At this Cincinnati public relations agency, one of the many projects I get to be a part of is the creation and implementation of Public Involvement Plans for influential transportation projects throughout our region. Public involvement is critical to the process of creating transportation improvements, and it’s built on a foundation of open communication and relationship-building with the communities involved. Below are four principles to consider when developing a public involvement plan. For more information about these principles, visit the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation.
1. Careful Planning and Preparation
Since not all communities are the same, research and open communication must occur before implementing a plan. When community stakeholders, project partners and experts meet for an initial introduction to the context and purpose of the project, they can then decide on the most appropriate approach to engage the community in a way that best suits their unique needs and culture. This includes decisions such as overall scheduling, venue selection and set-up for public meetings, as well as collateral development and distribution.
2. Inclusion and Demographic Diversity
It’s critical to include diverse community members with different voices, ideas and perspectives to represent the public as fully as possible. Special care must be taken by skilled facilitators to create a collaborative, exploratory atmosphere that allows for all perspectives to be heard and respected. The goal is to make sure information is not just biased to the vocal majority. Facilitators should help all involved listen to each other, explore new ideas, learn and apply information in ways that generate new options.
3. Transparency and Trust
As a way to create transparency and build trust, you should actively provide information about the public involvement process, and provide a public record of the organizers, sponsors, outcomes, and range of views and ideas expressed. Share relevant information about decisions and issues that arise on a regular basis. Make sure access to information is easy in order to ensure the public is involved and engaged in the ongoing evolution of the plan.
4. Impact and Action
Concerns and needs from the community play a key role in shaping the transportation improvement plans. It’s important to emphasize that community participants are aware of the potential of their input to improve the plan. When diverse stakeholders understand, are moved by, and act on the findings and recommendations of the program, problems get solved, visions are pursued, and communities become more vibrant, healthy and successful.
For more tips about Public Involvement Plans, visit the Federal Highway Administration website.