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6 S E C T I O N 3 Strategic communications, particularly with respect to building public support for a transit- priority project, are by no means a formulaic exercise. Any successful strategic communications program will be tailored to meet the needs of unique public audiences and will incorporate different communication methods in order to do so. Nevertheless, the research into strategic communications presented herein indicates that there are steps cities and agencies can take to improve their communications efforts. The strategic communications toolkit presented herein outlines many of the important plan- ning and implementation steps that cities or transit agencies should consider when putting a strategic communications program into action. In addition to this strategic communications guidance, the toolkit provides examples of effective strategic communications approaches from the transit-priority projects studied in this research and concludes with a section on key take- aways. Ultimately, the toolkit makes clear the need for a coordinated, multifaceted approach to strategic communications in order to meaningfully engage the public. The toolkit is intended to inform, rather than prescribe, the strategic communications process. It should be used as a guide for agencies at the outset of a transit-priority project, particularly for those unaccustomed to implementing strategic communications efforts. The toolkit is not intended to serve as a rigid structure or template for a strategic communi- cations program, and cities and agencies should adapt its lessons to their local and project- specific contexts. Strategic Communications Guidance This strategic communications guidance is composed of the following topics: â¢ Strategic Communication Solves Problems â¢ Decisions for Strategic Communications â¢ Overview of Communication Methods â¢ Examples of Communication Methods â¢ Evaluating Communication Methods â¢ Strategic Communications Guide â¢ Obstacles and Challenges â¢ Learning from Experience â¢ Additional Factors for Success Strategic Communications Toolkit
Strategic Communications Toolkit 7 STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION SOLVES PROBLEMS Project Conception Transit-priority project identified as best solution Successful implementation of the project Public, political, or media opposition to a project can derail it or substantially alter desired outcomes. Strategic communication about the purpose, details, and development process of a project can help avert the negative consequences of intense opposition. Transit-priority projects are substantial endeavors that alter the transportation status quo. They promise risks and rewards. Effective communication throughout a project can ultimately build community support. Strategic Communications End Goal Potential Opposition
8 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit DECISIONS FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS What are the goals? What needs to be communicated? Who are the audiences? How will communications be conducted? To inform To engage To persuade To gather information Design concepts Rationale Technical information Schedules Opportunities Outcomes The general public Locally impacted stakeholders The press Government figures Internal departments Managed internally Assisted by a third party/consultant Managed by a third party/consultant Stakeholders want to know why, how, when, and where a project is occurring. Agencies must understand their role in communications and have clear responses to stakeholder concerns. Transit agencies must identify and plan for content for the duration of the communications effort, taking project context into account. It is critical to understand who the most important audience(s) is to ensure that communications are effective, particularly if there is opposition to a project. Transit agencies may, or may not, be equipped to conduct strategic communications. Sometimes, external communications consultants may be helpful.
Strategic Communications Toolkit 9 OVERVIEW OF COMMUNICATION METHODS Central to any communications strategy are the methods of communication used. Transit agencies have a broad range of communications strategies at their disposal. Certain strategies are more effective at reaching a targeted audience in a more involved manner; others are more appropriate to provide information to a wide audience. Specialized Printed Material Le ve l o f En ga ge m en t Social Media E-Blasts News Media Flyers W id e A ud ie nc e M od er at e A ud ie nc e Ta rg et ed A ud ie nc e Online Survey Agency App Website Formal In-Person Outreach Informal In-Person Outreach Publicity Event In-Person Survey
10 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit EXAMPLES OF COMMUNICATION METHODS News Media Segments on local television or radio Articles in local newspapers Press releases E-Blasts Informative, often graphic, emails sent routinely to everyone on a dedicated project mailing list Flyers Single or multi-page informational brochures distributed at meetings, public places, or sometimes online Social Media Graphic or text informational updates posted to social media channels Surveys or polls hosted on social media platforms Events advertised on social media platforms Engagement in public conversations taking place on social media Website Dedicated project website containing overview and in- depth information on all aspects of a project A web page dedicated to a project within a larger transit agency or city website Specialized Printed Material Coffee table books containing project information On-street information signage to communicate with people passing through a project area App Transit agency applications, normally for ticket purchasing or scheduling, can provide informational updates on a project, and may even be used for engagement Online Survey Online survey can be created and evaluated using third- party software and distributed to participants as a URL link In-Person Survey In-person surveys are typically conducted by transit agency, city, or third-party personnel at a project site or public event relating to a project Publicity Event Ribbon-cutting or policy-signing ceremony Participatory design events, for example to design bus stop murals Naming competitions Formal In-Person Outreach Public project meetings Community workshops Public walking tours Informal In-Person Outreach Transit agency or city participation in a public event in order to inform and consult stakeholders: Neighborhood association meeting Business group meeting Religious organization event School event
Strategic Communications Toolkit 11 EVALUATING COMMUNICATION METHODS Strengths Weaknesses News Media Project marketing opportunity Ease of leveraging positive media relationships Free / low cost Low level of public engagement Time-limited broadcast Potential for narrative spin E-Blasts Easy to implement Branding opportunities Real-time information Low level of public engagement Time commitment to build an effective database of emails Flyers Branding opportunities Tangible source of information for less digitally connected audience Difficulty of providing real-time updates Social Media Opportunities for engagement Branding opportunities Real-time information Easy to implement Competition for audienceâs attention Potential audience mistrust of information Specialized Printed Material Potential to leave a lasting impact on audience Implementation costs and challenges Website Opportunities for engagement Real-time information Branding opportunities Easy to implement Potential cost of implementation Transit agency or city may not be capable of internal implementation and management App Multiple functionalities Opportunities for engagement Branding opportunities Relatively small potential audience Potential cost of implementation Transit agency or city may not be capable of internal implementation and management Online Survey Valuable source of information Easy to implement Low participation risk In-Person Survey Opportunity for meaningful engagement Valuable source of information Time-consuming implementation Publicity Event Potential to leave a lasting impact on audience Potential to build enthusiasm Implementation costs and challenges Competition for attention in the news cycle Formal In-Person Outreach Opportunity for meaningful engagement Valuable source of information Low participation risk Small or medium-sized potential audience Informal In-Person Outreach Opportunity for meaningful engagement Valuable source of information Low participation risk Small or medium-sized potential audience
12 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS GUIDE What needs to be communicated? How to communicate it: Background Basic descriptive information on a project Provide information on a projectâs need, purposes, and planning/construction process primarily via websites as well as email blasts, social media posts, and news media articles. Status Updates Brief outlines of minor project developments and schedules Provide quick, informative updates on social media, websites, email blasts, and apps. Be transparent about project status updates at all times. Major Project Events Significant construction or project-related disruptions Advertise and host informative public meetings, participate in third-party meetings, and distribute printed informational material where appropriate. Provide recurring reminders via email blasts, social media, and websites in the run-up to an event. Public Engagement Involving stakeholders in decision making Consult with stakeholder groups at public or third-party meetings. Consult with individual stakeholders formally or informally at public meetings. Carry out surveys online, with surveys advertised at meetings, online, and through third-party partner organizations. Whenever possible, offer exciting ways for stakeholders to participate in project decisions, through efforts like hosting naming or design competitions for stations. Milestones Significant achievements or project completion Broadcast positive information on project milestones via websites, email blasts, and social media. For greater impact, conduct celebratory events such as ribbon cuttings, signing ceremonies, or press conferences. Emphasize project benefits to key decision- makers and the public.
Strategic Communications Toolkit 13 OBSTACLES AND CHALLENGES In conducting strategic communications for major projects, transit agencies commonly deal with issues of limited informational reach, low levels of interest or participation, lack of public trust, and poor communication coordination. Lack of interest or participation from the general public is a common obstacle to project communication efforts. Low participation in meetings or surveys and low levels of online uptake inhibit transit agenciesâ ability to communicate with broad and representative audiences. Inconsistent messaging can harm the efficacy of project communication efforts. When agencies poorly coordinate message content or delivery, they risk confusing stakeholders and losing their trust. Inconsistent messaging is particularly problematic when projects go off-track. Internal obstacles, such as a lack of support from decision-makers or insufficient funding, limit the quality and scope of communication strategies transit agencies can afford, as well as their ability to make communication programs a central part of a project.
14 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE Transit agencies have tried and tested the communication methods listed in this toolkit. Their experiences with some of the most popular methods, outlined here, provide an informal overview of what works and what doesnât. Transit agencies report widespread use of social media as a messaging tool, but less use as a tool for engagement. Most transit agencies find that social media is effective in communicating with the general public, but many have not used it to target specific stakeholder groups. Nevertheless, social media is becoming more useful as a tool for engagement, and transit agencies should attempt to integrate social media more fully into communications efforts. Social Media In-Person Outreach Websites Transit agencies continue to use public meetings, street canvassing, and community group events to communicate and engage with specific stakeholder groups such as businesses, religious congregations, school communities, and neighborhood associations. Often, specific stakeholder groups form the greatest opposition to transit-priority projects, and when agencies have engaged with them in person, they have been able to soften, if not reduce, the hostility and anxiety directed at a specific project. For high-profile transit-priority projects, it is standard practice for transit agencies to create a dedicated project website or a project-specific page on their main website. Agencies tend not to view websites as their most important method of communication, but continually point to web-based sources of information throughout project lifecycles. Websites thus act as central points of reference for all stakeholders and are important in communicating the greatest amount of information possible.
Strategic Communications Toolkit 15 ADDITIONAL FACTORS FOR SUCCESS Successful strategic communications involve more than just the implementation of the methods outlined in this toolkit. Transit agencies point to several other factors as being important to the overall success of any communications effort. Effective Communication Methods Dedicated Communications Staff Transit agencies point to the presence of communications specialists on staff, or hired as consultants, as important to the overall success of strategic communications. Dedicated staff can concentrate their full attention on communications coordination and can evaluate and alter strategies as a project progresses. Multilingual staff are especially helpful in reaching all communities. Project Context Transit-priority projects may not always occur in supportive contexts, but they bring real benefits to many stakeholders. Where possible, transit agencies should pursue projects in supportive environments, but when opposition arises, communications efforts should emphasize project benefits and work with supportive stakeholders. Stakeholder Management Transit agencies should identify and involve key stakeholders early in a projectâs lifecycle or even before a project starts. One of the most common obstacles to successful communications is a lack of trust between transit agencies and stakeholders that stems from limited interaction. Funding Dedicated funding for project communications, as opposed to periodic allocations for communications from a general project budget, helps improve the scope and quality of communication methods transit agencies have at their disposal. It also allows communications staff to reliably plan and implement communications strategies.
16 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit Examples of Effective Strategic Communications Outreach Material Project Overview BrochureâCMAX Cleveland Avenue BRT In Columbus, Ohio, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) produced a high-quality project overview brochure to provide stakeholders with key information about the CMAX Cleveland Avenue BRT project. The brochure effectively conveys important information on the projectâs funding, schedule, and physical infrastructure. Crucially, the brochure is graphically engaging and includes maps and images which, at a quick glance, help to illustrate the nature of the project. Graphic documents such as this are useful, digitally and in print, in quickly and comprehensively explaining a transit-priority project to any potential audience. Multilingual OutreachâAlum Rock/Santa Clara BRT In San Jose, California, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) produced its outreach material in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Tagalog, to communicate with as many Santa Clara County communities as possible. Multilingual materials such as these help cities or transit agencies engage with immigrant communities, and although their impact may be relatively small, any engagement at all can be an important signal of commitment to a community. Multilingual outreach is particularly important where non-English speakers make up a significant portion of transit riders and thus are potential beneficiaries of transit-priority projects.
Strategic Communications Toolkit 17
18 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit Digital Engagement Project Websiteâ16th Street NW Bus Lanes Project As part of its strategic communications effort for the 16th Street NW Bus Lanes Project in Washington, D.C., the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created a dedicated project website (https://www.16thstreetnwbus.com/). The website serves as a central point of reference for all aspects of the project, and provides an overview of the project as well as information on public engagement, scheduling, and key project contacts. Videos of public meetings are posted to the website, making it a valuable resource for stakeholders unable to participate in public events. The website is easy to navigate, relatively simple, and clearly branded.
Strategic Communications Toolkit 19 Social Media OutreachâL Taraval Rapid Project The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) tweeted about the L Taraval Rapid Project before and during project implementation. The âMUNIFORWARDâ tweet shown here advertised the benefits of the project in December 2016, prior to project implementation. The tweet included a simple rendering of a platform boarding zone, a key element of the project. Basic visual elements such as this help make social media commu- nication more effective by quickly illustrating the nature of transit-priority concepts. The tweet also directed readers to an article outlining the project on SFMTAâs website, provid- ing interested readers a more in-depth explanation of the high-level information shared on social media. Tweet Online Article High level
20 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit Plan Ahead Value Expertise Use Appropriate Methods Anticipate Participation Challenges Internal agency staff can be empowered as dedicated communications experts, or communications consultants can be hired. Dedicated communications staff are key to coordinated communications over the life of a project. There are numerous methods of communication at an agencyâs disposal. Many are effective at reaching a large audience, but those that reach a small audience can be far more engaging. Good communications strategies use different methods to both inform and engage stakeholders. Stakeholders may not respond favorably, or significantly, to strategic communications efforts. Low participation in outreach efforts or low responsiveness to messaging campaigns is common, but in spite of such challenges, good communications efforts can still reach the most important audiences and help improve the overall delivery of a transit-priority project. Key questions should be asked to identify the goals for a communications effort at the beginning of a project. Planning communications strategies in advance allows transit agencies to be proactive, not reactive, in addressing stakeholder concerns. In-Person Engagement Meeting with Individual Stakeholders Along a Project Corridorâ L Taraval Rapid Project During its outreach efforts for the L Taraval Rapid Project, SFMTA identified local merchants along the project corridor as a key stakeholder group that was concerned about the impact of the project, an enhancement of light rail transit infrastructure, on on-street parking. Rather than meeting local merchants only at public meetings, SFMTA staff met with many of them infor- mally and individually at their businesses through neighborhood canvassing. This approach was labor intensive for SFMTA, but helped reduce the amount of public opposition to the project expressed by local merchants. SFMTA emphasizes the need to build trust as part of any com- munications effort and views informal in-person meetings as an effective means of doing so. Key Takeaways Communications with stakeholders and decision-makers can improve the implementation and acceptance of transit-priority projects. Getting communications right can be challenging; to meet this challenge, transit agencies need to plan ahead, value expertise, employ appropriate communication methods, and anticipate participation challenges.