• Speakers' Bureaus and Public Involvement Volunteers

    Community people serve on policy and decision-making committees and boards. They represent groups organized around civic, environmental, business, or community interests, or specific geographic areas, or they serve as individual experts in a field. They need not be elected officials or agency staff.
  • Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks

    Interactive video displays and kiosks are similar to automatic teller machines, offering menus for interaction between a person and a computer. Information is provided through a presentation that invites viewers to ask questions or direct the flow of information. Viewers activate programs by using a touch-screen, keys, a mouse, or a trackball. Software used in interactive video displays and kiosks is highly specialized, storing information on hardware that allows retrieval of specific information based on directions from the viewer.
  • Handheld Instant Voting

    Handheld/instant voting is a means by which participants may express a preference for an issue or idea under consideration and have their preferences recorded, usually anonymously and instantaneously.
  • Visualization Techniques

    Visualization techniques are methods used to show information in clear and easily understood formats such as maps, pictures, or displays. The results can be simple or complex and include graphs, pie charts, photo composites and photosimulations, artist's renderings, wire-frame illustrations of 3D forms, interactive maps, and animations such as walk-throughs and drive-throughs.
  • Stakeholder Partnerships

    Stakeholder partnerships are the creation of strategic alliances with key stakeholders.
  • Utility Bill Stuffers

    This technique is part of a larger group of techniques. For information about this technique and all other under this larger group see Information materials.
  • Variable Message Signs (VMS)

    Variable message signs are electronic signs either permanently or temporarily displayed along roadways to provide short, concise information to motorists. Typically, VMS signs are used for traffic condition information, emergency messages, and public service messages. Some agencies have also used VMS signs to provide project or study related information and to encourage public participation.
  • Video Sharing

    Video sharing describes the uploading of video to a Web-based service such as YouTube that allows users to view media files. On YouTube, transportation agencies can upload videos for free, and make them available to the general public. Video content can include presentations, recordings of meetings, or special animations.
  • Video Techniques

    Video techniques use recorded visual and oral messages to present information to the public, primarily via tapes or laser disks. Although many people now prefer video as a means of getting information, public agencies are just starting to tap its potential use. During preparation of its statewide transportation plan, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) opened its regional forums with introductory videos.
  • Virtual Meetings/Workshops

    Virtual meetings are interactions that take place over the Internet and are designed to replicate the experience of participating in an in-person meeting. These can either be conducted in real-time using integrated audio and video, chat tools, and application sharing, or they can be un-moderated allowing users to participate on their own schedule.
  • Virtual Worlds/Online Gaming

    Virtual worlds are digital representations of the real or fantasy world where, through virtual persona (avatars), users interact with one another, collaborate, and participate in social and economic activities. In many of these worlds, a sense of “community” as well as public dialogue emerges from the interactions of participants, who create and shape the virtual world they inhabit.
  • Visioning

    Visioning leads to a goals statement. Typically, it consists of a series of meetings focused on long-range issues. Visioning results in a long-range plan. With a 20- or 30-year horizon, visioning also sets a strategy for achieving the goals. Visioning has been used to set a long-range statewide transportation plan in Ohio, a statewide comprehensive plan in New Jersey, and a regional land-use and transportation plan in the Seattle, Washington, region.
  • Visual Preference Surveys

    A visual preference survey is a technique that assists the community in determining which components of a plan or project environment contributes positively to a community's overall image or features. As the name implies, the technique is based on the development of one or more visual concepts of a proposed plan or project. Once the visual concepts are developed, they are used in a public forum or other specialized public gathering to provide the public with an opportunity to review, study, and comment on their preferences for the features depicted by the visual representations. Typical uses of visual preference surveys include helping the community define the preferences for architectural style, signs, building setbacks, landscaping, parking areas, size/scope of transportation facilities, surfaces finishes, and other design elements.
  • Websites

    Project websites are internet pages dedicated to information about a specific program or project. Generally hosted by the lead agency, a project website is the project's virtual public information headquarters. A project website can be set up to record public comments and discussion, to include a sign-up for project-related emails, and to hold official documents for users to download and print.
  • Site Visits

    Site visits are trips taken by community residents, officials, agencies, and consultants to proposed or actual project areas, corridors, impacted areas, or affected properties. They are also known as field visits or site tours.

 Details

  • Citizens on Decision and Policy Bodies
    Community people serve on policy and decision-making committees and boards. They represent groups organized around civic, environmental, business, or community interests, or specific geographic areas, or they serve as individual experts in a field. They need not be elected officials or agency staff. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) appointed a community committee to develop and recommend alternatives for reconstruction of a large I-95 bridge.
     
    Community people serve on policy and decision-making committees and boards. They represent groups organized around civic, environmental, business, or community interests, or specific geographic areas, or they serve as individual experts in a field. They need not be elected officials or agency staff. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) appointed a community committee to develop and recommend alternatives for reconstruction of a large I-95 bridge.

    Some boards make decisions; others help formulate policy. Regional residents sit on the decision-making Great Falls City/County Planning Board in Montana, and on Washington's Puget Sound Regional Council. The head of Georgia's Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Committee sits on the Metropolitan Planning Organizations's Project Committee. Citizens on such boards are distinct from purely advisory groups, such as civic advisory committees, that are often part of planning and project development. (See Civic Advisory Committees)

    These boards are established by statute, regulation, or political decision. Ad hoc committees are set up by legislative acts or executive decision to investigate specific subjects. They may be temporary or permanent. In Portland, Oregon, a committee of community members works with the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) staff to develop scopes of service for projects and to review and select consultants. For the U.S. 301 corridor study, Maryland's Governor created a 76-member task force to address regional transportation issues, develop and evaluate possible transportation and land-use solutions, and recommend public policies. The majority of members were private citizens.

    The composition of a board varies, depending on its assigned task. A board may include citizens and elected or appointed officials or be composed entirely of citizens. It may be assisted in its task by staff members assigned from elected officials or agency representatives. The Airport Policy Committee of the San Diego, California, MPO has a mixed representation of citizens and professionals. The Metro Council, MPO for Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, has both citizens and elected officials on its 30-member Transportation Board, including 10 municipal elected officials, 7 elected county officials, 9 private citizens (including the chair), and 4 representatives of State or regional agencies.

    People are appointed to boards in a variety of ways. They are nominated or appointed to these positions by public officials, or they volunteer or are elected by their peers. The ways they come to serve depend on the rules and nature of the policy body.

    The board's role establishes the amount of influence these citizens wield. The 76-member task force overseeing the U.S. 301 Corridor Planning Study in Maryland has virtually total decision-making power. Composed entirely of citizens appointed by the Governor, Arizona DOT's Transportation Board has final say on the State's five-year plan, the transportation improvement program, and State transportation planning projects.

    Why are they useful?
    Community people bring new points of view, new ideas, and a community perspective directly into the decision-making process. Little Rock, Arkansas, MPO found that people were able to integrate political and technical engineering issues in solving problems. They focused on whether an idea made sense to them, their neighbors, and the people most affected by the decision. 

    Ad-hoc committees help local people participate in decision-making. For the Albuquerque, New Mexico, MPO's Urban Area Truck Route Task Group, membership was solicited through more than 300 letters to neighborhood, advocacy, and business groups. Volunteers worked with technical staff from the city and a neighboring county to develop a commercial vehicle network plan processed as though it were an agency-prepared plan.

    Decisions have greater legitimacy if residents are involved. Including local people in decision-making demonstrates an agency's commitment to participatory planning. At the contaminated U.S. Department of Energy site in Rocky Flats, Colorado, a community committee directed the planning of an off-site hazardous waste sampling program. In essence, such empowerment validates the principle that people want-and should be able-to decide what is best for their community.

    Do they have special uses?
    Citizen committees oversee specific aspects of complicated programs. For the Hudson River Waterfront Alternatives Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Statement in New Jersey, local residents directed agency staff in implementing air quality monitoring.

    Community representatives work directly with project design consultants. For proposed construction of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado, the Governor appointed area residents to work with the State's highway planners and the principal design consultants to address public concerns from the beginning of preliminary engineering and highway design. Along with frequent public hearings, local representation served to satisfy public demand for a greater voice in the project.

    Local people facilitate communication between decision-making bodies. The Airport Policy Committee of the San Diego, California, MPO worked with officials to forge consensus on several controversial issues. These people provided a free flow of ideas, unconstrained by concerns for existing policies, and were able to help overcome political deadlock.

    Community representatives serve as informed spokespersons for an agency's programs. Individuals from the Boise, Idaho, MPO citizen committee host public meetings, speak to other organizations, and attend neighborhood events. They use non-technical language to make citizens more comfortable and willing to participate in discussion.

    Residents help achieve an agency's goals. For the Dade County, Florida, rail system, a decision-making committee was appointed, composed of elected officials and neighborhood representatives. These citizens subsequently provided leadership on two referenda supporting funding for the new rail system.

    Civic outreach committees assist with public involvement programs and provide advice based on what they hear in their own discussions with the public. Seattle's Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA) appointed a group of people to assist in developing a ballot proposal for regional transit.

    Who participates on these boards?
    People who serve on policy boards are drawn from many sources. They include community and business leaders, leaders from special interest groups, and interested individuals. Length of tenure varies, depending on tasks, but is generally one to five years.

    It is important to recognize special interests. The Hartford, Connecticut, MPO agency-wide technical committee includes representatives of four private groups: the American Lung Association, the Chamber of Commerce, a construction industry association, and a ridesharing corporation. The board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, has long included representatives from the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters.

    What are the costs?
    Monetary costs are usually nominal. Local people appointed to policy boards are seldom paid. Costs to support their participation include agency staff time, postage, transportation, and occasional meals. Many agencies economize by sending the same information packages to both elected officials and boards that include citizens. Costs of including community people on existing boards are likely to be lower than those of forming an entirely new board or committee such as a collaborative task force.

    Staffing requirements may be very small. A 1995 nationwide survey of transit agency policy committees showed that staff support to the committees averaged 12.4 hours per month. Full-time staff members with assignments including support to these committees averaged 1.2 people. However, even modest requirements of staff time may pose a challenge to small MPOs.

    How is this organized?
    The first step is to determine the need for local representation. Agencies may be aware of the need because of comment or criticism from local people. The media sometimes call for local representation when an agency undertakes a specific task. An agency also becomes aware through discussions with peers in other areas.

    Another step is to research legal requirements. State laws may specify whether individuals may sit on MPO boards. Participation may be limited by an organization's by-laws.

    An agency devises a strategy for local representation, designing community positions to suit the board's functions and objectives. The Albany, New York, Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC)-all elected officials-puts local people on many task forces, along with local agency representatives and institutional and business leaders.

    An agency solicits local interest in a variety of ways. The media help by opening the issue to public discussion. A letter soliciting interest in participation on boards or committees might be sent in a general mailing. For a long-range planning effort, the Albany CDTC took a sample survey of local people to determine potential interests in participating on planning and policy committees.

    An agency seeks a balance of various viewpoints. The nature of a task may draw volunteers who represent only one side of an issue, yet a board should encompass many stances.

    A formal appointment process is established. A simple letter or a more formal event lends legitimacy to the process and gives satisfaction and encouragement to an appointee. A written document formalizes the time frame, responsibilities, and the expected products. It is also important to point out the extent of the powers that accompany the appointment and how the results of the task will affect further agency actions.

    Agencies involve elected officials and keep them informed. Officials are often able to provide helpful insight. They may also want to be apprised of the board's progress.

    Agencies determine the nature of their involvement on boards. It may take the form of representation, usually in an ad hoc and non-voting capacity. It may involve board support, in the form of staff services, meeting space, and use of equipment for presentations and recording of proceedings. In some instances, agencies supply meals, especially if participants travel long distances or a meeting is held during a conventional meal hour.

    A method of selecting a committee chair is determined. Often a board selects its own chair, or the chair is appointed. If elections are to take place, introductions of board member candidates are appropriate, so that an informed selection is made. Introductions can be informal or take a more formal approach, such as written position papers that define an individual's expectations and goals for the processes and products.

    Meeting frequency is derived from the size of the task and its deadlines. In order to accomplish an assignment, a board may need to meet frequently. Many citizen committees meet monthly, but specific projects or responsibilities may dictate different schedules. Board members should play a major role in determining meeting frequency.

    Communication is maintained between meetings. Minutes of each meeting are kept for the record and distributed to remind participants of past events and decisions. Issue papers are distributed prior to meetings to help people prepare and to aid discussions. Many agencies keep local representatives informed with periodic status reports.

    Decision-making bodies need time to adjust to the dynamics of public involvement. In some cases, important informal communication occurs during breaks or outside formal meeting hours. For effective communication among policy board members, the sponsoring agency may take time to foster a positive atmosphere or use familiar procedures. For guidance, many MPOs, such as those in Portland, San Diego, and Phoenix, employ the commonly-understood meeting procedures outlined in Robert's Rules of Order.

    Ethical issues must be considered. Public agencies frequently have established rules of professional ethics, and these rules extend to community participants. For example, potential conflicts of interest need to be identified and addressed immediately.

    How is this used with other techniques?
    Community representatives are important components of a public involvement program and complement almost any other technique. However, local representation cannot be the sole method an agency uses to involve the public in the planning process. Community representatives are most effective if they relate continuously with their constituent groups and participate in an agency's other public involvement outreach techniques.

    Local representatives are ideal speakers. They are generally well-informed and usually have extensive experience and exposure to issues. They are good candidates for a speakers' bureau, but agencies must remain considerate of demands placed on their time. (See Speakers' Bureaus and Public Involvement Volunteers)

    What are the drawbacks?
    The selection and appointment process may be criticized, especially if the appointee's qualifications are questioned or if the process is seen as closed or unfair. To counter such charges, an agency can develop a strategy for the process that is comprehensive and well-understood.

    Board members may not be fully representative. Selected representatives may not share the prevailing opinions of the communities they represent. An agency sometimes needs to expand the number of representatives to bring in underrepresented interests.

    Balanced representation of interest groups is crucial in avoiding controversy. Disputes over representation require skillful diplomacy to maintain the legitimacy of the process.

    Agency culture sometimes presents barriers. Agencies that perceive themselves as empowered with sole decision-making responsibility are reluctant to share authority with non-elected citizens. An agency's traditional organization or decision-making style may block efforts to increase the influence of private citizens on decision or policy bodies.

    For further information:
    Alaska Department of Transportation, Juneau, Alaska,
    (907) 465-2171

    Capital District Transportation Committee, Albany, New York,
    (518) 458-2161

    Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, Seattle, Washington,
    (206) 684-1357

    Connecticut Department of Transportation, Newington, Connecticut,
    (860) 594-2939

    Little Rock Metropolitan Planning Organization-Metroplan, Little Rock, Arkansas, (501) 372-3300

    Maryland State Highway Administration, Baltimore, Maryland,
    (410) 333-6431

    Portland, Maine, Area Comprehensive Transportation Study,
    (207) 774-9891
    San Diego Association of Governments, San Diego, California,
    (619) 595-5300
  • What are interactive video displays and kiosks?
    Interactive video displays and kiosks are similar to automatic teller machines, offering menus for interaction between a person and a computer. Information is provided through a presentation that invites viewers to ask questions or direct the flow of information. Viewers activate programs by using a touch-screen, keys, a mouse, or a trackball. Software used in interactive video displays and kiosks is highly specialized, storing information on hardware that allows retrieval of specific information based on directions from the viewer.

    Interactive displays and kiosks:
    • Deliver information to the user;
    • Offer a variety of issues to explore, images to view, and topics to consider;
    • Elicit specific responses, acting as a survey instrument;
    • Enable the user to enter a special request to the sponsoring agency or join a mailing list;
    • Are used in a variety of locations and may be either stationary or mobile;
    • Receive and store user input.
     
    Interactive displays take advantage of evolving video and communications technologies. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has installed interactive tourist information kiosks at each of its ten rest areas. The kiosks have a constantly-running video designed to attract passers-by. During the loop presentation, viewers touch the screen to activate certain modules of information such as museums or other attractions by region or for any part of the Commonwealth.

    Why are they useful?
    If well-sited, interactive programs reach people who do not normally attend hearings or meetings. Visual communication is very powerful, delivering large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. Interactive displays help people understand plans and complex programs. They raise public awareness about projects or programs and reassure people that their government is listening. A public involvement technique using interactive video may be very successful in attracting broader participation.

    Strategic siting of interactive programs is imperative. They should be located where large numbers of people gather—for instance, in shopping malls, community colleges, and government buildings. They are placed where people naturally congregate to talk, shop, or socialize, or—in airline terminals—where they wait for arriving or departing planes. Displays are also set up at non-transportation special events. The Colorado Governor’s Office initiated a program of touch-screen informational displays in shopping centers.

    Interactive displays can supplement other methods of obtaining public input. If an interactive display is part of an open house, participants may be able to provide written comments based on the interactive display program. Kiosks in a shopping mall or other similar setting may be equipped with comment cards in a pocket or tray and a mailbox type container in which to deposit the cards. Project staff would collect these comment cards periodically. Agencies use feedback from interactive video displays just as they use public input obtained by more conventional means.

    Interactive displays are useful in explaining a project and its implications. The New York State Urban Development Corporation developed an interactive video for public distribution to help explain the Miller Highway Relocation Project in New York City. The video offers highly-developed video images and animations to explain various project alternatives and their environmental implications. Users see the different alternatives from a variety of perspectives and enter their reactions. (See Computer Presentations and Simulations; Visual Preference Surveys; 3-D Visualization.)

    Do they have special uses?
    Interactive displays provide the public with access to areas that are distant or dangerous to visit. The Tennessee Valley Authority and the Florida Power and Light Company use video displays to illustrate the workings of nuclear power facilities.

    Interactive displays elicit preferences from people who do not otherwise participate. Displays are used to collect comments and public input. They are useful for disseminating detailed information or generating interest in transportation planning. They are used to expand mailing list databases. (See Mailing Lists.)

    Interactive displays complement staff availability. As agency resources become more scarce, the City of New York Human Resources Administration is expanding its use of interactive terminals to assist social service clients. Interactive terminals are appropriate as a primary or initial contact and cost-effective for answering requests for general information. For specific responses or more detailed information delivery, other public involvement techniques are probably required. Video displays should not be used to avoid face-to-face contact with the public.

    Interactive displays can provide printed messages. Supporting machines record the information requested by a user from the screen and dispense it in printed form. Automatic teller machines are common examples. Rental car agencies provide driving directions to local destinations on video terminals with full-color maps of selected destination areas. The Texas Employment Commission now has 44 easy-to-use kiosks in public locations around the State with interactive displays that print out hundreds of job openings. The kiosks are already tapped an average of 60,000 times a month.

    Who participates? And how?
    People of all ages participate. Children, adults, and the elderly are encouraged to use displays, ask questions, and retrieve available information. Interactive displays in public places allow an agency to reach people who otherwise would not participate in transportation processes.

    Interactive displays reach people at a variety of education or computer-literacy levels. Physical and program designs should encourage broad use, since children and some disabled people may not be able to reach or use equipment. Designs should facilitate ease of operation to encourage people without computer experience to interact with the program. The Arizona Supreme Court has developed interactive displays, called Quickcourt terminals, to assist people in understanding how to navigate through the judicial system. On-screen text is written at a fourth-grade reading level, and a narrator gives audio direction. Key words and numbers flash in synchronization with the narration to assist users with poor reading skills. In the first year of operation, almost 24,000 Quickcourt transactions were conducted, and only a handful of users had to seek further help.

    Interactive displays are often multi-lingual. New York City installed 62 bilingual (English and Spanish) kiosks throughout the city to inform people about city services.

    Interactive displays and kiosks provide an opportunity to search for information of specific interest to an individual user. Users interact by touching the screen. Software programs allow computers and video monitors to react to touch and respond with information or questions relevant to the user’s request. These programs can lead a user through a great deal of available information to find a specific answer. The display and kiosk may also display a point of contact for further information.

    Users find interactive displays in a variety of public places. The Arizona Quickcourt system has used locations such as shopping malls, schools, and government offices. Orange County, California, uses a movable kiosk display to show transit project information on a touch screen.

    How do agencies use the output?
    Interactive displays provide information from an agency to the public. This method of displaying information supplements other methods of dissemination, thus conserving staff resources. (See Public Information Materials.) The Smithsonian Institution added an interactive kiosk about transportation to an exhibit at the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The kiosk allows visitors to ask questions about public transit, commercial vehicle operations, traffic management, traveler information, and accident prevention. It gives information about transportation and, in doing so, exhibits the use of technology for a larger exhibit, “The Information Age.”

    Interactive displays collect information from the public for agency analysis. Output from an interactive display can be used to record preferences or to recognize and respond to specific participant concerns. It is also used to expand mailing list databases. (See Mailing Lists.)

    Displays offer agencies flexibility in controlling and directing where a message goes. As with commercial video productions, specific audiences can be targeted. A program can be designed to appeal principally to adults who seldom go to public meetings or to parents of children who delight in observing different modes of transportation. When presentation information is developed to appeal to that audience, the interactive feature of a touch screen adds a means of collecting reactions from the audience. Targeted marketing by local governments, according to Indiana Business Magazine, has the potential to increase an audience’s retention of information by 50 percent.

    Who leads?
    Software experts design and develop interactive displays. These sophisticated computer programs are usually produced by special contractors. Preparation, distribution, and maintenance of interactive displays, collection of stored data, and reprogramming of machines require special technical and logistical skills. One company is developing an electronic panning camera system that allows people in separate locations to view a scene from an infinite number of perspectives. These sophisticated techniques require special equipment and contact with vendors that market these tools.

    What are the costs?
    Costs associated with kiosks and interactive displays can be broken down into hardware, software, updates, and maintenance. Purchasing the hardware (e.g., enclosure, CPU, touch screen, keyboard, laser printer) and installing a kiosk (e.g., site negotiation, electrical and telecommunication connections) may cost an agency between $12,000 and $20,000 per unit. In most cases, agencies purchase kiosks, rather than lease them. They may however reprogram kiosks after a project is complete to fit a new information need.

    The cost of software for kiosks is highly variable. It often depends on the complexity of the graphics and interaction screens and on whether or not information and photographs to be used are readily available. For a relatively simple interface and with pre-existing information and photos, software development could cost an agency approximately $40,000. More extensive graphics and sound, graphics that must be designed by the vendor, and original video footage would add significantly to the cost.

    Costs to update the content of the video display or kiosk could range from a few hundred dollars for simple text-based changes to thousands of dollars for new, motion-based video screens. These costs could be avoided or reduced by having an agency manage the updates. If the kiosk design involves a central computer controlling the display and software created in a common development language like HTML, agency personnel may be easily able to make updates to the kiosk information.

    Kiosks and interactive video displays also need regular maintenance including cleaning, refilling paper, and stocking extra parts for quick repairs. Agencies can reduce the cost of maintenance by assigning on-site staff to be responsible for maintenance. Alternatively, the kiosk vendor may charge several hundred dollars per month for maintenance services. An agency also may have professional staff accompany interactive displays to assist users. The State of Vermont has an advanced computer-based survey instrument with full-color graphics, photographs, and video segments, accompanied by two to four survey attendants to guide respondents through a questionnaire. Such additional staffing requirements should be considered in the cost equation.

    How are interactive video displays and kiosks organized?
    Interactive displays are usually independent, free-standing installations. A television monitor is required, operated by either touching the screen or using a keyboard. Depending on the anticipated level of use, a touch screen is sturdier than most peripherals. Interactive displays are best situated in places where they will attract users. A minimal need is connection to a reliable power source for the electricity required by the monitor, the driver, and the computer. Displays are frequently linked to terminals in a central location that monitor their continued performance and reliability.

    Interactive displays may be operated as a network of terminals, like automatic teller machines (ATMs) or the Arizona Quickcourt system. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA), in Seattle, has developed a fiber-optic based “Interpretive Display” formatted around a map of the region. The RTA uses it, without staff, to reach people in shopping malls and other high-traffic areas and get them involved.

    The decision to use kiosks is highly dependent on the nature of the project, other public involvement techniques being used, community norms, and available resources. In the mid-1990s because of a confluence of computer technologies and public outreach needs, a number of projects employed kiosks as one of many outreach techniques. However, since that time, alternative forms of disseminating information have emerged (e.g., Internet, community-access television, etc.). In addition, because of the visual sophistication of the public, given the pervasiveness and societal influence of mass media and advertising, there may be expectations on the part of the public for high quality and completeness. The public may dismiss the visual content because the renderings or presentation are not developed to a comparable level of detail and quality they are used to viewing in the print and visual mass media.

    Consequently, it is not possible to offer reasonable “rules of thumb” on key issues of number of kiosks, location, message content, etc. Because of the cost individual kiosks, if an agency is going to seriously consider kiosks or interactive video displays as part of a public involvement program, a separate study should be conducted to confirm expected use, types of information perceived to be valued by the public, candidate locations, message content and format.

    How are they used with other techniques?
    Interactive displays are stationary components of a larger outreach program. They cannot be an agency’s sole means of public communication. Instead, they offer a dynamic and potentially absorbing method for expanding public involvement. Innovative use of this technology offers a new way to meet an old goal: sharing information with the public.

    What are the drawbacks?
    Any new technology involving machines may cause unease. People resent the use of machines as a perceived replacement for personal communication. Interactive displays, like ATMs, offer people added convenience and the appearance of one-on-one interaction. However, frustration with menu-driven machines and the tedium of struggling through pre-programmed displays alienate some people.

    Software purchase is a high up-front cost. Moreover, the software package needs to be updated regularly to keep it fresh.

    Maintenance costs are incurred. Screens get dirty, especially touch-screens, and may need daily cleaning if usage is high.

    Potential vandalism is a factor in site selection, the type of equipment selected, and the location of the power source. The installation should be designed and sited to help its maintenance crew cope with defacement and abuse.

    Liability issues may be associated with location of displays. Movable displays, in particular, should be insured to relieve property owners of responsibilities for incidents that occur where they are parked. Stationary displays should also be insured.

    For further information:
    City of New York, Department of Information, Technology, and Telecommunications
    (718) 403-8011

    New York State Urban Development Corporation
    (212) 930-0431

    Portland Metro, Public Involvement Office, Portland, Oregon
    (503) 797-1746

    Quickcourt, Arizona Supreme Court, Phoenix, Arizona
    (602) 542-9300
  • Handheld/instant voting is a means by which participants may express a preference for an issue or idea under consideration and have their preferences recorded, usually anonymously and instantaneously. In typical public involvement practice for example, participants are provided a paper feedback form or ballot to indicate a preference for one or more alternatives of a plan or project. These paper ballots are collected and tallied at a later time with the summary results usually shared with the public through a newsletter, report, website posting, or other means. Improvements in technology allow for more advanced tally techniques, such as an optical scanner, to automate and reduce tabulation errors. More recent technical advances have allowed participants the opportunity to cast their preferences via handheld devices, sometimes using wireless communication systems at a specially arranged location. Some companies are beginning to develop Internet-based instantaneous voting approaches, which allow for a decentralized collection of votes. Wireless companies with their cellular phones or PDAs now allow mobile users to connect to the Internet or E-mail providers and cast preferences for products and services.

    The handheld/instant voting technique is not widespread, primarily due to cost, but may offer a dramatic improvement in the ability of agencies to collect public preference, especially if electronic voting systems are employed in other forms of democratic processes, such as local, state, or federal elections. Past efforts have been attempted in on-line voting (Cube system tried in Columbus, Ohio during the mid-1970's), but did not success due to technical awkwardness, lack of trust in an accurate vote tally, and minimal social acceptance of this form of democracy.

    Why is it useful?
    The advantages of the direct-recording electronic systems, where the participant (voter) does not fill out a paper ballot and simply touches a screen or pushes buttons, is that there is no voter intent problem (was a ballot marked correctly), the preferences are captured quickly, and physical presence at a public involvement site/event is not required, only some form of electronic access and validation of the voter. In addition, handheld voting allows for immediate feedback and quick iterations and refinements. Some experts believe the electronic voting systems could enhance the democratic process by enabling referendums or preference surveys to be conducted more often and at less cost. Some studies have indicated the lack of public involvement may be due to the inconvenience of going to the public involvement site, which would be overcome with a handheld/instant or electronic voting system. On the other hand, despite elaborate software safeguards against hackers and fraud, even electronic voting techniques must first gain enough public trust in the techniques security for them to be effective. Most tests so far have involved computers in public buildings with access monitored by vote monitors.

    Does it have special uses?
    Handheld/instant voting is useful when seeking preferences quickly from an audience. However, care must be taken to understand the nature of the voting group so that results are carefully analyzed and inferences correctly drawn about preferences for more general populations or groups.

    Who participates? And how?
    Participants in handheld/instant voting techniques may be selected to be representative of a special subpopulation (e.g., a community-based survey) or representative of the more general population (urban, suburban, rural communities in a metropolitan area across all demographic characteristics). At other times, there maybe no pre-selection or screening of voters and those who have access to the devices or voting sites are allowed to cast a preference. The choice of technique and who participates depends on the objectives of the public involvement process.
    A typical use of handheld/instant voting involves having the audience express preferences to several scenarios. They press buttons corresponding to questions associated with the scenario, using a preference scale to respond to a question, e.g., high to low, like to dislike, one to five, etc. The questions have been carefully selected and sequenced to allow analysts to infer preferences and/or special interests among the scenarios and discussion topics. From the voting, reports may be provided instantaneously or only votes collected instantaneously, with the results presented at a later time through a pre-arranged feedback mechanism. More sophisticated methods allow for the real-time adjustment of subsequent scenarios based on the immediate responses of voters.

    Other types of handheld/instant voting techniques would allow the public to express preferences through touch screens on kiosks or similar computer-aided devices. The preference results would typically be downloaded to a central tally location periodically (hourly, daily, etc.) depending on the polling location of the kiosk, perceived interest in the topic, and cost.

    In any case, issues of voter fraud, double counting, and ease of access will need to be addressed. Some techniques use identifying numbers, letters, or similar techniques.

    How do agencies use the output?
    The results are used in a manner similar to those of conducting a survey or preference expression technique. In general, the output allows for a means of rapidly getting public (or some subpopulation's) reaction to a project or plan, obtaining community preferences for selected scenarios, helping to educate the public about a particular project or plan, and encouraging participation through the fundamental democratic principle of voting.

    What are the costs?
    Handheld/instant voting systems are expensive, costing anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to several thousand dollars for each portable (wireless) unit. Vendors do provide rental systems, but the costs usually can be several hundred dollars per user, depending on the intended use, number of voters, duration of the rental, and the complexity of the survey. Technology advances will help drive these costs lower.

    How is it used with other techniques?
    Handheld/instant voting can be used with other parts of the project or plan development cycle to improve the agency's understanding of community preferences.Whenever the public involvement process calls for the expression by the public of a preference for an idea, options, or alternative, handheld/instant voting is a candidate technique.

    What are the drawbacks?
    Drawbacks of the handheld/instant voting technique include:
    • Potentially high initial cost or rental cost;
    • Only takes the opinions of those voting, which may cause for skewed interpretation of preferences and results;
    • Participants may be reluctant to use the devices for fear of new technology, accuracy, anonymity, or similar factors.
    When is it used most effectively?
    When a rapid response of preferences is required.

    For further information:

    The case of electronic voting
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,40141,00.html

    Internet Voting Technology Alliance
    http://www.ivta.org/  
  • What is this technique?
    Visualization techniques are methods used to show information in clear and easily understood formats such as maps, pictures, or displays. The results can be simple or complex and include graphs, pie charts, photo composites and photosimulations, artist's renderings, wire-frame illustrations of 3D forms, interactive maps, and animations such as walk-throughs and drive-throughs.

    Visualization techniques are methods used to show information in clear and easily understood formats such as maps, pictures, or displays. The results can be simple or complex and include graphs, pie charts, photo composites and photosimulations, artist's renderings, wire-frame illustrations of 3D forms, interactive maps, and animations such as walk-throughs and drive-throughs.

    Visualization techniques use a variety of technologies, including photography, photogrammetry (geographically referenced data derived from aerial photographs), digital imaging, GIS, CAD, computer graphics, and specialized planning applications to create simulated views of proposed changes to an existing situation.

    Animating data is a visualization technique. Charts and diagrams can be presented in video format with important data highlighted by simple animations. Animation has been used to illustrate large quantities of data such as those gathered through remote sensing applications such as weather systems (See Remote Sensing Applications).

    Technology is evolving rapidly. Simple visualizations can now be created in widely available office software, while more specialized software (and more robust hardware) is needed to create complex visualizations.

    Why is visualization useful?
    Visualizations immediately convey the appearance, extent, and location of a design or concept and lead to better understanding of the project and its impacts. They enable the public to better understand and respond to a potentially complex project or plan. They help answer questions such as "How will this project design blend in with the existing location? How do these design drawings translate to a finished project?"

    Showing a simulated new facility in a familiar, existing context enhances understanding. Integrating proposed features with photographs helps overcome misconceptions and serves as a check against distortion or misrepresentation by either promoters or critics. Visualizations help bridge the gap between the project engineers' vision and the stakeholders' understanding. Digital before and after photos have been used by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT), the New York State , and the Massachusetts Highway Department to demonstrate how high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes would look if applied in specific corridors. The Finnish National Road Administration has used this technique in developing its master plan for Helsinki. New York's Urban Development Corporation used animated simulations to show community members that the Riverside South residential and park project could be enhanced by altering the elevated Miller Highway between 57th and 72nd Streets in Manhattan. A video kiosk with multiple choices showed the project from a variety of perspectives. Its use helped the agency and the community move the discussion beyond conjecture and toward concrete issues. (See Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks)

    Visualizations are useful both within the project team and in presenting a project to the public. They can illustrate and compare before and after views, alternative build-outs within the same view, or sequential changes within a view. Impacts to the environment, cost, and aesthetics can be conveyed and studied to facilitate better decision making throughout the planning and design process. Visualizations can be prepared by an agency to illustrate a project as designed, or they can be a dynamic public involvement tool used to immediately illustrate suggestions made by participants.

    Visualizations provide the capability to display multiple visual design alternatives for discussion and possible selection. Not only do visualizations of alternatives help get the discussion started, they can help finalize the design choice. Community leaders explore "what if" scenarios and investigate the potential for change. Constituents who fully understand a project's appearance and function are more likely to understand and possibly support the project itself. Geographers at the University of Illinois have developed GIS systems for use by county planners. The system employs an interactive planning system that coordinates related information. On a computerized county map, users gain access to detailed maps or photographic images of a site. They sketch in suggestions and make copies of images, attaching text, audio, or graphic annotations. Users' suggestions are then compared directly to the original image.

    People discuss projects or plans based on visualizations. The University of Miami's (Florida) Center for Urban and Community Design used a simulation model to help a community task force generate recommendations for a new residential design code. Concerned that a hurricane protection policy requiring new buildings to be raised 6 to 8 feet above street level would result in the replacement of traditional bungalows with larger houses, the task force viewed a simulation to understand how changes in building height and setback would shape the character of new development.

    Visualizations reach a variety of audiences. The Portland, Oregon Metro holds an annual Winter Transportation Fair with speakers, booths, and computer-generated exhibits and simulations about transportation. Child-care services for small children are available and include a popular computer simulation game about city planning.

    Does visualization have special uses?
    Design teams use visualizations internally to ensure they are in agreement with the improvement as planned. Designers are relying more on visualization to improve their understanding of their own designs and to communicate more effectively with their colleagues. Understanding how a design will function as well as what it will look like is essential to project designers and planners as well as to the public.

    A digital visualization with narrative description on a DVD or website ensures that the public can see and hear the same information about a project whether they come to a public meeting or view the presentation on their own. This ensures that people who miss a meeting do not miss the information.

    Photo-based visualizations can be a useful aid in resolving conflicts. New York's New School for Social Research used simulations to resolve a dispute between the Newark Water Commission and several New Jersey towns about growth in the city's watershed. The Commission, state, city, and town representatives and local civic and conservation groups reviewed computer models of various scenarios for preserving the watershed lands.

    Who participates in visualization? And how?
    Almost anyone who is not visually impaired can see and understand information presented visually, either at home or at a meeting. Agencies using this technique should consider alternate methods for involving people with visual impairments. Written and spoken components of the visualizations and simulations may require translation if the constituents have low English proficiency or low literacy.

    Visualizations and simulations may be shared over a wide range of media outlets, including the Internet, kiosks, DVDs, display tables, VCRs, TV programs, and similar means. Static displays, such as special display boards, may be used at public forums. A display board or laptop computer on a table provides the opportunity for a project representative to offer an explanation of the technique in one-on-one conversation and solicit comments from viewers. Visualizations coupled with explanation in sound or text may also be presented as a self-standing display, requiring no project representative. Self-standing displays may be used in kiosks, on the Internet, or on appropriate broadcast media (as PSAs, for example). (See Interactive Television; Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks; Information Materials)

    How do agencies use the visualizations?
    Agencies may use public response to visual presentations to:
    • Stimulate community reaction.
    • Obtain community opinion on projects and plans.
    • Be a catalyst for further discussion, analysis, or refinement of a proposed alternative.
    • Be the basis for an honest and valid sample of community opinion.
    Sophisticated visualizations incorporating large databases may be used in real time at a public meeting to input suggestions and immediately demonstrate the results.

    Who leads visualization efforts?
    Agencies decide what features to illustrate and provide accurate site and design details. It is important to know the public's concerns and the agency's message about those concerns in deciding the type and content of visualizations. (See Information Materials) It affects the level of detail, the level of realism, what types of view, what directions of view, as well as whether sophisticated or simple visualization will be most effective.

    Sophisticated software requires trained staff. Visualizations linked to large databases are complex to create and require the expertise of staff trained in using the software. Agencies may need to hire professional consultants who specialize in presenting technical data in a variety of applications.

    What are the costs for using visualization?
    Simple visual presentations can be produced on common software. A set of "before" and "after" photographs or renderings can be displayed in word processing or presentation software. A photo composite that is not based on CAD data can be created in Photoshop. Simple animations can be produced using PowerPoint by showing a series of changes to the same base photograph or rendering.

    Visualizations created with specialized software, including CAD- and GIS-linked applications, require special training and equipment. Multimedia, engineering, or information technology consultant services may be required to create sophisticated and accurate products.

    Inputting new data adds to the cost of visualizations. The process of loading and manipulating appropriate data, formatting it, integrating it with other data, and meeting other programming requirements may be labor-intensive.

    Effective visualizations can save time and money.

    How is visualization used with other techniques?
    Visualization provides a baseline or common reference point for soliciting public opinion and comment on a project or plan. (See Briefings; Public Meetings; Open Houses/Open Forum Hearings; Conferences, Workshops and Retreats) Visualization may also be used for brainstorming concepts or creative activities such as a design charrette or community visioning exercise. (See Brainstorming; Charrette; Visioning)

    Visualizations are used in surveys. University of California researchers used computer simulations to study the market potential of transit-oriented land development. Four development scenarios were simulated with variations on transit access, commercial and retail services within walking distance, and community open space. They were shown to survey preferences of 170 residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. (See Public Opinion Surveys)

    Visualizations can be presented via an interactive display. Interactive displays for presentations and open houses use touch screens to get or give information. (See Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks)

    What are the drawbacks of using visualization?
    Visualizations can mislead or confuse the public. Visualizations that are not tied to engineering parameters may mislead viewers (both agency staff and public) about the true proportions or appearance of a finished design. Care must be taken to make the accuracy of a visualization well understood by the intended audience. Inappropriate visualization techniques may be selected to present a particular project or program, leading to misunderstanding. The Arizona DOT found that early versions of a DVD presentation describing a complex design solution were too technical and created more confusion than understanding.

    Professionally produced visual images are powerful and can sometimes be misinterpreted. For controversial subjects, polished computer-produced images may suggest that an agency is biased toward one alternative. If illustrations are perceived as deceptive, the agency or the discussion process is open to question. If possible, an agency consults with people representing many positions prior to developing graphics or illustrations.

    Visualizations are costly and potentially time-consuming to produce. Proper use of this technique is required to effectively gather accurate and representative public comment. Care must be taken to ensure that the investment is beneficial to the overall public involvement goals. Agencies must take care to ensure that false impressions are minimized through accurate representations.

    Images must be supplemented with non-visual presentations for people who are sight-impaired. Agencies need to consider how to provide information to people who are sight impaired.

    When is visualization used most effectively?
    Visualization is used most effectively when a number of complex plans or project alternatives are under consideration for review and/or selection. The visualization, when used in conjunction with other techniques, provides a context for enhanced public understanding, review, and comments.

    For further information:
    Washington State Department of Transportation - Visual Engineering Resource Group (VERG)
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/business/visualcommunications/default.htm

    University of Wisconsin Forest Visualization Project
    http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/visualization/visualization.php

    Taking architectural views to the community with 3D Visualization
    www.datacad.com/news/articles/hmfhfin.htm

    Maglev Corridor Transit Project — Baltimore-Washington proposed project using advanced magnetic levitation technologies
    http://northeastmaglev.com/   

    Honolulu Rapid Bus Transit project — Summary document with maps and photos of the BRT
    http://www.nbrti.org/media/evaluations/Honolulu_BRT_Final_Report.pdf
     
  • What is this technique?
    Stakeholder partnerships are the creation of strategic alliances with key stakeholders

    Why is this technique useful?
    Better trust and reach in community

    Who participates and how?
    Leadership of stakeholder organizations and agencies

    Does this technique have special uses or tools?
    No

    What is the output/outcome of this technique and how is it used?
    Used to get information to and from the community

    How is this technique organized and who leads?
    Agency leadership should initiate

    What are the costs associated with this technique?
    Labor but there may be some cost sharing between the agency and organization

    How is this technique used with other techniques?
    Organization can be extension of outreach and as such make use of other project related techniques

    Are there special considerations or concerns regarding this use of this technique?
    How is the organization viewed/respected in the community.  What are the impacts of the partnership?
  • This technique is part of a larger group of techniques. For information about this technique and all other under this larger group see Information materials.
  • Variable message signs are electronic signs either permanently or temporarily displayed along roadways to provide short, concise information to motorists.  Typically, VMS signs are used for traffic condition information, emergency messages, and public service messages.  Some agencies have also used VMS signs to provide project or study related information and to encourage public participation.

    Why is it useful?
    A VMS sign can provide specific travel information to motorists and can be an effective strategy for providing specific project or planning information.   It can be available 24 hours a day and capture motorists from a large geographic area who use the facility but may not hear about a project or planning effort for the facility through other communication channels.  

    The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, in coordination with the New York State Department of Transportation, used VMS to advertise a series of public workshops related to a planning study for the future of I-81 through downtown Syracuse.  The VMS, located at several locations along I-81 as well as intersecting highways, provide the dates, times and location of the meetings.  A large portion of the workshop participants noted learning about the workshops from the VMS.

    The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has also used VMS as a public involvement tool.  In its reconstruction of US Route 202, VMS signs along the highway default to displaying the project website URL when not in use for urgent traffic conditions or public service messages.

    How is it organized?
    VMS messaging is often led by the agency that has jurisdiction over the highway facility.   Agencies will need to coordinate with those responsible for operating and maintaining the VMS signs and understand the policies and protocols for displaying information. 

    Who participates and how?
    Participation is open to anyone who reads the VMS.  Given travel speeds and the limited time motorists will have to read and understand the signs, messages are typically kept short and are generally worded to encourage participation through other communication channels.  This might include providing a project URL or announcing a public meeting.  VMS is most cost-effective as tool to target travelers on a specific highway facility and to educate the public about where and how to either get additional information or actively participate in the project.

    What are the costs?
    For agencies with existing fixed or portable VMS systems, costs are minimal.  The short nature of the messages means they can be written by anyone involved in the project and reviewed and approved quickly.  The technique would not be recommended for agencies without their own or access to partner agency VMS systems. 
  • Video sharing describes the uploading of video to a Web-based service such as YouTube that allows users to view media files. On YouTube, transportation agencies can upload videos for free, and make them available to the general public. Video content can include presentations, recordings of meetings, or special animations.

    The Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) produced a DVD that explained in great detail a Corridor Study EIS. The DVD included project introduction and explanation, a tour of the corridor, and a summary of RTD meetings. The DVD was found to be highly effective at educating the public however, by the time the DVD was distributed to the public, much of the content was outdated. Posting some of the DVD content on YouTube as soon as it was available allowed the agency to keep the public informed in a timely manner.

    Why is it useful?
    Posting videos on the Web makes information available to a wide audience. Segments of the public that are not often represented at public meetings such as people who work at night, youths or the elderly or infirm can access information at their convenience from home. Videos can also appeal to those segments of the public such as the elderly and non-English speaking residents that have difficulty reading printed materials. Because services such as YouTube are generally free, video sharing provides a much cheaper alternative to traditional newsletters or mailings.

    When the Denver RTD sent out e-mail invitations to a North Metro Corridor Study Public Meeting, they included a link to a YouTube video. The video provided a background presentation on the project and a description of what would be discussed at the upcoming public meetings. Following the meeting, another e-mail was sent out with a link to a video that presented a summary of the meeting. The RTD found that this enriched the participatory experience for the public and that this approach boosted attendance of the meeting.

    Within the content of the video, the transportation agency can instruct the public on how to respond and provide relevant contact information. YouTube also has built-in features that allow the transportation agency to monitor the number of people who view their posted content and for the public to rate the content or post comments. Video sharing can be particularly useful for communicating with the public in areas with low population density or areas that encompass a long linear distance. In these areas traditional media do not reach the entire population. It is well suited for large scale projects and for attracting the public to attend meetings with attendance problems.

    Who leads?
    Video sharing can be a joint project between the Communications Department and the IT department of the transportation agency. If the required skills are not possessed in-house, private consultants can provide these services.

    What are the costs?
    Production can be as high or low budget as desired. Videos can be straightforward recordings of public meetings or highly produced presentations with animated graphics and audio commentary.

    What are the challenges?
    Video sharing services generally allow some degree of objectionable or offensive material. It is important for the transportation agency to ensure that objectionable material not become associated with their content. YouTube allows the transportation agency to turn off the ability for viewers to comment on the site. Viewing these videos also requires an internet connection which excludes some segments of the public.
  •  
    Video Techniques
     
    Video techniques use recorded visual and oral messages to present information to the public, primarily via tapes or laser disks. Although many people now prefer video as a means of getting information, public agencies are just starting to tap its potential use. During preparation of its statewide transportation plan, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) opened its regional forums with introductory videos.
     
    What are video techniques?
    Video techniques use recorded visual and oral messages to present information to the public, primarily via tapes or laser disks. Although many people now prefer video as a means of getting information, public agencies are just starting to tap its potential use. During preparation of its statewide transportation plan, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) opened its regional forums with introductory videos.

    Why are they useful?
    A video is worth a thousand words. An easily-understood video is more useful to some people than reading or hearing about transportation. With the nearly universal availability of television and the emphasis on visuals in today’s society, videos have a role in transportation planning and project development that has yet to be fully explored.

    Videotapes provide an additional medium for reaching people. Although videotapes are widely used in this country for entertainment, they are also used for education and the dissemination of information about transportation. Videos can describe the steps in a process. They are geared to a group or an individual, depending on an agency’s purposes, and enliven the presentation of a potentially dull subject. The Connecticut DOT, for example, prepared videos to enhance public understanding of incident management on an interstate highway. Agencies make videos available through local television stations, public libraries, and video stores or distribute them door-to-door, as has been done in recent political campaigns. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA) produced a short video at each major milestone during development of its regional transit ballot proposal and sent it to public libraries as well as interest groups.

    Videos are used to introduce people to meetings and hearings. Set to replay endlessly, videos present the same message each time without variation. Because these repeated messages are "canned," they should be presented in an informative, lively, and friendly manner. This may be extremely important when used with, say, a formal public hearing. (See Public Meetings/Hearings; Open Houses/Open Forum Meetings) The Virginia DOT, for example, used videotapes to introduce and describe an open house public hearing process.

    Agencies use videos to document a planning process. They can document proceedings of events in a public participation process. Viewers are thus exposed to a wide range of participants and their concerns. Focus group proceedings are frequently recorded on video for later replay and analysis.

    Videos illustrate different planning scenarios or project alternatives and help people visualize a situation before, during, and after construction. Many incorporate computer simulations, such as a ride on a transportation facility before it is built. (See Visualization Techniques) For example, a New York State DOT video illustrating the impacts of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes was shown to elected officials, the business community, and the general public. A separate video simulated the experience of driving a car on both 10- and 12-foot-wide HOV lanes.

    Videos help ensure that a consistent message is conveyed during a series of meetings or other events, particularly when different staff members are in charge. San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Regional Planning Commission both produced videos on their long-range plans and showed them at meetings to make sure the same information was provided to all participants.

    How do agencies use the output?
    Videotapes reach a broad audience for participation. People who cannot be reached in any other way often respond to videotapes. Presentation software is now available to provide viewers with information they can play on their VCRs. Currently, this technique often uses stationary images similar to slides, but in the near future video presentations for television will include live action as well as stationary and animated material.

    Dry runs of presentations are often videotaped. Presenters rehearse a presentation, review it on tape, critique elements such as substance, voice modulation, posture, body language, jargon, and use of visual materials, then make changes accordingly.

    Agencies often distribute videotapes over a large geographic area and in more than one language. They frequently clarify a complex process to supplement an oral presentation. For example, Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel project uses videos to simulate driving through a tunnel and along a surface street during various stages of the project. Videos also update the community on construction staging plans and mitigation proposals.

    What do video techniques cost?
    Costs of producing videotapes vary. Simple videos produced in-house are inexpensive but may not be successful in reaching the target audience with the right message. An amateurish production may alienate people from an agency's approach or goals, because its unprofessional quality reflects on the caliber of the project itself. A more professional production is expensive initially but more cost-effective in the long run. Reproduction of tapes is relatively cheap.

    Length varies in accordance with the message to be delivered: videotapes are prepared with a brief message or with more substantive content. For example, in Missoula, Montana, a four-minute videotape was used to introduce people to the principal issue of a meeting—the improvement of a single, complicated intersection.

    Video production demands a high level of staff expertise. Even with donated video equipment, it is often difficult for agency staff to produce a good video. Staff may be available to record highway or transit rights-of-way, but these rudimentary skills fall short when a video must be credible and informative about complex issues. If the in-house staff does not have sophisticated production skills, outside assistance is required to produce a high-quality, cost-effective videotape.

    Who develops these techniques?
    Video usage requires a lead person within an agency—a creative and adventuresome person interested in trying new techniques for involving the public in transportation. This can be an existing staff person or a staffer hired for the purpose. Agency staff people are the best resource to draft a video script and ensure that it is consistent with written materials and the particular goals the agency is aiming to achieve.

    Production frequently requires outside assistance. Although personal recorders are widely used, videotapes to portray public activities should be professionally and competently produced, using professional-quality equipment.

    How do they relate to other techniques?
    Video techniques are often part of a media strategy. A video can be released for use on television as camera-ready copy. An agency thus provides the news media with an accurate portrayal of a process or project to be shown as part of regular programming. Videos are a good means of providing information about meetings or ongoing planning processes. (See Media Strategies) Seattle’s Regional Transit Project, for example, used videotapes for 30-second advertising spots broadcast more than 300 times on five local television stations.

    Videos reach people who would not otherwise participate in transportation processes, including people with disabilities. Special efforts should be made to accommodate hearing disabilities. TDD (Telephone Devices for the Deaf) phones are available with small screens and keyboards to aid people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities.
    A video is always part of a larger process and closely related to other techniques. Because a videotape is a one-way device, suitable for disseminating information, it has many potential applications. It can be an element for discussion in a focus group or charrette. (See Focus Groups; Charrettes) It can record the points of view expressed at public meetings and hearings. (See Public Meetings/Hearings) It can document positions established at civic advisory committee meetings. (See Civic Advisory Committees) It can report on agency progress at a transportation fair. (See Transportation Fairs) A video should not be used in isolation from other techniques. It cannot replace face-to-face encounters with other participants and agency staff. Public involvement participants should always be fully informed if they are being recorded.

    Videotapes can substitute for field trips. A video can illustrate the characteristics of a region or a corridor, alternative modes of transportation, alignments and adjacent neighborhoods, potential impacts, mitigating measures, and methods of participation. (See Site Visits)

    How are they produced?
    Videotapes incorporate a variety of technologies such as live action, computer images, graphics, maps, and charts. They can be produced incrementally. Slide shows can be augmented by scripts. Scripts can be recorded and slides shown at pre-determined intervals. A finished script and storyboard (picture sequence) can be developed and turned into a video. Special equipment and processes are required to transfer computer information onto tapes, and the level of quality varies.

    Who participates? And how?
    Any community member can use videotapes. The only requirements are a television set and a playback machine. Printed materials such as brochures often complement the information presented graphically in a video. It is also important to provide telephone contacts for access to agency personnel for further information.

    What are the drawbacks?
    Videotapes are not two-way. Unless special provision is made for an individual to respond, the viewer watches a message without being able to give feedback and without hearing opposing views. Thus, a tape should include a means of contacting staff or obtaining additional information. Some cable television stations use interactive techniques, including playing a video and allowing responses from viewers by telephone. (See Interactive Television; Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks)

    Video viewers are basically self-selected. Access is limited to viewers with a playback machine. Special attention should be given to the needs of people with disabilities. Interpreters may be needed to make the information available to individuals with hearing disabilities. Text must be sufficiently large so people with sight disabilities are able to read it. For the blind, narration should be sufficient to explain the material even though it cannot be seen.

    Video techniques are rapidly changing. While videos are available now principally via home rentals or scheduled programming, in some localities it is already feasible for viewers to call in to view non-scheduled material immediately or at a viewer-chosen hour on a specific channel. Increasingly interactive techniques are being developed in the media. For example, in a few years, it will be possible for agencies to compose videotapes with information about specific processes to be broadcast on television, with community residents able to register opinions in a poll immediately following the presentation.

    Agencies sometimes over-estimate viewers’ attention spans, making videos too detailed or too long. A good norm is probably 5 to 15 minutes. Agencies should seek sound professional advice about how to define their message succinctly and with an appropriate level of detail. For easy comprehension and retention, a good video strikes a balance between substantive information and simplicity.

    For further information:
    Central Artery/Tunnel Project, Boston, Massachusetts
    (617) 951-6448

    Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, Seattle, Washington
    (206) 684-1357

    Missoula, Montana, Department of Transportation
    (406) 549-6491

    New Jersey Department of Transportation Long-Range Plan
    (609) 530-2866

    New York Department of Transportation Region 10
    (518) 360-6006

    Puget Sound Regional Council, Seattle, Washington
    (206) 464-7090
     
     
  • Virtual meetings are interactions that take place over the Internet and are designed to replicate the experience of participating in an in-person meeting.  These can either be conducted in real-time using integrated audio and video, chat tools, and application sharing, or they can be un-moderated allowing users to participate on their own schedule.

    Why is it useful?
    Virtual meetings can be available 24/7 and allow the public to participate in meetings according to their own schedule.  In addition, virtual meetings can expand the geographic area for participation and allow those who cannot or choose not to travel to an in-person meeting to participate from any location.

    For its 2035 long-range plan update, the Virginia DOT developed a web-based workshop to mirror the information and interactive opportunities available at its in-person meetings held throughout the state.  The convenience afforded by the Internet in allowing users to participate from the location and time of their choosing helped push online participation above the total combined participation at all of the in-person meetings.

    How is it organized?
    Virtual meetings can be designed, built, and hosted either by an agency, an outside consultant, or combination of both.  In addition to web design skills, database integration is also needed for virtual meetings in order to capture information received by the public.

    Who participates and how?
    Participation is open to anyone with an Internet connection.  Users typically are requested to sign-in to a meeting and then can progress at their own pace through the content of the workshop. 

    What are the costs?
    The costs involved with virtual meetings include the cost of registering a URL, hosting the website and designing and developing the web application and logic.   These costs can be substantial if an outside web designer/developer is needed. 
  • Virtual worlds are digital representations of the real or fantasy world where, through virtual persona (avatars), users interact with one another, collaborate, and participate in social and economic activities.    In many of these worlds, a sense of “community” as well as public dialogue emerges from the interactions of participants, who create and shape the virtual world they inhabit.

    Why is it useful?
    Virtual worlds provide a sense of “being with others” in a shared space where all users are seeing an interacting with the same digital environment.  This digital environment, when replicating either current or future conditions, provides a powerful visualization tool for the public to help explain and depict issues, problems and visions.  As a virtual meeting place, participation is not geographically or temporally constrained and discussion and input gathering can take place at the convenience of the user.

    When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced plans to invest more than $100 million to renovate LaGuardia Airport and the surrounding area, a local planning board in Queens, New York, took the opportunity to develop ideas for redesigning a park next to the airport (Landing Lights Park).  The planning board hired a developer to build a replica of the park within Second Life so users could view suggest designs.

    How is it organized?
    Virtual worlds typically take place on a 3rd-party platform, specifically designed and built for virtual environments.  Developing a virtual world for a project or planning study could be led by either the sponsoring agency or outsourced to a vendor.  Replicating a specific location or depicting possible future conditions will require 3D modeling capabilities.

    Who participates and how?
    Participation is open to anyone with a computer or other device capable of connecting to the Internet and the virtual world.  Users typically need to register and sometimes download software (both usually free).  After selecting an avatar, users can join the virtual world.

    What are the costs?
    Virtual world host sites are typically free.  The costs associated with this technique stem from the time and resources needed to create any 3D models or other graphics that will be uploaded to the hosting site as well as monitoring and participating in the virtual world. 

    What are the challenges?
    While most of the tools and sites for building virtual worlds are free, there is a relatively substantial learning period for both those setting up a new virtual world and for new users.  While most will be able to understand and master the process in a matter of days, this may be too long to attract the general public.
  • Visioning
     
    Visioning leads to a goals statement. Typically, it consists of a series of meetings focused on long-range issues. Visioning results in a long-range plan with a 20- or 30-year horizon, and sets a strategy for achieving the goals. Visioning has been used to set a long-range statewide transportation plan in Ohio, a statewide comprehensive plan in New Jersey, and a regional land-use and transportation plan in the Seattle, Washington, region.
     
    What is visioning?
    Visioning leads to a goals statement. Typically, it consists of a series of meetings focused on long-range issues. Visioning results in a long-range plan. With a 20- or 30-year horizon, visioning also sets a strategy for achieving the goals. Visioning has been used to set a long-range statewide transportation plan in Ohio, a statewide comprehensive plan in New Jersey, and a regional land-use and transportation plan in the Seattle, Washington, region. The Governor of Georgia, acting as "Chief Planner," used it to create long-range goals for the State. Central Oklahoma 2020 is a visioning project for a regional plan.

    Priorities and performance standards can be part of visioning. Priorities are set to distinguish essential goals. Performance standards allow an evaluation of progress toward goals over time. In Jacksonville, Florida, a community report card is used to determine priorities; each target for the future is evaluated annually. In Minnesota a statewide report card was used to evaluate the current status and set up goals and milestones for the future. Oregon established benchmarks to measure progress toward its long-term goals.
    Why is it useful?
    Visioning offers the widest possible participation for developing a long-range plan. It is democratic in its search for disparate opinions from all stakeholders and directly involves a cross-section of constituents from a State or region in setting a long-term policy agenda. It looks for common ground among participants in exploring and advocating strategies for the future. It brings in often-overlooked issues about quality of life. It helps formulate policy direction on public investments and government programs.

    Visioning is an integrated approach to policy-making. With overall goals in view, it helps avoid piece-meal and reactionary approaches to addressing problems. It accounts for the relationship between issues, and how one problem’s solution may generate other problems or have an impact on another level of government. It is cooperative, with multi-agency involvement, frequently with joint interagency leadership.

    Does visioning have special uses?
    Visioning uses participation as a source of ideas in the establishment of long-range policy. It draws upon deeply-held feelings about overall directions of public agencies to solicit opinions about the future. After open consideration of many options, it generates a single, integrated vision for the future based on the consideration of many people with diverse viewpoints. When completed, it presents a democratically-derived consensus.

    Visioning dramatizes the development of policies to get people involved in specific topics such as transportation infrastructure. In Ohio, the Access Ohio program was designed to establish goals and objectives for development of transportation projects and programs. Other States that have used visioning to establish long-range goals include Kansas, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Iowa, Oregon, and Minnesota.

    Who participates? And how?
    Invitations to participate are given to the general public or to a representative panel. A broad distribution of information is essential. This information must be simply presented, attractive, and rendered important and timely. It should also include clear goals of participation and show how comments will be used in the process. (See Information Materials; Mailing Lists)

    Community residents participate through meetings and surveys. A typical method of involving local people is through a questionnaire format, seeking comments on present issues and future possibilities. (See Public Opinion Surveys) A report card filled in with community opinions was used in Jacksonville, Florida. In Minnesota, opinions were elicited through small or large public meetings at locations distributed equitably throughout the state. In the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, participants drew pictures of their vision of the region’s future and of transit opportunities in words and pictures on wall-sized sheets of paper.

    How do agencies use the output?
    Visioning helps agencies determine policy. Through widespread public participation, agencies become aware of issues and problems, different points of view, and competing demands. Drafting responses to comments aids in sharpening overall policy and assists in focusing priorities among goals, plans, or programs. Visioning also helps bring conflicts to the surface and resolve competing priorities.

    Who leads a visioning process?
    A chief governmental official can lead visioning. In several States, the Governor has made visioning a cornerstone of State policy planning for infrastructure investments and State operational departments. The governors of Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida, and New Jersey have fostered visioning for their States.

    Agencies also lead visioning projects. Statewide agencies led new visioning projects in Maine and Hawaii. Regional agencies led visioning projects in Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Seattle.

    What does visioning cost?
    Visioning costs vary. The chief items are staff time and materials sufficient to set up and carry out the program. Staff people should include a leader committed to the process, a community participation specialist who is well-versed in the applicable policies, and staffers who can interpret and integrate participants’ opinions from surveys and meetings. Meeting materials are minimal but can include large maps and newsprint pads and markers to record ideas. If forecasts of information are developed or if alternative scenarios are to be fleshed out, research and preparation time can be extensive.

    How is it organized?
    A specific time period is scheduled to develop the vision statement. The schedule incorporates sufficient time for framing issues, eliciting comments through surveys or meetings, recording statements from participants, and integrating them into draft and final documents.

    Visioning staff members are typically assigned from existing agencies that are familiar with issues and essential contacts to be maintained. In Minnesota and New Jersey, staff was assigned from the State planning office; in Jacksonville, Florida, from the Community Council/Chamber of Commerce; in Ohio, from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

    Is it flexible?
    Visioning is extremely flexible in terms of scheduling and staff commitments. Scheduling takes weeks or months. Staff is temporarily or permanently assigned to the project.

    Preparation for visioning is crucial and touches on many complex issues. Advance work is essential to give time for staff to prepare the overall program, agendas, mailing lists, questionnaires, and methods of presentation and follow-up. (See Mailing Lists; Public Opinion Surveys) The visioning program should be carefully scheduled to maximize local input and response time prior to selecting final policies.

    How is it used with other techniques?
    The visioning process involves many techniques of public involvement. In the Seattle area, the visioning process on regional growth and mobility futures included the most extensive regional public involvement effort ever conducted in the area: symposiums, workshops, newspaper tabloid inserts, public hearings, open houses, surveys, and community meetings. (See Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats; Public Meetings/Hearings; Open Houses/Open Forum Hearings; Public Opinion Surveys)

    Visioning leads toward other public involvement techniques. As a policy umbrella, it can precede establishment of a civic advisory committee and guide its work in reviewing individual projects or programs. (See Civic Advisory Committees) It leads to brainstorming sessions or charrettes to solve individual problems. (See Brainstorming; Charrettes) Visioning is often the basis for public evaluation and implementation; it led to performance monitoring of State agency activities in Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, and Texas, followed by reports to the public.

    What are the drawbacks?
    Time and staff requirements are significant to maintain contact with numerous community participants and carry the program forward. The numbers of participants varies from 100 community leaders in Jacksonville to an estimated 10,000 residents in Minnesota. Listening to participants can consume several months’ time. Full-time effort is required of staff when the process is in motion.

    The staff needs patience to deal with so many diverse views and individuals, time and schedule requirements, and complex issues and interrelationships. Finally, visioning is a one-time event, and remains on a generalized policy level; there is a substantial risk that the resulting document will not satisfy all interest groups.

    When is visioning most effective?
    Visioning is of maximum use at an early point in the establishment or revision of policies or goals. Used in this way, it demonstrates openness to new ideas or concepts suggested by the public. For maximum effect, a visioning project should have the active support of elected officials, agency heads, and community groups.

    Visioning is useful:
    • To set the stage for short-range planning activities;
    • To set new directions in policy;
    • To review existing policy;
    • When integration between issues is required;
    • When a wide variety of ideas should be heard;
    • When a range of potential solutions is needed.
    For further information:
    Iowa Department of Management (Futures Agenda)
    (515) 281-3322

    Jacksonville Community Council (Quality Indicators for Progress), Jacksonville, Florida
    (904) 356-0800

    Minnesota Planning (Minnesota Milestones), St. Paul, Minnesota
    (612) 296-3985

    Ohio Department of Transportation (Access Ohio), Columbus, Ohio
    (614) 466-7170

    Oregon Progress Board (Oregon Shines/Oregon Benchmarks), Salem, Oregon
    (503) 373-1220

    Puget Sound Regional Council (Vision 2020), Seattle, Washington
    (206) 464-7090
     
  •  
    What is a visual preference survey?
    A visual preference survey is a technique that assists the community in determining which components of a plan or project environment contributes positively to a community's overall image or features. As the name implies, the technique is based on the development of one or more visual concepts of a proposed plan or project. Once the visual concepts are developed, they are used in a public forum or other specialized public gathering to provide the public with an opportunity to review, study, and comment on their preferences for the features depicted by the visual representations. Typical uses of visual preference surveys include helping the community define the preferences for architectural style, signs, building setbacks, landscaping, parking areas, size/scope of transportation facilities, surfaces finishes, and other design elements.

    The format for the preference survey can be a written ballot, a structured set of self-administered questions, a facilitated discussion, a focus group format, an open semi-structured forum, or used as part of another preference collection approach, e.g., handheld/instant voting techniques.

    Why is it useful?
    Visual preference surveys are helpful since they provide the public with a broad and relatively inexpensive range of options for depicting community features for a proposed plan or project. The actual technique may rely on sketches, photographs, computer images, or similar techniques to provide the basis for participants to rate or assess each visual depiction on a preference scale, such as a five-point scale. As a result, participants can express judgments and possibly reach a consensus about a visual design, architecture, site layout, landscape, and similar design features, which may be incorporated in the goals, objectives, design guidelines, enhancement/mitigation measures, and/or recommended standards for a study, plan or project.

    Does it have special uses?
    Visual preference surveys can assist agencies in the understanding and development of:
    • Community and urban design features
    • Transportation sub-area or corridor studies
    • Transportation alternatives development and analysis
    • Large-scale regional planning efforts
    • Visioning exercises (See Visioning)
    • Design charrettes (See Charrettes)
    Who participates? And how?
    Public participation will be dependent on the type of visual preference survey technique employed. For example, if a focus group format is used, then some public selection process must be used to include a set of individuals who are representative of the views and interest of the larger community. At other times, the visual preference survey may be included as part of a public hearing or public meeting process, with one of several "stations" or display areas containing the visual options. At the display area some means of collecting feedback from interested viewers will be needed, such as responses to a structured interview administered by staff or the completion by the viewer of a preference rating form.

    How do agencies use the output?
    The results of the survey will provide insights and direction to the agency on the preference of the sampled group. Based on the objectives of the survey and the representation of the community in the sampled group, the agency may make key decisions on the preferred types of project design features, studies, or plans. The results of the survey are also helpful in focusing community opinion on projects and plans, being a catalyst for further discussions, helping to educate the public about the design or plan choices, and offering an alternative form of collecting public or community opinion and feedback. Because of the visual basis of this technique, concepts and survey results are easily conveyed in the mass media.

    What are the costs?
    The cost for the visual preference surveys are usually a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the range of visual options to be displayed, the desired sample size, and the method(s) of collecting and analyzing public preferences. This techniques can be implemented using agency personnel and resources or through consulting services.

    How is it used with other techniques?
    Visual preference surveys can complement other survey techniques.
    (See https://connect.ncdot.gov/site/toolkit/Pages/TechDetails.aspx?Title=Public Opinion Surveys) It can also be used as part of a wider set of techniques to help educate the public about key features of a project or plan and to assist in the development of ideas or concepts. Consequently, visual preference surveys can be used in conjunction with public meetings or hearings, activities involving vision development, design charrettes, and focus group discussions or small group meetings. (See Public Meetings/Hearings; Visioning; Charrettes; Focus Groups; Small Groups)

    What are the drawbacks?
    Visual preference surveys are time consuming since they will require the development of one or more visual renderings of options or design features under consideration. This set-up time may require several weeks of preparation, depending on the availability of data, the skills of the artist, and the desired size and level of detail for the visual rendering.

    Agencies using this technique will need to consider alternative methods for involving people with visual impairments.

    Because of the visual sophistication of the public, given the pervasiveness and societal influence of mass media and advertising, there may be expectations on the part of the public for high quality and completeness. The public may dismiss the visual content because the renderings or presentation are not developed to a comparable level of detail and quality they are used to viewing in the print and visual mass media.

    It is also possible for the public to develop false expectations based on the visual rendering. Agencies need to ensure that a designer's visualizations are true.

    When is it used most effectively?
    Visual preference surveys are most effective when major design feature decision needs to be made. The technique is also valuable in helping to build a community consensus and momentum on a preferred design or study approach. Because of its visual nature, this technique is also most effective when complex issues and concepts can be depicted visually.

    For further information:
    "Shaping Dane" Pilot Project, Citizen-Based Land Use Planning in Dane County, Wisconsin, Electronic Planning Facilitation
    http://www.lic.wisc.edu/shapingdane/welcome.html

    Envision Utah
    http://www.envisionutah.org/

    FHWA's Toolbox for Regional Policy analysis, Envision Utah Case Study
    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/toolbox/utah_application.htm

    Florida House Institute for Sustainable Development, Tools for Community Design and Decision Making, Inventory of Place-Based Planning Tools
    http://www.i4sd.org/tools-2.htm

    City of Mankato, MN Urban Design Framework Manual, Visual Preference Survey (Chapter 2)
    http://www.ci.mankato.mn.us/urbandesign/chapter2/2.php3
     
     
     
  •  
     
    What are project websites?
    Project websites are internet pages dedicated to information about a specific program or project. Generally hosted by the lead agency, a project website is the project's virtual public information headquarters. A project website can be set up to record public comments and discussion, to include a sign-up for project-related emails, and to hold official documents for users to download and print.

    Most project websites have the following characteristics:
    • Multiple web pages hosted by the lead agency, providing information about the project, the public involvement schedule, and links to related projects or information.
    • Capability to store project documents for download, including reports and newsletters as pdf files, formal slide presentations (e.g., PowerPoint files), or videos of public meetings or project simulations.
    • Additional functionality, including a way for people to add themselves to a contact list, email questions and comments, participate in online discussions, comment on an agency blog, or contact project staff.
    • Policies covering content restrictions, such as posting of copyrighted material or guidance for what public comment material will not be permitted on the website.
    • A staff person designated to maintain and update the site and monitor public postings for objectionable content on a daily basis.
    •  
    Other websites and related technology can be linked and used to present project information. Technology changes constantly. Social networking sites, text messaging from cell phones, and other options are all effective "places" for people to find and exchange project information.

    Why are project websites useful?
    Project websites provide up-to-date information sharing, at all times and to any location. At any time and from any place, individuals with web access can learn about and, if desirable, comment on a project. People with web access who are unable or unwilling to attend a public meeting can:
    • Review project alternatives, including video simulations (see Visualization Techniques);
    • Watch video of public meetings or view PowerPoint presentations;
    • Download project documents;
    • Send a specific inquiry to the agency or the appropriate staff member;
    • Submit opinions, suggestions, concerns, or comments;
    • Request information and add or remove themselves from project contact lists (see Contact Lists; Information Materials).
    Information on the website can be changed or updated easily. An agency can use a project website throughout all the stages of long-range planning and project development, adding new pages and archiving older materials. Project revisions are available to the public as soon as they are published on the website.

    A website encourages education and participation through greater information sharing. Interested individuals can respond to website content via email, answering an online survey, or commenting on an agency blog. Active involvement in an interactive website helps agencies better understand the public's needs, monitor reactions, and improve public awareness.

    A project website can provide links to the agency's staff and to its other activities. Many agencies provide information that encourages the public to participate such as contact information for department heads, information about other agency projects, and policies guiding agency decisions. Many states, such as the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Texas DOT, provide specific information about current road conditions and construction projects. From a statewide map, users choose projects in their area, obtaining details on project purpose, dates of construction, lane openings, a corridor map, affected side streets, frequencies of highway advisory radio channels, and construction-zone safety tips. The service lists a telephone number for more information. Armed with such data, a motorist can make choices on how to avoid delays due to road construction.

    Do project websites have special uses?
    Project websites can focus on specific interests and can change featured information literally overnight. For example, the Washington State DOT offers a home page about bicycling that includes books, bicycling clubs, and calendars of events. It also offers bicycling information from other states, as well as email addresses for subscriptions to bicycle newsletters. Lastly, it lists the online links into special sections of the Internet Bicycle Archives.

    Project websites can provide information in a variety of languages as well as in different formats to provide access to individuals with disabilities through special equipment, software (text-to-voice translators), and other devices.

    Websites can provide links to related projects and databases. The library of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments in Oakland, California, links systems of databases covering literature in over 400 subject areas in 21 million volumes in over 10,000 participating libraries. The library is also linked to online catalogs of materials in libraries at the University of California campuses, California State University, and Stanford University.

    Quick community reaction can be solicited on a website or by email. For example, the West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc (WEACT) posts a poll question dealing with environmental quality and/or environmental justice on its home page. Users can submit their opinion as well as review current poll results.

    Project websites provide access to information, including presentations, to individuals who cannot or will not attend a public meeting.

    Who participates (i.e., who visits the website)? And how?
    Once an agency promotes a website, participation is possible for anyone with a computer or cell phone, the ability to read English, and the time and interest. Most cell phones offer Internet access. Evolving technology will likely provide additional means to access to the Internet. Participation for these individuals is limited only by their time and interest, their awareness of the project, and their awareness of what is on the website. (See Information Materials) Once an agency has attracted their interest, they can sign up (online or at a meeting) to receive email notifications of project updates. (See Contact Lists).

    People with limited or no computer skills or those who cannot afford the technology are less likely to participate. Although many senior citizens are very computer literate, there are still some who have never learned about computers and cannot be reached online. People with low wage jobs, multiple jobs, or shift work may be less likely to own a computer and may not be able to schedule time to use a public library's computer; they must be reached in other ways.

    People with disabilities may need a special variation of the project website compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Such web pages can be set up to work well with technology that allows vision-impaired individuals to "read" and navigate web pages.

    How is a website organized?
    Websites include the following:
    • A home page, with basic information about the project and links to related content such as news headlines or minutes/video of recent meetings.
    • Links to additional pages containing documents, visuals, videos, maps, and other specific information about projects and programs.
    • Contact information for the agency or agencies sponsoring the project.
    • Invitation for the public to participate, for example, by submitting contact information, providing feedback via email, or commenting on an agency blog.
    Who hosts and manages a project website?
    A public agency can host a project website within its own web infrastructure. Agencies may have to hire outside web developers to design and set up a project specific website. Technical support and site updates and modifications may be performed by the agency's information technology staff or by a consultant.

    Agency technical staff can maintain the website content and functionality. Maintenance involves both resolving technical challenges and ensuring that content is timely and appropriate. Agency content must be current or the public will learn to ignore the website. For example, minutes or video of a meeting should be posted within 24 hours.

    What is the cost of creating and maintaining a project website?
    Costs vary depending on the requirements and complexity of the websites. Developing a website requires knowledge in public relations, communications, computer technology, telecommunications, agency regulations/procedures, and planning/budgeting. Website development costs for start-up and maintenance may range from several hundred dollars for a very simple site to many thousands of dollars for a more fully functional site. A careful analysis of requirements and design is necessary to be able to estimate the real cost over time. Public agencies may provide agency staff for the development, operations, and maintenance of these websites or contract for some or all of these services.

    If an agency needs an outside contractor to design, set up, and monitor system operation, costs depend on the extent of help needed.

    Agencies must consider how to archive digital documents. People may be interested and have the right to access past plans and studies as well as new items. The volume of information that is available digitally makes storage, cataloguing, and retrieval all important issues.

    Once a website is on the Internet, other costs to an agency are relatively low. Staff time is required to keep information current, monitor public comments for inappropriate content, and maintain the technical aspects of the site.

    How is a website used with other techniques?
    A project website is a medium for presenting an agency's public information materials. Once an agency produces such materials, the website provides broad access to still images, text, documents, and links for individuals interested in the project. (See GIS; Information Materials; Visualization Techniques)

    A project website provides a means of collecting contact information and feedback from the public. It provides a means to collect contact information for connecting with individuals by email, telephone, and U.S. mail. (See Contact Lists) It can include a public opinion survey or a means to collect public comments on a project. (See Public Opinion Surveys)

    Agencies may offer surveys or preference questionnaires via project websites. A comment form encourages participants to review issues and write personal opinions. The Transportation Research Center at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas offers a comment form that can be transmitted by email. Websites can also be used to administer public opinion surveys. (See Public Opinion Surveys)

    What are the drawbacks of having a project website?
    A website cannot replace the dynamics of personal interactions. It should not become the public's only means of participating. (A project website cannot replace meetings, which allow participants to interact with one another and focus on key points of discussion. A website lacks the dynamic face-to-face interplay that generates and airs ideas during a meeting or focus group. (See Focus Groups; Small Groups)

    Websites do not reach everyone. Some people have never become comfortable with computers. People who work at a computer all day may not want to use one at home. Low income people may not have the time or money to go online, while low literate, limited English-proficient, and visually impaired people may not be able to read the contents. Concerns about equity among participants should be kept in mind when choosing this technique.

    People who respond to a project website may not represent the entire community. Some individuals may respond many times, overwhelming the "data" with their single opinion. Others, particularly underserved groups, may never see the website. As computer use continues to increase in the workplace and online services become more common and more available in public places, such limitations may become less pronounced.

    A project website must be used in conjunction with other techniques that allow people to obtain information quickly. (See Information Materials)

    Information overload is a potential problem. The sheer volume of information available online can be overwhelming. Agencies are unlikely to receive individual comments unless they help people focus on specific issues. Frequently, this involves communicating through traditional public information materials and face-to-face at meetings.

    Are project websites flexible?
    The format and content of a website can be modified or adjusted as often as needed while its essential characteristics remain unchanged. The website should indicate when it was most recently updated-and the date should not be "stale." The Caltrans home page shows the date of the page's latest update and includes a listing of the information most recently added to the page with dates next to each item. Seeing how recently the information was added and how recently the whole page was updated adds credibility and a sense of immediacy. It also makes the online service more of a here-and-now resource.

    When are they used most effectively?
    Websites are best used to improve and expand opportunities for communication, to include dedicated or focused small groups, to bridge great distances, and to provide busy people basic information when they want it. King County Metro Transit in Seattle has used websites to give the riding public information about Metro's Rider-Link program. The website integrates text, photographs, and video, and gives potential riders information about fares, schedules, routes, and connections with other services. With this service, anyone in the Seattle area can obtain transit information from a desktop computer. In Lexington, Kentucky, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Urban County Government, puts its Transportation Improvement Plan and Americans with Disabilities Act reports on digital bulletin boards.

    For further information:
    Alaska Home Page
    http://www.dot.state.ak.us/

    Lexington Urban County Government, Division of Planning
    (606) 258-3160

    Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston)
    (713) 739-4000
    E-mail
    webmaster@www.hou-metro.harris.tx.us

    New York Metropolitan Transportation Council
    (212) 938-3300
    bulletin board (212) 938-4371

    San Francisco County Transportation Authority
    (415) 557-6850
    E-mail
    sfcta@thecity.sfsu.edu/~sfctamel

    Texas Employment Commission, Public Information Office
    (512) 463-2217

    Editor and Publisher, Urban Transportation Monitor
    (703) 764-0512

    California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
    (916) 654-5226
    E-mail
    webadmin@dot.ca.gov

    North Central Texas Council of Governments
    http://www.dfwinfo.com

    West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc.
    http://www.weact.com
     
  • What are site visits?
    Site visits are trips
    taken by community residents, officials, agencies, and consultants to proposed or actual project areas, corridors, impacted areas, or affected properties. They are also known as field visits or site tours.

    Site visits are made in a variety of ways—by bus, train, taxi, private car, or on foot. Some involve long-distance trips by air.

    Why are they useful?
    Site visits show the physical environment of a proposal. They are used by local people to show engineers, agency personnel, and planners details and conditions they might have missed. Frequently, site visits are the best way to demonstrate a physical fact to either the community or agency personnel.

    Site visits give participants a common frame of reference. They see conditions at the same time and under the same circumstances. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) organized a bus tour of New Haven’s Q Bridge area so the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) could see the existing bridge, potential new rights-of-way, and sensitive neighboring areas. The tour included agency staff, community people, and consultants.

    Site visits help people understand each other’s point-of-view. Residents, officials, and agency staff stand on the street, observe where a proposed project would be, and locate it on a plan. This helps people understand how agency plans translate into reality. Site visits are valuable as a basis for repeated discussions and as details are developed.

    Site visits help get people to participate who normally would not be involved or may be uncomfortable working with agencies. The field office personnel for Denver’s light rail transit project conducted walking tours of the corridor for neighborhood residents, many of whom had never been involved in a planning or construction project.

    A site visit is a chance for agency staff to better understand a proposal and hear the perspective of others. Engineers and other staff find an informal, risk-free opportunity for communication with the community.

    Site visits improve media coverage and accuracy of reporting, on occasions when the media are involved. A reporter who devotes several hours to a site visit is more likely to understand and write clearly about complex, subtle issues and planning details. (See Media Strategies)

    Site visits help gain credibility for the agency by going into the community. They help dispel the notion that agencies do not understand the area or people they will affect. They show that an agency is willing to listen to community concerns.

    Do they have special uses?
    Site visits help people understand a particular technology. Visits are made on buses, transit lines, roads, or other forms of transportation to illustrate the operations, problems, and advantages of a specific mode. In Denver, the transit agency put a light rail transit vehicle on display to let people see what it was like and walk through it.

    Trips to the site are useful to address new questions as they arise. Participants helping to develop the Central Artery North Area project in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood had difficulty understanding the dimensions of a park proposed for the top of the depressed highway. Going to the site on a low-traffic morning, agency staff outlined the proposed new parcel on the ground with lime. With a rooftop view of the outlined space, participants were able to appreciate the new park’s size. The community newspaper carried a feature on the visit to help local people grasp the enormity of the parcel.

    Site visits are sometimes tours to locations similar to the proposed site. Cities contemplating new rail systems have sent delegations to cities where such systems already exist. During these visits, meetings were arranged between the delegation and agency officials, community people, and the business community. For Denver’s light rail transit project, community groups visited light rail transit systems in Portland and Vancouver.

    Who participates? And how?
    Anyone can participate
    (as long as the site is accessible). Site visits are sometimes targeted to advisory committee representatives, elected officials, neighborhood activists and local residents, environmentalists, or the business community. People from the disabled community may have difficulty visiting a site with rough topography.

    Site visits help local people make a particular point about a proposal, especially if they feel the agency does not understand the point. In Sioux City, Iowa, planning for Vision 2020 planning started with a citywide bus tour for its Task Force to provide an overview of the physical attributes of the city. Task Force members were able as a group to view issues in all parts of the city. Agency staff thought the trip was invaluable as an overview of local concerns.

    Information about the site visit is distributed widely to potentially participants. Information is sent out in meeting notices or as fliers. Notices are mailed to active participants in the process and placed in local newspapers or on signs in local stores or activity centers. (See Information Materials)

    A special invitation helps draw specific participants. An agency may target certain people because of their concerns or issues. In these instances, a special written invitation or phone call helps. A follow-up letter or notice also helps draw special participants.

    Tours can be organized. For Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel, the project offered a series of walking tours. Notices were sent to a variety of organizations, and the public was invited. Bus or train tours may be an appropriate way to include a large group. In special instances, air tours are useful. For people unable to attend, a video tour is a good alternative. Videos are also used in meetings to help participants remember site details. (See Video Techniques)

    Community residents request a site visit so they can point out specific issues and make sure the agency understands their concerns. A community coalition asked the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, the transit authority’s General Manager, and project planners to tour a corridor being studied for transit improvements.

    How do agencies use site visits?
    Site visits are useful to show how a facility or plan would operate
    or fit into its surroundings. In preparation for a major investment study, the Maryland Transit Authority used tours to show how its existing light rail line operates. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) took neighborhood associations on site visits to show that proposed technologies and operations were being used elsewhere. Inviting media representatives on site visits results in better-informed reporting and editorializing. (See Media Strategies)

    Agencies use site visits to better understand the physical environment, make better-informed decisions, and clarify conflicting positions on particular physical points, such as sources of background noise levels or distances between buildings and proposed tracks.

    Who leads site visits?
    A site visit must be led by experienced, knowledgeable staff who knows the area and the issues. The staff must communicate the issues in a non-judgmental and open-minded way, so that participants feel the trip is a worthwhile learning experience.

    A community representative can lead a site visit. The leader should not be biased or present only one side of the story. Since other community groups have different perspectives, such bias could be divisive.

    A high agency official or an elected official may lead a site visit, particularly for high-profile, controversial projects. Community members may feel that top officials are the most appropriate leaders for such projects.

    What are the costs?
    Costs vary
    . Transportation costs are high for long-distance visits requiring extensive arrangements. Costs were a significant factor when community representatives from Burlington, Vermont, along with agency staff, considered traveling by air to see the Portland, Oregon, light rail installation.

    The costs of staff time vary. Staff time costs relatively little for local site visits but could involve several days for more distant trips.

    Agencies can provide food, especially if the visit is lengthy or if extended discussion is planned. Light snacks and beverages convey an informal message and encourage people to stay and ask questions. In Dallas, DART always feeds participants during site visits.

    Site visits can be photographed or taped. A camera records information such as how close a building is to the street. Photos or videos of the gathering are informative for other people, the staff, or the media. A video camera helps record the details raised by local people, as well as interchanges between community members and agency personnel.

    How are site visits organized?
    Agency staff contacts community group leaders
    to see if there is interest in a site visit. If there is, staff should ask for names of potential invitees and compile an invitation list. If the list is short, the agency can ask invitees if they feel comfortable opening the visit to a wider audience by listing it in local newspapers, posting notices in public places, or sending a notice to an entire mailing list.

    Community people can ask an agency to conduct a site visit. Agency staff inquires about the goals of the visit, the agency personnel who should be present, and others who should attend. It is important to work together in setting an appropriate date, time, and other logistics to demonstrate cooperation and assure participation.

    Site visits are held at convenient times, such as evenings or weekends. These times should be selected in conjunction with the community. They should also be selected so that site conditions are not obscured by equipment or bad lighting. It is preferable to hold a site visit during the time the site is most active or when the site represents a condition that people are concerned about.

    A meeting can be added to a site visit if the logistics are feasible. It is helpful to discuss what people saw while impressions are fresh. A formal meeting on-site requires distinctive planning. Details such as chairs, lights, and weather must be considered. If an agency wants an on-site meeting, it should get agreement from the community.

    The agency supplies transportation, if required. It is important that the vehicle be comfortable. People should be able to hear the leader or any discussions clearly.

    Descriptive materials are provided before the visit, including a summary of the proposal, the purpose of the visit, specific characteristics to look for, etc. Maps and materials may be needed to explain major elements of the proposal. In Dallas, DART shows a site video beforehand and provides written materials in advance.

    Generally, participants gather in one location and leave together for the site. Occasionally, participants gather at the site itself. A definite arrival time is set, since an opening explanation is crucial and helps the group work together; the informality of learning together helps break down factions within the group.

    The organizer of the visit may lead it. It can be conducted as a walk or drive around the site. The visit should be narrated, so that participants are aware of where the proposal affects the land. Time should be allowed for discussion of each area and for a question-and-answer period as the group goes along and at the end of the site visit.

    Viewpoints from all participants are heard during the visit. The agency makes sure each participant can view and react to the site and the proposal. Direct input is solicited.

    Summing-up should be done promptly. Participants may gather and discuss what they experienced. A written record should be prepared, including a list of participants, items to investigate further, and areas in which there was agreement and disagreement.

    How are they used with other techniques?
    CACs are good candidates for site visits
    . CAC members can be selected from visit participants. (See Civic Advisory Committees) The San Francisco Citizens’ Planning Committee took site visits to joint developments in other communities. During the Hudson waterfront transit alternatives analysis in New Jersey, CAC members toured potential air quality monitoring sites.

    A site visit can be a first step in another technique such as a charrette. (See Charrettes) Computer simulations are more accurate and credible if site visits are incorporated.

    Site visits with media involved are important parts of media strategies. Newsletter articles highlighting site visits and incorporating photos and diagrams demonstrate agency efforts in public involvement by reporting the trip to many people. (See Media Strategies; Information Materials)

    What are the drawbacks?
    Organizing a visit and getting appropriate people there is a challenge. Coordinating schedules, weather, and transportation requires considerable effort and staff time.

    Site visits may need to be repeated several times for a large project. Despite careful planning, they may fall flat due to weather or other conditions over which the staff has no control. A trip to a proposed site may cause later problems in recollection if viewed on a day when weather is an aberration or if part of the site is inaccessible.

    A site visit fails if staff cannot answer questions or are poorly prepared. The community may feel its time is wasted if it seems the agency is not listening or is defensive.

    The costs of a visit to a distant location are often prohibitive. Airplane, train, or bus group travel to other cities may be beyond an agency’s budget.

    For further information:

    Bay Area Rapid Transit District, San Francisco, California
    (510) 464-6172

    Burlington, Vermont
    (801) 658-3004

    Central Artery North Area Project, Massachusetts Highway Department
    (617) 973-7000

    Connecticut DOT, Newington, Connecticut
    (860) 594-2000

    Dallas Area Regional Transit, Dallas, Texas
    (214) 749-2581

    Denver Regional Transit District, Denver, Colorado
    (303) 299-2401

    Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Committee, Sioux City, Iowa
    (712) 279-6344
     

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Interactive Analysis Tools
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