By: Carolyn Yi and Danielle Ward
This year is pushing water utilities to address many pressing issues at the same time, including equity, affordability, and health and safety. We hosted Cathy Bailey, Executive Director of Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW), for office hours on The Atlas to bring these layered challenges into focus.
Cathy’s communicative and team-oriented leadership style came through in the lessons she shared.
1. Talk to your community.
"I like to talk, so I'm happy to go into the fire and try to get a neighborhood to change their opinion of us."
- Direct feedback can set you up to succeed. GCWW’s customer assistance program for lead service line replacement, HELP, came about this way.
- Engagement strategy can and should evolve organically to stay relevant.
2. Build equity into your work deliberately. Know it will be a process.
"Our working definition of equity is to provide impartial and fair inclusion. This involves making changes, managing by data, and improving business practices to provide solutions that do not bring harm or limit opportunities for specific groups. We will continue to adapt what this means for us."
- Be intentional in selecting capital projects so that they cross different neighborhoods. Show every effort to do work in all types of areas.
- It takes a village to bring projects to neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by economic and social challenges. Lean on partners, go to their meetings if they aren’t coming to yours, keep going back with the same people, and keep sharing status updates. Provide information on paper (not just online) to ensure accessibility.
3. Data can lead to wins on both sides.
"Use of data to provide equitable service is fascinating to me! I'm a data geek, so this just sends me over the moon!"
- Customer surveys informed GCWW’s decision to start billing monthly.
- Noticing some shutoffs were costing more than the fees they collected, they changed call center practices to work with customers to pay what they can.
4. Trust and empower your team.
"Moments of crisis are when some of the brightest solutions come from employees."
- GCWW employees are more collaborative now, quickly volunteering to put together and explain new plans.
- Ask employees to share information about their neighborhoods. They likely have insight into what approach will work best.
For more advice and examples, read the full archived discussion thread on The Atlas. WaterNow members who have already activated their accounts on The Atlas can read the discussion thread here. If you have not yet activated your account, reset your password here, then click the link to the discussion thread here.