The planning area may be a defined watershed or other large geographic area. Areawide planning through a voluntary locally-led effort assesses their natural resource conditions and needs, sets goals, identifies programs and resources to solve those needs, develops recommendations, implements those recommendations, and measures their success. This planning should consider all potential programs including federal, state, and local government programs and private sector programs as tools to solve natural resource concerns. These programs may be used singly or in combination.
Areawide planning may be developed through informal or formal groups which may include any combination of interested stakeholders. These stakeholders include agricultural landowners, agricultural operators, urban landowners, homeowner associations, agencies, conservation groups, schools, organizations, and individuals.
Depending on the presence of a decision-maker, areawide planning will results in either an areawide conservation plan or assessment. In the case where a decision-maker is available an areawide conservation plan can be developed. Without a decision-maker the areawide planning results in an assessment. A decision-maker is an individual, group, unit of government, or other entity that has the authority to make decisions and implement the plan. In an informal group, the decision-maker is the group if they have been given the authority to make decisions and implement the plan. For a formal group, the decision-maker is generally a board of elected or appointed officials. Examples of a formal group are irrigation district or water resource districts.
NRCS may serve as the planner for areawide conservation plans or assessments, or may at other times primarily provide resource information.