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Facing the New Normal: The Role of Regional Collaboration

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For several years now, utility managers have faced the challenge of managing the conflicting demands of providing increasing service levels and meeting regulatory requirements while keeping costs down. However, the current economic realities of the “new normal” business environment with declining federal and state funding, stagnant economic growth, increasing rate resistance and political pressures, and increasing unfunded regulatory mandates coupled with an ever aging infrastructure is further exacerbating the challenges and is driving the need for innovative approaches and accelerated change.

One such innovative approach that is rapidly emerging in the industry is the formation of regional collaboration efforts or “collaboratives” to address a diverse range of issues. In the current new normal environment, collaboration is becoming a strategic necessity to effectively address the common challenges, leverage economic efficiencies, build capacity and capabilities, and accelerate implementation.

This paper will discuss the emerging forms of regional collaboration identified through the ongoing two-phased nationwide survey being conducted by AWWA's Strategic Management Practices Committee (SMPC). The first phase, which was completed in 2010, involved a survey of 32 collaborative efforts. The ongoing second phase of the project (funded by a grant from the AWWA Technical and Education Council) involves a survey of an additional 10 to 12 collaborative efforts and a detailed literature search on regional collaboration, followed by a detailed analysis of the survey findings.

The paper will present in depth findings on the following: (a) general overview of the size and types of collaborative; (b) the key drivers and goals of the collaborative; (c) the services addressed by the collaborative; (d) the governance model; (e) financing approach; and (f) both the benefits and the challenges overcome.

The project's goal is that this detailed inventory of regional collaboration models will provide valuable insights for utilities nationwide to address the challenges of the new normal environment through unique and innovative sharing of resources, pooling of knowledge base and technology, and leveraging the power of advocacy. Moreover, the presentation will support the EUM Attribute of Stakeholder Understanding and Support, as well as Financial Viability, Customer Satisfaction, Operational Optimization.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2012

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