NRCS works to streamline conservation delivery to improve service, interaction
Casper – On Oct. 16, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Conservation Planning Partnership (NCPP) held a listening session to bring producers and stakeholders together and understand how conservation planning works today, as well as how it can improve for the future.
During the session, Travis Rome of NRCS Enterprise Business Initiatives updated partners and stakeholders on the agency’s Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI).
“The vision of CDSI was really to streamline our tools and technology, with one major goal,” Rome explains. “The goal was – and still is – to give planners more time to be in the field and work with producers.”
CDSI emerged in 2007 when a group of NRCS employees gathered to look at planning in the states.
“It came back that basically our field planners are spending so much time in software and at their computers and very little time working with the producer,” Rome explains. “Nobody was happy about that, and it’s still an issue today.”
He continues, “We’re trying to get a handle on developing software to get us back into a better streamlined workflow so planners have more time to work in the field.”
Among the big issues in planning is “stovepipe application development.”
“Over time, as an agency, as we needed a new functionality, instead of taking time to integrate that into current applications, it has been easier to build a new application that meets our needs,” Rome says. “That’s how, over time, we get bigger and bigger.”
With new software programs for every aspect of the planning process, Rome says field producers are faced with a series of loosely integrated programs.
With only loose integration, field planners are forced to juggle different programs and download and upload pieces from each to put conservation out on the land.
“The point of CDSI is really to take a hard look at the applications and figure out where we’re going to go into the future to more closely integrate those functionalities into one application,” Rome says. “Conservation Desktop is the starting point of some of the streamlining efforts that we’re doing.”
The Conservation Desktop program allows NRCS planners to centrally locate and manage conservation plans, land units and practices.
“In the future, we want to add in resource inventory and resource assessment functionality and also create conservation plans and maps,” Rome says.
He also notes they will also be able to develop financial documents and contract management integration into Conservation Desktop. While currently multiple programs are used, they are more closely linked and easily assessible through the single platform.
“Additionally, we want to be able to associate documents,” he explains. “Today, we can work with associating documents to plans and financial assistance.”
Functionality will also be added to easily find electronic signatures, and processes have been enhanced to assign and manage the workload with individual projects are also available.
“These are all pieces that are all in development or will be in development in the next year,” Rome says.
To date, two releases of Conservation Desktop have focused on gathering data from multiple databases into one application and integrating the data.
“That was released a little over a year ago, and training was provided,” Rome says. “The first version was not as much about functionality but rather about getting all the data in one place.”
In June, version 2.1 was released, and the ability to manage and edit land units, practice information on existing plans, assign tasks and create and manage the system was added.
“We added functionality in version 2.1 to create and store information that is developed,” he explains. “The nice thing about that version, as far as the training and responses, was 82 percent of survey respondents said they thought the software was good enough to start voluntarily using it. That’s a good start, and it shows that because of our streamlined efforts, there is value to field offices.”
Version 2.2 of Conservation Desktop is slated for release in 2019 and will enable NRCS office staff to create plans, create and edit practices and create conservation products, including plan documents, plan maps and financial documents that are produced today.
“This version will still not include all of our Customer Service Toolkit, but a version 2.3 release will include the rest of those products, including the contracting, soil inventory reports and other functions,” Rome says. “That release is slated for later this fiscal year.”
Today, the program is available to NRCS partners. In the future, they will be able to access it from their own computers, with required permissions.
“When we have partners, we want them to be able to access our software,” Rome says. “In the future, since this is a web application, we should not be limited by the computer our partners are using.”
Rome adds, “Our job is to make the planning process the best and most efficient possible so we can spend time with clients and get conservation on the land.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.