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The NRM Gateway Story - Past, Present, Future

    In 2019, the NRM Gateway website turned 18, now “old enough to vote” as some tease. This milestone marks a good time for a look at the multifaceted one-stop shop of official NRM policy/procedure and visitor information.

    Before the Gateway
    Can you remember, or even imagine, an era when many NRM team members did not have individual Corps email accounts? Field personnel had complained for years about poor internal communications. Circulation of paper memos was the way corporate information flowed. If a new policy or procedure document missed your desk, you were in the dark. The lucky few who had email access still only saw what their supervisor chose to forward to them.

    By the late 1990s, websites were becoming popular for both internal and external communication and a “Wild West” of websites flourished for a time, each with a different look and feel. Corps field offices were just getting internet connectivity, with slow download speeds at almost every location. Websites with lots of graphics took an excruciatingly long time to load. Around 1999, various NRM Product Delivery Teams were preparing to launch individual websites that would have provided expensive and inconsistent delivery of information to the field.

    Demographically, a surge of retirements by key NRM team members was clearly on the horizon. Corporately, the concepts of Knowledge Management (KM) and Communities of Practice (CoPs) were emerging. The time was right for a Knowledge Management Based website to capture and disseminate the NRM CoP’s institutional knowledge.

     

    Building the Gateway
    In 1999, the Recreation Leadership Advisory Team (RLAT) became the proponent for an NRM website. In August 2000, HQ gave the approval to proceed after reviewing justifications and viewing the straw-man website that had been developed at ERDC.

    Initial content came from chairs of existing NRM task forces and committees, men and women who were legends/pioneers of these key NRM components. More subject matter experts (SMEs) were identified and appointed by HQ to provide content for additional NRM programs/partnerships.

    This SME team of experts shaped content from the national perspective, and followed protocols for HQ approval of controversial or new policy content prior to posting. This group also developed and reached consensus on the original Gateway page layouts. A formally appointed Field Review Group (77 volunteer members across the country) reviewed content as it was developed and posted.

    When I am in need of information I can usually always find the most up-to-date information on the NRM Gateway. It is a very handy tool!
    ~ Lindsey Cooper, Park Ranger, Keystone Lake

     

    The Gateway Launch
    Launched in April 2001, the NRM Gateway web site became the official single point of access to Corps of Engineers NRM program information on the World Wide Web, restructuring and reorganizing the existing recreation and natural resources web sites. The Gateway made general policy and program information accessible by both the internal NRM audience as well as external elements such as general public, other agencies, university professors/students, prospective employees, etc.

    The Gateway communicated posted information to the entire NRM staff, dramatically improving vertical and horizontal communications within the NRM community. For the first time, all team members had access simultaneously, removing the filter that layers of management had historically applied to communications to and from the field.

    A knowledge management (KM) based approach to content development provided integrated program information. This integrated approach also established a means of ensuring that NRM information was readily accessible, properly cleared and released, accurate, consistent, appropriate and timely. Organized around the familiar 1130 ER/EP chapters, the result reflected the Gateway’s initial tagline at launch: Information the way managers manage.

    Over time, at the highest level this website became the Operations & Regulatory Gateway as other Operations business lines came on board (see links to those CoPs in the upper left of the home page). The NRM portion is by far the most fully developed.

    The Gateway as a Marketing Tool
    The Gateway’s initial content development focus was for the Corps NRM audience. This site became an important internal marketing tool to show senior leadership what we do and how we do it.

    CorpsLakes.us, also known as the Visitors Page, became the second phase of development. Corpslakes.us focuses on the external audience, and is the public face of the Corps recreation program. CorpsLake.us offered for the first time a national corporate branding of recreation, offering consistent visitor recreation information for all water resource projects.

    Recreation.gov is no substitute, since it only features our reservable facilities with minimal description of our vast non-reservable facilities. Corpslakes.us is our USACE brand.

    I have definitely utilized the NRM Gateway heavily throughout my career. It has been a great all around agency information depository that any employee can go to and start to gather pertinent resources on projects they may be working on or to gather the most up to date regulations. Being on the Ranger CoP, I see it being utilized throughout the nation and even by our own team. After each monthly meeting we post our meeting minutes and have that information available to the entire USACE park ranger community within days. I was not around pre-gateway, but I imagine that kind of information would have never been available to any park ranger, let alone getting it to them in such a fast and efficient manner. It’s a great place for employees to find "Good Enough to Share" information on what and how other districts and divisions are implementing anything from interpretive programs, water safety, campground activities, environmental stewardship and so much more.
    ~ Chris Gilliland, Environmental Specialist, Park Ranger CoP Advisory Board, SWD Member.

     

    The Gateway Today
    The Gateway is a powerful tool for the NRM CoP. Kim Barnett of Huntington District recently echoed a frequently heard comment from the field when she said, “I think the NRM Gateway is a fantastic tool! I use it almost daily…”

    The Gateway continues to be content driven, efficiently powered by processes and a behind-the-scenes content management system the user never sees. The NRM website resides on a server at the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, MS. Distributing information through this site to the entire NRM team has proven to be an efficient and cost effective means of communication.

    Second or third generation SMEs continue maintenance of NRM program pages, periodically reviewing and submitting updated information to the NRM site’s webmaster in a one-step process for routine postings.

    In recent years, the Park Ranger CoP Advisory Board has emerged as one of the strongest functional proponents for the NRM Gateway. The Advisory Board worked with the Gateway Team to develop and/or significantly improve communication tools such as the NRM Forum and the Glimpse feature. They also developed the Gateway 101 “hot sheet” to quickly orient new users; the Unmanned Aircraft (UAS) page; and the interactive Visitor Assistance Program Review Checklist. Additionally, the Board models best-practice Gateway use with monthly updates of the PR CoP page and periodic Glimpses to keep the CoP informed of Board activity; use of the SmartBook as their CoP mailing list; and conducting and posting annual webinars to communicate CoP issues, including results of the current-year Park Ranger Survey.

    The Future
    After 18 years, the initial principles for Gateway development and maintenance still stand and will continue to guide the website’s future:

    1. It is about the CoP’s
    2. SMEs organize/build/maintain appointed subject content
    3. Tools to connect/communicate within (continue to evolve)
    4. Develop/maintain the Knowledge repository
    5. Tools for public outreach
    6. Users take ownership of content and legacy
    7. Educate users on the power of the Gateway
    8. Keep it simple… and real.
    9. Be a part of the daily routine.
    10. Be an integral part of the Community we serve

    In June 2019, LTG Todd T. Semonite announced implemention of the KM Portal. As launched, the KM Portal links to the NRM Gateway (the current KM repository for the NRM CoP). The Gateway Team will be making sure that the NRM Gateway is incorporated where it is needed within the KM Portal.

 
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  • The NRM Gateway Story - Past, Present, Future
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