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Making it as easy as possible to save the world.

The National Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) goal is to help farmers seamlessly incorporate environmentally conscious practices onto their farm. Unfortunately—but not surprisingly—the NRCS’s current system is outdated, opaque, and very confusing for agents to use in the field.

Founded on the principals of human-centered design, this new NRCS Spend Plan will help consolidate resources, encourage more transparency and collaboration within the organization, and give Field Agents and National Scenario Managers (NSM) better control over how they create and distribute conservation plans.

The Problem: The current NRCS spending system is bloated with unused, duplicative scenarios and components that are housed in fractionalized systems. This makes them difficult to find, impossible to manage, and taxing to use.

The Opportunity: Similar to building a deck of cards, we built an online resource where users can find, add, remove, and adjust the Components and Scenarios needed to quickly build a spend plan.

The Opportunity: We had very limited access to the client. In order to get the most out of every minute, we created streamlined workshop activities that can be completed in under an hour and sent follow-up questions that our client could respond to on their own time.

  • Client
    • National Resources Conservation Services
  • Skills Used
    • Product Strategy
    • Service Design
    • UX Design
    • Visual Design
    • Prototype Development
    • User Testing
Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Selecting components and building scenarios

Let’s learn a little about the two main features of the new NRCS Planning application, component and scenarios.

Components:
Items or services—such as digging a well or fencing material—that have individual costs associated with them. The cost of components vary from regio and state and have costs associated with them.

Scenarios:
A farmer-specific situation that is comprised of a set-list of components. Scenarios make it easier for agent to put together a loan program for a farmer.

Using a combination of components and scenarios—with the ability to individually customize each—field agents can piece together and approve accurate conservation plans in a fraction of the time.

What is cost harvesting and how it works

Components—the fundamental items that make up the cost of a Spend Plan—rely on research and user input to accurately determine their value. Every year the NRCS gets thousands or cost harvesting requests. These requests are when a field agent or farmers goes out and finds a new, local cost for an item and then submits that cost in order to have the component’s cost adjust in the application. That cost is then approved or denied by a Cost Team and, if approved, passed to a manager for any final adjustments.

How does cost harvesting work now?

In order to better understand the current state of cost harvesting, we hosted digital workshops with both the Accenture Consulting team and NRCS staff to discuss the steps, roles, and tools involved. We also explored future opportunities that would incorporate automated price gatherings from creditable third-party APIs.

Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Mapping roles, steps, and resources

To best understand the cost harvesting process, we added a new section to our interactive journey map. Throughout this seven-month project we used this map to record the different roles, responsibilities, and processes of the new NRCS application and determine what pages, modals, and dashboards we need to have in a final prototype.

On the far left we listed the two main character that have roles harvesting: Regional Scenario Manager, and Cost Team Member (1). At the top we listed all the necessary steps required when harvesting and reviewing cost units on a component (2). Next, we listed out the individual actions a user takes during the process. This helped us align where certain wires should be in the user’s journey (3). Lastly, we build initial, concept wires in Invision that we can present to the client and adjusted based on their feedback (4).

Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Building and editing low-fi wires and components

After the workshop, I designed polished the concepts wires and presented the concepts to the Accenture Consulting team and the client. In these meetings we were able to record the functionality and actions necessary for a successful prototype of the NRCS Spend Plan.

Main functionality:

  • Ability to adjust how unit costs will impact any dependent components
  • Ability to overwrite unit costs of components for emergency situations
  • Ability to upload one unit cost that comes from multiple sources
  • Ability to activate and un-activate certain unit costs
  • Ability to delete certain unit costs

Translating wires into the exisiting Farmers.gov design system

Once the scaffolding was complete and the actions determined, it was time to design a working prototype. I designed a professional prototype that leveraged the current FPAC design system and provided all necessary actions we want the client to perform.

Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Building a scenario and selecting components

While in the field, an agent can search and select an existing scenario that matches what the farmer needs (1). These scenarios already have pre-assigned components (2). They can also choose to request that a new customization of that particular scenario be made(3). When putting together this request, the field agen can view and edit the existing scenario’s components (4), add any missing components (5), and then submit the request for review.

These new scenario customizations will then be sent to a manger who can review the requests (6), make any final adjustments (7), and leave any comments (8) before approving or denying the request.

Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.

Searching for a component and creating a new one

We also made wires for the process of searching for components, whether that is to edit the component itself or add it to an existing or new scenario. This process included the component search portal (1), the process of creating a new component (2), and the default screen of the search portal (3) and happens when you don’t return any search results (4).

Image of a user journey the follows the career path of an employee.