Article 1to1 Magazine January/February 2001

Article 1to1 Magazine January/February 2001Stemming the Flow

The city of Santa Rosa, CA, manages one of the country's largest agricultural irrigation systems. Four billion gallons of reclaimed water serve 6,000 acres of farmland, vineyards and public green spaces each year. In winter, when the demand for irrigation ebbs and storage ponds fill, remaining water discharges into the Russian River and risks overflowing levels dictated by a city permit.

The city's answer is the Geysers Project, a four-foot-wide, 34-mile pipeline that will carry 11 million gallons of reclaimed water uphill to the Geysers steam field each day. The water will generate electricity and irrigate additional farmland. So what does a public environmental project have to do with CRM?

One view of the citizen

While attending initial engineering meetings, Geysers Project team members wondered how the nearly dozen companies involved in building the pipeline would keep track of required public noticing and property access issues for 3,500 property owners and parties impacted by construction over a five- to eight-year period. Common methods- paper files or spreadsheet software -weren't adequate for this $132 million undertaking.

Mark Millan, founder of marketing consultancy Data Instincts, which had overseen public information for the city for several years, thought of contact management software. "Everyone was shocked. They didn't realize there was a way that several firms involved in environmental review, design engineering and construction could all view property owner contact history as they went through the project."

Commissioned to build the database, Millan selected GoldMine Version 4.0 and installed it on a SQL server in 1999. He loaded copies onto 21 laptops and desktops, and customized fields for addresses, locations corresponding to project maps, contacts, access status, property-specific identification numbers and preferred mode of communication.

To protect privacy and security, Millan recorded only public information and restricted how users could manipulate data. He taught team members how to view records, create reports and synchronize with the server, which they do at least once each week.

Identifying and "interacting"

 

Since installation, the city has used the database to segment impacted parties and customize and track all communications-regardless of touch-points-throughout the project's phases. Segmentation is crucial, explains Millan, to following the required sequence of public noticing and to track property-specific issues, such as which need to have a driveway repaved or what types of plants and trees have to be replaced after digging.

The city also identifies parties by location, notifying them of public meetings and construction in their neighborhoods, and by special interest. "When addressing fisheries' issues, we were able to sort and pull out people with those interests, regardless of where they lived," says Ed Brauner, deputy city manager. "Because of the size and complexity and span of several years of the Geysers Project, it's necessary to have more than a simple list of interested parties."

Rick Maddox, access coordinator and environmental consultant with Merritt Smith Consulting, uses the database to document conversations with property owners regarding access to their land for construction. "I'll often type right into a property owner's record while I'm on the phone with them. Or I retrieve the information from their "history" tab while I'm on the phone with another team member looking for fast information about a property or a discussion." And before public meetings, team members often view residents' communication histories so they can prepare for potential opposition.

During phases when roads will be closed, the city identifies media contacts and faxes weekly updates to area radio stations. It also sends e-mail to businesses affected by the closures, including FedEx and vineyard managers, which have requested e-notification rather than telephone, fax or mail.

The city's Web site (http:// ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/geysersproject/ project.asp) is updated when the project enters a new phase in a section, a meeting is scheduled or timelines change. Initially over 1,000 unique visitors went to the site each month, nearly one-third the number of impacted parties. Hits have slowed by about two-thirds, but spike by 10% after mailings, notes Millan. "All outreach materials drive the public to the site."

It's hard to quantify a return on the $20,000 to $30,000 investment in software customization and training because "in the public sector you're not selling any product," says Millan. "You're tracking the relationship of a citizen through the required public process."

ROI comes in the form of time savings, logistical continuity, fewer complaints and, hopefully, fewer lawsuits -something the team is "constantly guarding against," says Maddox. "Having the information carried forward for the length of the project just makes us smarter and better able to meet the needs of property owners and our client."

"It's the same value proposition as in the private sector. When you factor in a controversial public project, the stakes are so much higher," says Millan. "Not being responsive may mean not being able to build a project. I call it Citizen Relationship Management." 

(Copyright  2001) Peppers and Rogers Group / Marketing 1to1

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