Click and expand each step in the process for more information and to access useful resources.
The Big Picture
🅐 Understand your performance data and informationMake sure you know the data that you are working with and what it says. In this case, part of the challenge is framing the negative impact of current levels of congestion and delay. Another challenge is to make a compelling, yet defensible, case that the new project will yield a positive return on the investment of public dollars. The key message is the mobility benefit that the project is anticipated to deliver. This means the agency will depend on mobility data and performance measures to tell the story. If you want to also show historic data, you need to make sure that methodologies, definitions, thresholds, etc. all remained consistent over the relevant period.
🅑 Ascertain significant information to be communicatedOut of all the data, what’s truly important to communicate? This is the heart of the story you’re going to tell so make sure you know what matters. Making effective use of mobility data and performance measures can be a challenge due to the complex, technical nature of this information. In this case, the challenge is to make these complex technical metrics resonate with the target audience. This often requires simplifying some of the details while ensuring that the underlying data has integrity – apples being compared to apples, anomalies understood and explainable. Reliance on modeling and forecasts can present another communications challenge: It's not easy to predict the future!
🅒 Create the context for communicating informationThis project presents an opportunity to grab attention – and focus it on an important issue (aging infrastructure) that is too often overlooked. Making the case for investment most likely means showing the impact of emergency maintenance and frequent lane closures. For regular commuters and residents, frustration has been building for some time. Your communications efforts cannot ignore this context.
Step 1 Links:
Measures of mobility are complex. The first link below is to a concise summary of common mobility and congestion performance measures – complete with noteworthy data displays from the Chicago-area CMAP MPO. The second and third links are to a more in-depth document from Washington State DOT that provide additional context.
Communicating performance measurement information is all about context. This is equally true whether you are dealing with safety, infrastructure condition, or mobility data. In this case, providing context means educating your audience – and a key challenge is to accomplish this without becoming didactic. The fourth link shows an infographic that helps provide this context in an appealing manner, and without introducing complexity. The fifth link is to the full report that accompanies the graphic.
The sixth link is to research on use of social media as part of the NEPA process.
The last link is to a short blog post that helps show how important even small changes in phrasing can be in providing contextual clues that support your audience's understanding of your message.
The Big Picture
🅐 Define Your Target AudienceSuccessful communications resemble a conversation with real person – it's not about addressing something impersonal. Turning abstracts like “the public” into “a local manufacturer whose deliveries are delayed because of frequent unplanned bridge maintenance.” Now you’re talking to someone instead of addressing something impersonal. This will immediately transform your communications. In this scenario, manufacturers are a key audience, as are commuters. In both cases, delays and detours have an impact on the bottom line.
🅑 Determine How Best to Engage the AudienceTake thinking personally one step further. Personalize the target audiences. Do they want a quick summary (probably) or do they have the time and inclination to study details (unlikely)? Thinking about how friends, family, and colleagues engage with information will help to define the best media for the job. For the commuters? Social media might be the best driver, leading to a standalone project website that can serve as a hub for project communications. For the executive at the local manufacturer? She’s a reader and expects to quickly cut to the key details that really impact the bottom line; a short easily-printable presentation – also available from the central project website – might be the best fit.
🅒 Describe the Key MessageIn 15 words or less, what’s the main takeaway? In this case, the agency's message comes down to "time is money” and emergency repairs of critical infrastructure cost both.
🅓 Establish Clear, Measurable GoalsIt is important to assess whether a communication effort is working. This requires an understanding that communication is about reaching a target audience and being understood – not necessarily about management actions being taken. Consider metrics that would indicate that the effort provides meaningful information to the target audience – and can feasibly be measured in a consistent, timely, and accurate manner. In this case, the benefit of early engagement well in advance of beginning work on the proposed project is that it presents an opportunity to build public support. The fundamental measure of success is whether the project has sufficient support from the public to help move the project forward. Public opinion polls might provide the best metric but are not well suited to the scale and scope of this project. Instead, feedback from public meetings, project web pages, and a very limited number of online customer surveys fill the gap.
🅔 Compile the Communications PlanOnce the measures, context, audience, message, and media are established it is time to write up a plan. This will be the document that guides all that comes next so it's advisable to engage stakeholders as much as possible at this stage. A good communication plan can't be drafted in a vacuum. In this case, the communications and outreach are part of and supplement the public participation process and are initiated from the earliest stages of the project. The ground rules for the public participation process will vary by agency as well as by funding sources and other factors. This is the point at which the communications effort needs to stand on its own: the communications plan should articulate a simple, clear, positive vision for the project. It cannot simply check the boxes of already-required outreach efforts (e.g. NEPA).
🅕 Write the Creative BriefUsing the communication plan, develop a one- to two-page document that provides the basis for evaluating creative concepts. What’s the feel? What style is appropriate? What limitations – words, colors, format, etc. – does the creative team need to know about? This effort is distinguished by its focus on a single location; a map could be a good fit. Another possibility is to prominently feature photography of the surrounding area. In making these decisions, one helpful technique is to create an illustrated document containing annotated images of existing communications products that can serve as models (or cautionary tales) for the present effort. You may also have an agency style guide to direct you. If so, you are ahead of the curve. If the guide is lengthy, it can be useful exercise to distill the relevant sections of the style guide into a shorter, targeted document that is adapted to this effort. This will help to ensure that your creative staff (and/or contractors) attend the guidance that applies in this case.
Step 2 Links:
The first link below is to a recent Western Australia Main Roads project page with several innovative feature including a 'Myth Busters' section. The next link is to a Minnesota DOT public involvement plan that contains useful definitions, examples, and illustrations (albeit for a large-scale effort commensurate with the project it supports).The third link is to a brief document presenting concepts for improving civic engagement and related communications. The last link is to a gallery of public submissions to an open competition to re-imagine a municipal public notice document.
The Big Picture
🅐 Draft Text and Sketch Out Several Possible Visual Presentation IdeasBrainstorm alone or with a group. Think of ways to express the message. Let the ideas flow uncritically. Ideally at this point it is possible to draw up three treatments that would work. Because this effort deals with measures of delay and congestion, it could be helpful to consider data displays that can deliver complex technical information in a way that really resonates with target audiences. This may mean developing an information hierarchy with the key top-level displays requiring few qualifications, caveats, and technical definitions. Less prominently, you can feature more complex data displays that help provide valuable detail and context to users who want to dive into the performance data. It's not uncommon for the first drafts to suffer from "information overload." This step in the creative process is all about paring back and simplifying.
🅑 Review and Select Criteria Treatment that Best Meets Creative Brief CriteriaNow review the three best ideas against the creative brief. Which one meets all the criteria? Using the creative brief, circle back to stakeholders and make sure there is alignment on the concept. Because local stakeholders' frustration has been building for some time, it's especially important to maintain an appropriate tone and to avoid lighthearted concepts. However, in order to drive real engagement, it's equally important to avoid the dry technical approach of the standard public participation collateral.
Step 3 Links:
The first link is to an innovative project website that relied heavily on stakeholder input and presented novel methods for collecting and displaying this input. The second is to a project site that makes use of innovative features including a "Myth Busters" section. The third link highlights lessons learned from North Carolina.
The Big Picture
🅐 Begin Creative ProcessThis is where concepts turn into products – and it's just as important to be technically accurate as it is to have creative flair. To achieve this, technical staff (e.g. engineers, planners) and creative staff (communications, designers, developers) need a shared vision and common objectives. This is why the creative brief is so important. It provides a foundation for this collaboration. The website and related resources could be developed separately by different teams and only brought back together for review after much work has already been performed. Achieving a coherent, integrated format/style will just be an additional challenge for you to manage. If you developed or adapted a targeted style guide in step 2, it may prove most valuable here.
🅑 Finalize Communications ProductsThis is final critical QA/QC step. Be sure your information is accurate. Check that it is correctly produced. Then go back and look at that creative brief and communication plan once again – and make sure it's still on target. For this effort, it's not merely about being accurate. Accuracy is a fundamental prerequisite, but you should also take this opportunity to check and confirm that your product and communications plan are aligned with what you know about your target audience. And because this effort involves an ongoing website, it's important to assess whether you have established a workflow for effectively updating information and continuing to monitor and engage with your audience. This means considering how you will adapt going forward as targets, timeframes, responsible parties, data formats, modeling results, and media platforms change.
🅒 Prepare Materials for Different Usage and MediaNow it's time to complete the technical steps to prepare the creative product for dissemination. Check and double check file sizes, colors, permission to use images, and anything else that needs to be in order. One advantage of digital production and distribution is that corrections and edits can be made on an ongoing basis. The corresponding challenge is that these products must be planned and maintained for a much longer lifecycle.
Step 4 Links:
The first link below shows an example of an agency's public involvement manual, a dense and highly-technical legal document. Better suited to this purpose is the second link, an example of an agency's communication style guide. For the truly ambitious, the Voice and Tone website, the third link, provides an example of a nuanced and polished corporate style guide.
The Big Picture
🅐 Schedule the Distribution of Your Communications ProductsExecute your media plan (and remember: communications products can take on a life of their own once they're published! ) Coordinate distribution, making sure you have the right materials for the right medium. Double check run dates with publications, launch dates with your team, and calendar dates with yourself! Do you have your distribution lists prepared? Are your email templates correctly formatted and tested on a wide range of devices? Is your webmaster ready to go live as soon as the last meeting is over? Ideally, you will have already established a website stewardship plan at this point. This is a key element and will have great impact on your activities in this step.
🅑 Implement Your DistributionYou’ve launched. Congratulations! You know that the products will contain a large quantity of time-sensitive information so you should make sure you’re updating it. Planning to retain and archive this information can also be important. Failing to anticipate the requirements of long-term maintenance can severely limit the value of the finished product (for example, if the resources needed to keep data up-to-date are lacking).
Step 5 Links:
There are myriad technical details to consider. But here are a few important ones: have you successfully formatted your images for the web? If not, the first link below will help you The compressor.io tool provides high-quality image compression that can substantially speed up your users' web experience on your site. Google provides useful advice on this topic in the second link below, drawn from the Google web fundamentals, the final link.
🅐 Check-In throughout Communication ProgramAs you begin getting feedback, check it against your plan. Is it working the way you had intended? Then maybe just a tweak or two is needed. Is your audience missing the key message? A more major overhaul might be necessary. The regularly scheduled stakeholder meetings not only provide an opportunity for input on your communication products, they also provide am excellent chance to obtain feedback on your work to date, potential projects in the pipeline, and more.
🅑 Review and Assess CommunicationsFinishing your effort is really the start of the next one. What are the lessons learned? Do you have the data you need? Have you defined the right target audience? Is your message clear? Were your goals appropriate? Did the visuals serve to enhance communication? How well did the team work together? Where were the problems? This information helps you plan better for the next round. Moving forward, you may be able improve your answers to many of these questions by leveraging the customer information you routinely collect via the project website.
The Big Picture
Step 6 Links:
The link below, from Washington State DOT, provides a model for demonstrating and communicating project benefits. In addition to illustrating one noteworthy approach to presenting this information retrospectively, it also provides a model that can be applied in the earliest stages of project development to communicate the expected or anticipated project benefits. The Washington Post's behind the scenes look at developing an interactive map-based visualization provides a lesson in working with spatial data.
Example communications resources:
November 1, 2013 / Texas DOT
June 1, 2015 / TRB
/ New York City Office of Emergency Management
/ Missouri DOT
/ Southern California Association of Governments
January 1, 2007 / Virginia DOT
/ Minnesota DOT
June 1, 2015 / TRB
March 1, 2014 / Michigan DOT
/ Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Francisco Bay Area
May 1, 2014 / Massachusetts DOT
June 29, 2018 / MoDOT
September 1, 2013 / North Carolina DOT
November 1, 2013 / Texas DOT
/ Oregon DOT
October 1, 2013 / Colorado DOT
January 1, 2014 / Michigan DOT
/ Washington State DOT
/ Washington State DOT
September 23, 2016 / Missouri DOT
August 1, 2014 / Texas DOT