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 what data you are receiving and what it says. For example, if time elapses between the publication of the TAMP and the supporting products, should data be updated? If not, how should the reporting period be treated? The public may expect to see the agency's latest data – and could be skeptical if the data doesn't appear to be 'fresh.'
🅑 Ascertain significant information to be communicatedOut of all the data, what’s important about it? This is the heart of the story you’re going to tell so make sure you know what matters. In this case, the agency's core message is one of transparency and accountability to the public. The supporting message is that transportation system performance results are strong: the agency will reach its established targets.
🅒 Create the context for communicating informationMove past the content of the data to the intent. Have things improved, remained stagnant in spite of efforts, or deteriorated? “90% of our roads are in fair or better condition” is not necessarily a claim that will resonate with the traveling public. The average person will likely wonder: is 90% good or bad? High or low? - Was it 85% before? or 95%? - What were the targets? - And finally, what is the basis of comparison – same time period last year? Last month? Are there extenuating circumstances that need to be considered? This effort will focus on pavement and bridge condition. It won't feature a lot of technical data (your audience can always check out your TAMP if that's what they're after). Instead, your challenge will be to present the data in a manner that is simple, straightforward, and above all clear. You already know from experience that it is very very difficult to get the public engaged in any type of communication you do around a plan. This effort is all about breaking through.
Step 1 Links:
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🅐 Define Your Target AudienceTurn abstracts like “the public” into something more concrete. For example: a small-business owner who rarely engages with agency communications but wonders why road crews always seem to be disrupting traffic on her delivery routes. Now you’re talking to someone instead of addressing something impersonal. To reach this audience, it might be helpful to develop a set of simple, attractive factsheets to complement your agency's TAMP. To reach a busy business owner, these might be heavy on graphics and light on technical lingo.
🅑 Determine How Best to Engage the AudienceTake thinking personally a step further. Personalize your target audiences. Think how people you know engage with information and that will help you define the best media. It might help to sketch out some specific 'personas' in more detail. A common practice in marketing, communications, and interaction design, a persona is basically just another name for a user archetype or audience segment. You can base your personas on real people, amalgams, or your own imagination. The point is: you think in specific terms about factors such as age, gender, occupation, location, attitude, goals, and needs. And you use this information to help define your communications approach.
🅒 Describe the Key MessageIn 15 words or less, what’s the main takeaway? Boil it down, peeling away the justifications, rationalizations, excuses, and compliments and find the stark truth. In this case, the message is simple: "We are committed to transparency and accountability."
🅓 Establish Clear, Measurable GoalsYou want to have a way to know your communication efforts are working. It’s important to understand that communication is about reaching a target audience and being understood: not always something that is easy (or possible) to measure given available resources. The key is to think about what might indicate that your key message has reached your audience – and then think about ways you can test it directly, indirectly, or even approximately. For example, if you chose to develop a set of simple factsheets to complement your agency's TAMP, you might make them available online in a way that allows you to get some additional information about your audience's subsequent interactions with your social media channel and websites. One way to do this would be by requesting an email address or social media log-in to download the factsheets.
🅔 Compile the Communications PlanNow that you know your audience, your media, key message, and measures, write up a plan. Get every stakeholder to buy in at this stage. This will be the document you use to guide all that comes next. For this effort, you're already planning products that are heavy on graphics and light on technical lingo. It may help to begin this effort with a review of existing products that aim for the same territory. Collect the examples that appeal to you (or show the direction you want to avoid) and use these to illustrate your draft plan. You can engage all the members of your creative team on this task.
🅕 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? For your set of fact sheets, you'll want to maintain consistency while also establishing design elements that can clearly differentiate each product. You have additional flexibility with the fact sheets because you can always point your audience back to the TAMP for follow-up detail – this allows you to keep the tone and format open and light.
Step 2 Links:
The first three links below contain guidelines for developing data visualizations by following a user-centered design process and guidelines for working with and displaying data.
The next set of links contain a worksheet developed by Creative Companion that can help focus your audience identification and segmentation using the concept of personas and a white paper from Microsoft Research addressing the use of personas in interaction design.
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🅐 Draft Text and Sketch Out Several Possible Visual Presentation IdeasBrainstorm alone or with a group. Think of ways to express your message. Let the ideas flow uncritically. Ideally at this point you want to draw up three treatments that would work. You'll need to present trend data and may want to provide additional quantitative information about your road network. Another area where you may want to focus is in setting the context and educating your audience. Just one example: you may want to use photos to show what good, fair, and poor pavement looks like in the real world in order – this will help expand the common ground between you and your target audience.
🅑 Review and Select Criteria Treatment that Best Meets Creative Brief CriteriaNow review your three best ideas against the creative brief. Which one meets all the criteria? Using the creative brief, go back to your stakeholders and make sure you are all aligned on the concept. It may help to develop a scorecard or checklist that you can use to evaluate the options.
Step 3 Links:
Developing a new creative concept can be a challenge. This is especially true when you need to think in visual, quantitative, and narrative terms – all at the same time. The first link below is a worksheet to help kickstart your creative brainstorming. The second is an introduction to visual design from usability.gov that can help fill you in on some of the basic concepts that matter most. The third and fourth links provide a behind the scenes look at the development of agency communications products that bring all of these elements together.
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🅐 Begin Creative ProcessThis is where concepts turn into products. Be sure whatever you’re generating is technically accurate as well as having creative flair. It’s also a good idea to consider how what you’re creating will work in media you haven’t planned on. If you’re producing for electronic distribution, for example, make sure your idea works in print in case the local newspaper wants to feature it. If you're planning to publish online, make sure your product will look great (or at least be legible) if it's printed in black and white. Your already know your fact sheets should be designed for both web and print distribution. But you can go beyond posting a basic PDF file. Consider ways to make your data displays interactive. The example links in this section might provide some inspiration.
🅑 Finalize Communications ProductsThis is your 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 and make sure you’re still on target. This means one last check with the program leads responsible for the data you are reporting. One question to keep in mind is whether you should incorporate the most recent data available or try to keep your data as consistent as possible with what has already been published in the TAMP. The public is unlikely to review the TAMP, much less cross-check your data displays. But there are other stakeholders who may do exactly that and come directly to you with questions. In the end, this choice may matter most to the program managers. Coordinating on issues like this is of the utmost importance.
🅒 Prepare Materials for Different Usage and MediaHere you complete the technical steps to prepare your creative product for dissemination. Check and double check file sizes, colors, permission to use images, and anything else that needs to be in order. This isn't only about catching and correcting errors. It's also about thinking two (or three) steps ahead. For example, it might mean producing multiple versions of each fact sheet, with each version optimized for a specific distribution channel (reduced file size for email, larger or web download with at least some fallback for low-bandwidth connections, small screens, etc.
Step 4 Links:
The web designer's checklist helps plan ahead for digital distribution. The next link shows one approach to structuring your products around clearly defined layout templates to ease these distribution challenges.
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🅐 Schedule the Distribution of Your Communications ProductsExecute your media plan. 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! Will the printer deliver your materials in time? Is your webmaster ready to go live as soon as the last meeting is over? This is not all about posting your files on line and sitting back to wait. Social media is your friend and can help you get the word out about your fact sheets.
🅑 Implement Your DistributionYou’ve launched. Congratulations! Because there is time-sensitive information you want to make sure you’ve got a plan for updating it. Most likely you want to consider a plan for freshening your data to keep it relevant. In the meantime, make sure you have set up the tools and processes to track how users are experiencing and interacting with your fact sheets.
Step 5 Links:
🅐 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. If you chose to collect information about your audience as part of providing access to the fact sheets, you may chose to reach out directly via social media channel and/or email.
🅑 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.
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Step 6 Links:
The first link shows how one agency is making the connection to other plans. The second, how a focused stand-alone site can also make these linkages.
Example communications resources:
January 1, 2011 / Missouri DOT
/ Missouri DOT
October 1, 2013 / Colorado DOT
/ Vienna Transportation Strategies
March 10, 2010 / Virginia DOT