ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR) recently released a report titled The State of Collaboration in USACE: A Field Perspective in 2019-2020 Part 1: Survey Responses. The ability of the agency to effectively collaborate with stakeholders is critical for achieving the USACE mission. To assess the capacity of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to collaborate with stakeholders and inform strategic planning, the USACE Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise (CPCX) has administered the Collaborative Capacity Assessment Initiative every five years since 2009. Highlights of the 2019 survey results are captured herein: outlining the major themes in the responses, as well as comparing the responses to those of previous years.
The 133 respondents from across USACE answered questions regarding agency culture, leadership support, personal confidence in collaborative skills, how they use and view collaboration, perceived collaborative strengths and challenges. A new section was included this year on the use of collaborative technologies. The report analysis observed themes and compared responses to those of previous years. Responses have generally remained consistent when it comes to how respondents view and use collaboration within USACE. Overall, responses were positive on how effective collaboration can benefit USACE missions, can achieve positive results, and is an overall effective practice to maintain. In addition, many respondents felt USACE currently collaborates well, but that there is still room for improvement.
Like the past two surveys, the 2019 responses regarding collaborative strengths show that the vast majority of respondents are open to shared decision-making processes, and that employees and planners do a good job of proactively addressing stakeholders’ needs. In addition, respondents remained confident over the past decade in their abilities to work with local government agencies and with business industry partners. However, there was a significant decrease from 2014 to 2019 in confidence in collaborating with Native American Tribes and with disadvantaged communities. Some comments in this section point out increased training on engaging and collaborating, specifically with various cultures and communities, may be beneficial.
Following the perceived strengths, the perceived challenges and areas for improvement for USACE collaborative capacity are covered. One of the major themes from this section was difficulty securing funding for effective collaboration, as less than half of respondents had confidence in figuring out how to launch and fund collaborative initiatives. Further, managing deadlines, working with varying staff skills and abilities, and leadership priorities can all limit comprehensive stakeholder outreach and hinder effective collaboration.
Another identified challenge was a lack of leadership and support. Only about half of respondents felt that the support and guidance from MSC leadership was sufficient. Additionally, far fewer respondents felt HQ provided the right balance of guidance and flexibility to support stakeholder collaboration. Finally, providing USACE employees the skills and knowledge on different collaboration approaches remain an area for improvement, similar to observations from 2014.
Another aspect of the survey focused on collaborative technologies. Respondents were asked what technologies they are currently using and how those technologies were used to collaborate with stakeholders. The most widely used technologies were SharePoint, WebEx Webinar, USACE Intranet, Army Knowledge Online, and Skype. However, when asked to state their project and District needs for collaborative technologies, many stated that training for the available tools and technology was needed, as well as increased resources for many of these technologies.
Throughout the report, comments and responses from the survey touch on the importance of internal collaboration and the overall culture of collaboration within USACE. Furthermore, the report noted significantly fewer responses to the survey were received than in previous years. As a result, the survey results may be less representative of USACE as a whole than in previous years.
The entire Collaborative Capacity Assessment Initiative uses survey results to inform District, Division (MSC), and HQ dialogues by identifying ways to reduce obstacles and/or enhance the contributing factors of collaborative capacity. In 2020, these dialogues were greatly impacted by event cancellations due to COVID-19. More information and recommendations for USACE to continue improving collaborative capabilities will be included in Part 2 of this report (forthcoming).
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