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Guidebook 40 Communicating the Value of Transportation Research Northwestern University New Bridge Steel Case Study Communicating with policy makers was essential to gaining acceptance of using Northwestern University copper steel in bridge construction. Gaining this acceptance was difficult because the steel manufacturing community is small, and its members represent Northwestern University's direct competition. To persuade this audience to adopt and use Northwestern University copper steel in bridge building projects, the developers demonstrated the value of the new steel in stages, starting with a small-scale test of the steel by the Illinois DOT (IDOT). Once this test was completed, a larger scale test was conducted and the results were shared with policy and decision makers. Important decision makers from the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Steel Corp., and others lent their monetary and personnel to support the product. This in turn led to the adoption of Northwestern University copper steel as part of a bridge retrofit in Illinois. Following this success, IDOT fully adopted the steel for use in the construction of new bridges. Persistent communication with decision makers that emphasized the scientific results of field tests and the ongoing support of a champion within the IDOT contributed to Northwestern University's success. The steel developers successfully provided research program managers with the data they needed at testing sites, at conferences, and in papers and reports in scholarly and trade publications. Further, the IDOT champion made the personal connections required for acceptance of the new steel and helped the developers navigate the formal processes required by transportation organizations. Communicating with the News Media When and Why This does not mean, however, that researchers Communicating with the media is essential to should wait for the media to ask for a story. sharing the value of your research because they They should work with the communication function as agenda setters for communities professional assigned to the research team or and our society at large. Media coverage can be with their organization's public affairs staff to useful to your research because it can influence determine the right time to contact the media community awareness and support, which with the right information. By contacting the then, in turn, can impact policy-maker support media, you can demonstrate that your project is (whether or not the policy maker personally cared newsworthy and get your agenda on the public's about or supported the issue in the first place). radar. It can also impact policy-maker support directly. But, the media does not tell people what to think; Invite the media to test sites, or send a news it tells them what they should think about and release about upcoming research in the which issues are important. Thus, the more often community. By developing a relationship with the an issue appears in the news, the more important media from the start, your relationship will be well it may appear. established by the time you are ready to present your findings and implement your programs.
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Guidebook 41 Putting It All Together Applying the Communication Process Style: Journalists and reporters look for clear, jargon-free language in press releases and Context: The media differ interviews. Because they have their own audience from other audiences considerations, they look for a conversational because they have very style that will appeal to the general public. precise limitations for time Be direct, and develop messages that focus on the and space. News cycles main points of the communication. have shortened with new technologies, so you must be responsive to those deadlines and space Communication Process requirements. Strategy: When planning communication with the media, ensure that you communicate with the Guidelines on appropriate reporter. If a newspaper or television News Release Content station has a science or transportation reporter, direct your communication to that person. Your Your communication professional or public strategy should be to cultivate a relationship with affairs staff will know the "ins and outs" of the a reporter by using continuous, specific messages. format for writing and delivering a news release, and will work with you on the content. Keep Content: Present the content of your these guidelines in mind as you assist them in writing a news release about your research: communication with the media--whether related to problems or the research process, Identify the goal of the news release, then outcome, program, or implementation--as a the audience before you consider the key story and explain how it will benefit their readers, messages or content. listeners, or viewers. Highlight any breakthrough Convey the essential message quickly. or new elements on an issue, and weave real-life This is the point in which you will examples into your story. Discuss data or research capture attention. Consider the benefit that confirms or denies existing suppositions, but of the research and how it is important do so in a compelling, timely way. Finally, always to the public. connect your communication to the audience, Use quotes to help you spread important explaining why the problems matter and how messages. While quotes generally should your research program helps to solve them. come from within the organization (the scientist, the director), it can also come from a valued source outside of your Channels: Reporters may ask for one-on-one organization supporting the importance interviews. If they do, it is important to have of the research. your research message distilled down to two Use anecdotes, analogies, and examples or three key points. Researchers and program as storytelling tools. They can humanize, managers must also realize that reporters do simplify, and help explain your story. background research to write their stories, so Include background information of your information about the program and the research organization at the end. This section project should be easy to access. Press releases should be brief and focus on who you are can be sent to journalists, and they can also be and what your organization does. incorporated into an online press room as an integral part of your web page.
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Guidebook 42 Communicating the Value of Transportation Research Creating an Effective Online Press Room Reporters and journalists often visit web pages as a first place to find information before an interview or when writing a story. Create an online press room that includes the following: Current contact information. Post the names, phone numbers, and emails for your project's contact person for press inquiries. Press releases. Archive past releases in your press room, and include a date and summary headline with each title. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and fact sheets. Journalists want to know the "who, what, when, and where." Create a document that addresses these background facts about your program or organization. Research reports. Archive research reports with a brief abstract, but make links to full reports accessible. Photographs, video files, and calendar of events. These "extras" give reporters even more information to draw from. Missouri Statewide Installation of Median Cable Barriers Case Study The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) made great use of communication with the media to gain acceptance for statewide median cable barriers. Cables placed in the medians of highways and major thoroughfares help to reduce the number of cross-median crashes and the high rates of fatalities they produce. Because MoDOT aimed for statewide acceptance of the program, it was important to communicate the safety value of the barriers to a broad public audience. The media helped MoDOT achieve these communication goals. Also, the message for median cable barriers is strong and easy to communicate--the press and the public see the number of cable hits when they drive down the road, so the story nearly tells itself. MoDOT representatives helped to supplement this anecdotal evidence by relying on crash data in nontechnical, brief terms that everyone can understand and relate to. Finally, MoDOT has found that communication about the cable barriers builds on itself. The more the topic is communicated, the more questions arise from within and from outside of the state. The increased press coverage leads to further acceptance of the program.