Outreach planner will streamline public involvement decisions

From planning to construction and through maintenance, the public’s needs, concerns and questions must be considered and addressed. It’s all part of ITD’s efforts to improve public safety, enhance mobility and support economic opportunities.

In support of these goals, the offices of Communication and Planning recently kicked off a new project that will refine how the department makes decisions about public involvement: Central to the project is the Project Outreach Planner (POP).

“How we interact with the public as we work to achieve ITD’s long-range goals is critical to our success,” said project sponsor Tom Cole. “The POP will be a tool for project managers and teams to easily analyze and quantify outreach needs early and throughout the life of a project.”

The POP concept, originally developed by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), focuses on a series of multiple choice questions that produces a score. This score correlates to a recommended level of public outreach for that specific project.

“Simple, quantifiable multiple choice questions, such as – ‘What is the anticipated project duration,’ or ‘historically, how has the public reacted to transportation projects in the area,’ will help district staff make decisions about the project’s public involvement needs, quickly and easily,” said Project Advisor Sonna Lynn Fernandez.

Using the UDOT model as a launching point, Fernandez and ITD Public Involvement Coordinator Adam Rush will work closely with district staff to develop a tool and language unique to Idaho and ITD culture. During two November kickoff workshops with executive staff, district planners and communication staff, the uniqueness of the Idaho product began to take shape.

“Through early department outreach we have the directive to take the UDOT model even further and consider not only roadway projects, but also corridor studies, environmental planning and maintenance,” said Rush. “The timing is also right to fold the POP process into existing ITD process, helping it become part of the way ITD now does business.”

The POP will integrate electronically into the Project Charter. Other manuals, including the Guide to Public Involvement, Corridor Planning Guidebook and Environmental Manual will be updated accordingly. The end product will be web-based, project specific public involvement guidance, complete with tools and techniques for the recommended level of effort.

“Each project’s custom guide will provide comprehensive information needed to, for example, set-up, organize and conduct a public hearing or workshop,” said Rush. “As the department seeks to use limited resources wisely, the POP will help determine what approaches, technologies and strategies can be used to most efficiently and effectively communicate with the public.”

Beginning in February, Rush, Fernandez and the rest of the Project Leadership Team will visit each district to discuss public involvement and test the draft product. “The POP is designed to aid our district staff with public involvement decisions,” said Rush. “Gathering their input and feedback will help us produce a tool that will be useful and reflective of our department’s unique needs.”

The Project Leadership Team also includes Cole; Erika Bowen, Executive Team Liaison; and former ITD Office of Communication staff, Bryant Kuechle and Darla Christiansen, now with The Langdon Group, an Idaho-based public involvement company.

If you have any questions or would like more information about the POP, please contact the Project Manager, Adam Rush at 334-8119 or adam.rush@itd.idaho.gov. Some district staff can expect to be contacted after the New Year, asking for your participation in developing the POP.

Published 12-30-2011