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Public Outreach That Works--5 New Rules

Public outreach is changing. People are more and more busy, and are more and more connected to digital devices, be they mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, or laptops. You are more likely to bump into them on the street as they read their email, and less likely to greet each other, since you are doing the same thing. 

Here are the New Rules for public engagement. These work for transportation, public utilities, or development projects in your area. 

Old Rule: Hold a Meeting

1. New Rule: Go to their Meeting

Let’s say you want to inform and educate a public about your project. It used to be you could set up a series of meetings and be sure to get a cross-section of stakeholders to attend. No more. Now you’re better off researching what meetings are going on in your region, calendaring them, requesting to join, and educating that way. These meetings could be at church or block parties or neighborhood associations, or school events. They contain a ready and engaged audience, and you can spend your time working on your materials and presentation, not trying to drum up warm butts in the seats.
This does not mean that you never hold a meeting. A few strategically placed Town Halls are great culminations of the small outreach efforts where you meet people in “their home.”

Old Rule: Use TV, Radio, Newspaper for Media Outreach

2. New Rule: Use the media your constituency uses
Used to be we all watched the evening news. Used to be we all read the local newspaper every morning. No more. It’s worth your time to research how your constituency is consuming their information and using it. Could be blogs, or billboards; apps or hyperlocal print newsletters; email or text. Research the how so you can get them the what.

Old Rule: Tell them what you want them to hear

3. New Rule: Engage your constituency
People don’t really want to be talked at anymore. We want to be asked a question, and respond. We want to be shown visual choices and make a decision, which is better. We want “chunked up” communication, little bites that are very visual—think of what people respond to on Facebook and Twitter. Pictures with minimal text! Quizzes, short online surveys. All good ways to engage your audience.

Old Rule: Reach out three times, and you’re done

4. New Rule: Communication is a flow
The beauty of all the media at our disposal now is we can make communication with stakeholders a flow rather than fits and starts, using digital (social media, email, digital magazine, text messages and alerts) to keep the information flowing between in-person forums and events. We can tell a story about the project to keep stakeholders informed. 

Old Rule: English language

5. New Rule: Translate, please
In my city, there are Russian, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish native speakers, depending upon the neighborhood. Translation services must be accurately used to communicate effectively with key stakeholder groups. That’s a given in today’s multicultural world.

Click below to check out three very different and equally successful public outreach case studies!