Our Public Works team does quite a bit of public involvement work for many Cincinnati area projects, so we recently participated in the October 2016 Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference (OTEC) in Columbus to stay on top of the latest industry news.
At the breakout sessions, we were thrilled to hear many firms voicing their commitment to public engagement throughout all phases of project planning, development and implementation.
Here are a few takeaways:
1) A succinct message that clearly communicates a project’s purpose and need is key to securing project funding.
Funds for project construction are becoming increasingly competitive. Ensuring your project is understood by the people who will be affected by it is central to securing project funding. Communicating a project’s purpose and need to key stakeholders, including potential funding sources, will give you an edge in leveraging federal and state funding.
2) Effective communications goes way beyond public meetings.
Nowadays, you can’t expect the public to come to you – you must go where they are. Embrace the multitude of tools now available to get your message out – websites, email, media relations, mailings and yes, even social media. Mobile phone surveys, rush-hour tweets and online video feeds have become the new norm in transportation project communication.
3) Local community and business leaders can be the most valuable tool in your toolbox.
When beginning a new project, one of your first steps should be engaging local leaders. Their insights and connections within the community will help guide your project, improve your ability to get information out to key stakeholders, and can even help reduce the impact of any opposition that may try to attach itself to your efforts. For many projects, the bottom line is often having the political will to see a project through the inevitable hurdles. Having a strong team of community and business leaders who understand the need for a project and are willing to speak on its behalf publicly is a must.
4) Collaborate with long-range planning organizations.
Working hand in hand with your regional planning organization (e.g., OKI, MORPC, NOACA) ensures that your project is recognized by leading transportation voices as a regional priority. Having these industry leaders on your side just makes sense, and the guidance provided by coordinating agencies can lend credibility to your project and your region when you are competing for limited funding sources.
5) Engage communications professionals early in the process.
One of the teams working on a major central Ohio project touted the benefits of having communications support when working through preferred alignment selection and right-of-way acquisition. As they learned, opposition to a project can start early. Controlling the message and communicating consistently across multiple channels can reduce unwanted and potentially costly project delays.
We’re looking to ramp up our blogs about public works topics in 2017, and there’s plenty more to write about that came from this year’s OTEC. Stay tuned.