Advanced Energy Works with DOE and NREL to Improve Weatherization Assistance Program

Throughout 2017, Advanced Energy worked with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to enhance the DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

WAP is a program that seeks to increase the energy efficiency and improve the health and safety of low-income homes across the U.S. Since 1976, it has worked with more than 7 million families. WAP also supports 8,500 jobs each year and relies heavily on a highly skilled and trained network of weatherization service providers that includes nearly 60 grantees (e.g., states, tribes and territories) and 700 subgrantees (e.g., counties, cities and community action agencies).

Last year, WAP and NREL hosted four collaborative meetings throughout the U.S. to document ideas to help stakeholders more effectively and efficiently manage weatherization programs. In other words, they want to be able to do more with less. The meetings brought together professionals involved in the delivery of WAP to discuss the challenges they face and ways to overcome them. Working with the DOE and NREL, our team designed and facilitated the events, which are known as Solution Summits.

The Solution Summits were held in four cities – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Atlanta, Georgia; Biloxi, Mississippi; and Phoenix, Arizona. Each had a similar structure, with Advanced Energy leading discussion and coordinating activities among individuals who typically do not have an opportunity to work together in such an environment. Therefore, a key focus of the Solution Summits was to facilitate networking and collaboration and create a space where everyone would feel open to share opinions.

The primary activities of each summit were a ranking exercise followed by group problem-solving and brainstorming. Advanced Energy first presented 12 barriers commonly faced by WAP stakeholders, organized into four categories: training, policies, processes and culture. Attendees then voted on the barriers they felt could have the biggest impact if overcome. Examples of barriers included there being insufficient funding to hire and pay staff, a lack of emphasis at all levels on training opportunities for non-technical staff, and technical requirements that can be seen as complex and lengthy. With a shortlist of barriers identified, participants formed small groups and utilized a problem-solving template to identify strategies for overcoming each one. The ideas were then shared with the larger group, gathered and organized.

Compiling feedback from all four Solution Summits, Advanced Energy categorized the information into five key themes: simplifying program rules and requirements, improving communication channels, streamlining program functions, increasing financial flexibility and addressing accountability.Across the five themes, approximately 20 potential next steps were then developed, broken down by the time it would take to complete them (short term = less than 1 year, medium term = 1-2 years, and long term = 2+ years). To make the ideas more concrete and achievable, each was presented with specific action items, benefits and evaluation metrics. For example, WAP has already put many of the suggested ideas in place, but stakeholders may not be aware of available resources. WAP recognizes that a comprehensive communication strategy is an important first step to addressing this gap. Parts of this strategy might include utilizing new communication techniques in addition to emails and webinars, such as online training platforms, local peer-to-peer networking opportunities or a database of frequently asked questions.

Solution Summits offer a number of benefits. They create buy-in, strengthen relationships, generate ideas that can be put into action, and enhance communication among stakeholders. They also allow facilitators and organizers to test their assumptions. Hearing from the people working on the ground provides a perspective that may not have otherwise been considered. Regarding WAP specifically, the summits helped identify areas that can be explored to improve the program by increasing quality, efficiency, job satisfaction and more.

Solution Summits provide a great way for an organization or team to start developing an improvement plan. Advanced Energy is looking to apply the Solution Summit framework to more of its markets. Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our Solution Summit process.