Onward: Communications Strategies Build Public Support for Projects on the Move
Onward: Communications Strategies Build Public Support for Projects on the Move
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Onward: Communications Strategies Build Public Support for Projects on the Move
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By maintaining an open dialogue with stakeholders, the community relations team establishes relationships that enhance a client's reputation.

No matter what the stage or what the project — a new road, power plant, hospital or transmission line — the objective is the same: Move forward. Having a well-planned communications strategy in place from the onset can help keep a project on the right track.

Defining problems and developing solutions with input from all stakeholders when a project is in the conceptual stage can lead to better understanding of the project. It can also build public support.

"It's a mistake to think your technical analysis must be complete before engaging stakeholders. In fact, the opposite is true," says Julie Lorenz, senior strategic consultant for Burns & McDonnell.

Lorenz, who came to Burns & McDonnell from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), has witnessed projects moving forward when effective communications strategies were established up front. She spearheaded the communications strategy that was instrumental in securing a sales tax increase to fund an $8.2 billion, 10-year transportation program for KDOT.

Making Connections

Lorenz focuses on communicating with stakeholders — in their language, and in a way that is understandable and compelling.

"You have to help stakeholders understand what's at stake - and then determine what they really care about," Lorenz says. "Education is good, but collaboration is better for building supportable decisions. It's not loss of control — it's actually better positioning to accomplish long-term goals."

When the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) wanted to update how it analyzes economic factors and selects major transportation projects, Burns & McDonnell was called on to engage business and community leaders to develop a process that is sensible and supportable.

Chandler Duncan, project manager for Economic Development Research Group, which led the overall project, says outreach efforts gave participants an understanding of the key issues the new policy would address.

"Once we made our recommendations, we were pleased when ODOT was able to readily put them to use on an accelerated program of projects that could be funded by Ohio leveraging toll-way revenues," he says. "The groundwork of a robust stakeholder engagement effort provided critical input needed for the ultimate and timely success of the effort."

Opening Lines of Communication

Joab Ortiz, a Burns & McDonnell senior public involvement specialist, and his team of 30 community relations professionals begin communicating with a new project's stakeholders in the early stages of planning and are involved throughout construction.

"First, we work with the client and the public to develop a consensus to determine what the project should entail," Ortiz says. "Then, as the client's representative, we do our due diligence, making sure the public is informed and has a voice in the process."

By maintaining an open dialogue with stakeholders, the community relations team establishes relationships that enhance a client's reputation.

"By making connections early on, when a project is done we can go back and tie up loose ends with individuals and maintain good relationships for the client," Ortiz says. "We do our best to turn over all of the stones and reveal all of the issues affected by the project."

Ortiz's team is using this strategy on the Midwest Transmission Project, a 180-mile overhead transmission line that touches 18 counties in Nebraska and Missouri. Working alongside the Omaha Public Power District and Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), the project team addressed more than 7,000 stakeholders during the routing phase of the project. The team will continue to communicate with stakeholders as the project progresses.

"The comprehensive plan and approach applied by Burns & McDonnell's public involvement team helped establish and enhance the long-term relationships with our stakeholders and customers in the project area," says Julie Shull, project manager for KCP&L.

Broader Applications

These communications strategies work on projects across the board, not just transportation and utility endeavors.

"It's really just a matter of using good, solid communication principles that are effective when trying to build support for any initiative," Lorenz says. "They help move projects forward."

For more information, contact Julie Lorenz, 816-822-3195, or Joab Ortiz, 816-349-6766.

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