Improving Engagement and Equity in Public Outreach

Every year more opportunities and tools evolve to engage the public in the transportation planning process. How do we leverage these to increase public involvement while maintaining equity across multiple demographics?
Public Engagement

[5 Minute Read]

Today there exist a myriad of methods to reach out to the public to gather input on planning initiatives and provide education on transportation choices. How can we decipher which strategies will reach the greatest number of people and still be representative of the region we serve?

Equity

Equity in transportation planning does not only refer to the end product – helping ensure that underserved areas are not underrepresented in the planning process – but also refers to the equitable opportunity to take part in the conversation.

As new forms of communication become more widespread and more easily accessible (e.g. mobile surveys, virtual conferences/forums, targeted advertising), it can be tempting to dive headlong into a new strategy to gather more information from groups who are familiar with those communication.

However, we must not lose sight that not all demographics will have access to these new communication methods, and excluding previous methods of gathering information can come at a cost. In-person forums, physical outreach, and phone surveys can still reach segments of the population that may not have access or be willing to participate through new communication methods.

Therefore, it is not enough to ask if changes to our public engagement processes simply improve the number of participants, but also that the end results are still representative of our population.

Getting Results

One of the challenges with new public engagement strategies is determining how to rise above the noise in the virtual space. Many different parties are vying for the attention of the same public with which we want to engage, so how can we improve the likelihood that they will be engaged with our requests?

Targeted email marketing campaigns and targeted advertising to encourage participation can help, but we must keep in mind that we’re also fighting for attention with all other advertisers in that space. One solution – build stronger relationships with community leaders in your region and have them champion your cause.

Wouldn’t you be far more likely to respond to a survey or participate in an event if it comes from someone you know and trust? So if there are opportunities to have known leaders in a region encourage those around them to participate in your public engagement process (for new communication styles or traditional), do not pass them up.

Educational Opportunity

Public engagement is not only an opportunity to gauge interest in upcoming initiatives or individual projects, but also a chance to inform the public about the transportation planning process.

For example, transportation planners can provide the public with exercises to rank projects or initiatives, while demonstrating that there are funding limitations and they cannot rank all projects as their top priority. Not only can this provide more accurate feedback, but also helps your public understand that choices come with trade-offs.

Long-term, these educational opportunities can result in a population with a more clear understanding of the current resource constraints for transportation projects in their region, making them more likely to support future initiatives to gather more revenue for transportation projects.

Summary

New opportunities to engage larger audiences in the planning process emerge every year, and we definitely should take advantage of them while also making sure we are balancing that information with input from more traditional sources. Participation in these new communication styles can be bolstered by building relationships with community leaders and endear trust in your agency, and educating your population on the planning process and trade-offs can help support future initiatives.

Have thoughts? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at [email protected].

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