on this engagement. We were inspired by the trio’s shared passion and enthusiasm for their work and their dedication to the people that they serve. At the same time as supporting the NPNRD’s mission in Nebraska, we improved our own understanding of how local government works with a variety of partners around a complex problem like water quality management. We also gained valuable experience in combining technologies to facilitate an engaging virtual meeting. We look forward to applying what we’ve learned to our other work!
“The Daugherty Water for Food [Global] Institute provided us the opportunity to examine what we thought we knew about creating and implementing a strategy for nutrient management and allowed us to restack the blocks in a way that provides us, our partners and producers a helpful road map to success”.
-Scott Schaneman, Assistant Manager at NPNRD