Engaging Stakeholders to Improve the Weatherization Assistance Program
March 6, 2020 by Laura Beshilas
NREL researcher Juliana Williams recently published a report about stakeholder ideas for improving the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). These ideas were gathered at a series of Continuous Improvement Workshops.
Continuous Improvement Workshops
In 2019, DOE sought to engage with WAP stakeholders to better understand WAP’s on-the-ground challenges and receive feedback through Continuous Improvement Workshops. Three workshops were held with 52 participant stakeholders across the United States.
NREL’s report, Continuous Improvement Workshops: Stakeholder Ideas for Improving the Weatherization Assistance Program, details the results from the workshops.
The workshops were structured around three objectives:
- Define elements of baseline performance and high performance of the various levels of WAP (subgrantee, grantee, DOE)
- Baseline performance: Stakeholders perform at a level that complies with statutes and regulations and supports the provision of appropriate services to eligible households.
- High performance: WAP stakeholders perform at level that complies with statutes and regulations, maximizes provision of appropriate services to eligible households, and adeptly responds to internal and external challenges.
- Identify root cause barriers to achieving baseline performance
- Brainstorm actions at all levels of the WAP that address the root cause barriers.
Root Cause Barriers
The report summarizes the barriers to performance identified during the Continuous Improvement Workshops. Four overarching barriers emerged from the conversations.
Workforce Development and Retention
Although these challenges were beyond what the workshops could address, participants encouraged DOE to explore long-term efforts to expand and retain the weatherization and building science workforce.
Guidance from U.S. Department of Energy Project Officers
Grantees were interested in more access to DOE, better understanding of program flexibilities, and consistent interpretation of WAP requirements.
Sharing of Best or Good Practices
Workshop participants expressed a desire for better sharing of “good”/”best” practices between peers.
Communication between and within Weatherization Assistance Program Levels
Better use of existing communications structures and development of new communication channels would help ensure appropriate flow of feedback and resources between levels of WAP.
“A lot of what we are experiencing is a culture that was developed over a long period of time. Culture change takes time… I think DOE is definitely on a good track for change.”
The report also outlines the potential actions that DOE, grantees, subgrantees, and WAP stakeholders could take to overcome the barriers to performance identified by workshop participants.
Time and resource constraints may make it difficult for DOE to implement all the brainstormed potential actions. Figure 1 shows how DOE can prioritize actions for implementation. Actions with a high degree of impact may significantly address a barrier to performance or have wide applicability across the WAP network. Meanwhile, lower impact actions may only partially address a barrier to performance and have limited applicability across WAP. The complexity scale can be used as a proxy for implementation time requirements.
Greater Impact/Less Complexity
- Distinguish between "effective date" and "published date" in WPNs
- Provide recommendations to Grantee on Operations Manual improvements
- Engage with grantees on balance between staffing and production
Greater Impact/More Complexity
- Provide platform for sharing common elements for grantee documents, similar to SWS
- Providing funding for "big tent" online peer-to-peer exchange
- Build out PAGE. database to include grantee documents and status
Less Impact/Less Complexity
- Identify common elements in a comprehensive Operations Manual
- Consider grantee implementation timeline in policy change rollout
Less Impact/More Complexity
- Consider approval of grantee plan components on different cycles
- Support other regions to organize similar to EnergyOutWest
Beyond the potential actions that could be implemented by DOE, the workshops identified actions to be taken at all levels of the WAP to improve implementation.
Following a workshop, one grantee participant said, “We are thinking about using some of the engagement approaches used in the workshop for some of our regional workshops…it gave us some things to think about in terms of how we communicate with the local agencies.”
Based on the breadth of stakeholder ideas to improve the WAP at all levels, DOE will again host Contininuous Improvement Workshops in 2020.