Presented at the California WateReuse Association
conference in San Francisco on February 28, 2003
TO SUCCESSFUL RECYCLED WATER PROJECTS
Mark Millan, Data
Instincts, Windsor, CA
In a world where people cannot wait long for
anything and demand excellence in everything, presenting a community with the
task of evaluating a water or recycled water use project can be a tough
prospect. Under the thumb of regulators, tight budgets and CEQA, successfully
implementing any project becomes an unprecedented challenge.
Public education may not seem to be a likely
place to start but just imagine if the public, policymakers, and your local
media really understood that there was a problem to begin with and actually
agreed with you about potential solutions.
Defining the Problem
Is the problem you are faced with obvious? Easily
understood? Would it be clear to a high school student? If not, reevaluate how
the problem is presented until it resonates. Test its resoluteness with various
community members. Use focus groups if necessary. Focus groups and/or surveys
can reveal key concerns or misunderstandings early in the process. Such input
can be pivotal as you craft your outreach messages and information.
If the problem does not seem real or urgent
enough, stakeholders and affected public, businesses and the community-at-large
may not understand what the fuss is all about, nor agree with new rates or water
It is tough to gather support and to ask that
others make sacrifices including possible rate increases, if the problem to be
solved is not crystal clear to all concerned.
Don’t assume everyone understands recycled water
quality, various levels of treatment or applicable regulations. Educating the
public and providing adequate background information will help the public to
understand what may be obvious to your staff engineers.
Once a Problem Statement has been crafted, and
does indeed connect with your public, post it everywhere. Keep it out
front--refer to it often. Don’t assume everyone knows or has remembered,
especially if it is a project that may take years to put into operation.
are Possible Solutions?
Whatever the problem, there is likely to be more
than one solution. How did the solutions get formed? Are you involving the
public and stakeholders in the process of establishing potential solutions? If
not, you may want to back track and be able to explain how possible solutions
evolved. Explain cost benefits, environmental impacts and what percentage of a
problem they may solve. Sometimes a combination of solutions can be as effective
as one giant project.
Solutions are often not simple. Outside
consultants may be required to make evaluations. Are their findings available to
the public and in a language they can understand? Taking this extra step can
alleviate gross misunderstandings.
Keeping Stakeholders in the Loop
Weather it is a Negative Declaration or a
full-blown EIR, once your process begins, identify key stakeholders and include
them in your outreach efforts.
It is always best to be upfront and clearly state broad impacts.
Advertise initial meetings in the newspaper and mail to lists of interested
like-type issues or projects. Mail to entire affected geographic areas.
Better to over notice than under notice in the initial phases of a study
or implementing a project.
You don’t want people standing up in front of a
public hearing 9 months into the process saying they never heard about your
project. Better to have the confidence of your policymakers knowing you threw
the net out very broadly to make sure potentially affected segments of the
community were more than adequately notified about your project.
Regardless of how much you notice or how many
public meetings you may have, there will always be newcomers to your process or
project. Someone may have just moved into the area or just realized you are
coming through their property. It is best to have background beginning materials
that lay out how the problem and subsequent project evolved. These could be used
all through a project as new people become aware and require initial
information. Have key contact information readily available for public officials
and project coordinators for people who feel they need more information.
Content is King
glossary of terms, a definition of a law or regulation, web links to new
legislation--there will always be something new to explain whether it is a newly
listed endangered specie or a water treatment process. Don’t expect everyone to
know what it is or means. Explain it. Have in-depth reference information
forthright and demonstrate a commitment to full disclosure.
Decisions will be
tough enough to make without there being feelings of distrust or confusion on
No Turning Back - CRM is the New Mantra
developing public projects, the old rule of “Decide, Announce, and Defend” is
over. The public expects to have input, be kept informed and updated.
A new bar has already been set in the private sector. Enterprise-wide
software and communications systems are now a standard to better deliver
services and products to a company’s customers. These enterprise-wide systems
are often referred to as "Customer Centric" because they can provide information
"responsively" to customers from numerous customer contact points. When a
customer calls, they can respond with real-time information unique to that
customer. This type of delivery system, in the private sector, is called
Customer Relationship Management
It improves the customer’s experience of dealing with that company,
enhances the services, manages the relationship, and allows for meaningful
interaction thereby providing unique treatment and responsiveness to each
the public sector, it is possible to mirror this same type of functionality
within your outreach structure. New tools tailored to cities and counties are
being developed and implemented.
Such systems can be referred to as Community
Relationship Management (CRM).
Because citizens are also
consumers, they have come to expect 24 hour-a-day service and interactive
delivery systems. Recycled water projects, in particular, can be politically
charged and controversial as to public safety concerns and perceptions. They are
ideal candidates for CRM and can
best benefit from improved channels of communication to help ensure a sense of
trust between the public and the lead agency of a project. More importantly, the
public and stakeholders now expect that a public project
be responsive and provide full disclosure.
When this expectation is not met, they begin to question the very competency and
integrity of the implementing agency and their contracted partners.
communications and educational system can
be as vital to a project as a reliable recycled water system itself.
New Questions to Ask
Do you have a strategy for
improving the way you interact with the community/citizens during the
various phases of a project?
What interaction channels are
most cost effective in enabling you to deal with the public and
What do you need to know about
those who may be impacted to ensure you are able to offer the most
appropriate service and interactive channels of communication?
Are you able to provide
consistent service and consistent responses to the public and stakeholders
no matter what interaction channel they choose?
Have you introduced new
channels of interaction with proper support and trained staffing?
Are there any weaknesses in
your interactive communications system that could be strengthened?
Communications Easy and Available in Various Ways
By creating various channels to disburse and
receive information, you make it easy to deal with and appear responsive to the
community and stakeholders. Channels of communication may vary in different
communities. Here are a few that would be ideal and are actually expected today:
Backgrounders, maps and project documents
Posting background information, schedules, maps, key documents and online
Public Meetings: Where
either policymakers are discussing and making key decisions and/or
information is shared, gathered and exchanged with the public and key
Permission based E-mail Broadcasts:
Keeps those most interested constantly in the loop.
Project Call Center:
This could be as simple as a specific telephone number that everyone knows
as the resource number that can be called day or night to ask project
questions, or alert you to problems in the field.
Technology Should be Your Best Friend
might say it is tough enough to conduct environmental, technical and economic
studies to build a recycle water project - now I also have to have a
sophisticated communications system in place? If you want your project to
succeed, the answer is “Yes.”
City, County and State governments are being
affected by the one-to-one marketing trend provided consumers in other service
industries. The community expects easy access, 24/7 communications options just
like working with an airline or a bank. There are software tools available to
help you deliver such services thereby making it easier for citizens to fill out
forms, get answers to questions and to be kept informed of public meetings and
key decision points. Use of new technologies such websites, website interactive tools,
permission based e-mail broadcast and intelligent databases can enhance
communication with citizens and stakeholders.
Websites Work for you 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week
website dedicated to your current project and its EIR process, design and/or
construction phases could be a link to your existing homepage, or a fresh URL
with a series of Web pages dedicated just to your recycled water project.
Clearly state the project purpose, note a schedule of events and important
public meetings, and make available key reports and studies. The site can also
be a place where dialogue can occur.
People can talk directly to you and your consultants or have a forum where
questions can be asked as the process unfolds. In addition, if there are maps
involved, various mapping concepts could be posted and made readily available to
everybody involved in the process.
database and a project Website combined will help to reinforce traditional forms
of outreach, such as notification mailings, feedback reports, surveying,
important documents in draft and final stages and any legally required notices.
Permission Based E-mail Broadcast
Respect privacy when using this channel. Do not
show e-mail addresses to the full group. The best place to gather e-mail
addresses and permission is at public meetings using sign-in sheets. Another
clear method is via your project website where an interested party can request
information be e-mailed to them.
You can also create subset groups, depending on
the subject matter, such as technical groups, public officials, and/or people
from a specific geographic area. There are many ways that this communication
method could be utilized.
Power of a Call Center
Call Center can serve many purposes.
Callers can receive clarity on an issue, request documents and obtain scheduling
information. Whoever answers this phone needs to be familiar with the project
and key stakeholders to effectively respond and route calls to appropriate
project team members. A Call Center is a “learning center.” It allows you to
have one-on-one conversations with people who may have unique viewpoints, key
information or who may be adversely affected by your project. Sharing this
information with key team members can help in critical time-sensitive
decision-making and can even reshape ideas. Listening to public reaction and
adjusting your outreach materials can prevent large-scale misunderstandings.
Feeding citizen and stakeholder input into a project database allows for such
information to stay relevant over time and to be shared across the spectrum of
project team members as the project evolves. This is a simple idea that can be
Utilizing a Smart Database
project database allows you to record a history of each individual's interaction
with a process. You can note
meetings attended, documents sent, and records of telephone and e-mail dialogue.
More importantly, it ensures that the right people receive the right information
throughout the project, and you have a record of it.
with your current mailing list, the database might have various segments
depicted based on interest or impact, such as: agriculture, traffic, utilities,
technology, tourism and business.
Unique outreach messages could then be sent to these segments, as various topics
need to be addressed. Additional interests are easily added. Sorting by
category, geographic areas, level of interests, and alphabetically now becomes
possible. Such a database can also note preferences on how each individual
prefers to receive information, either by mail, email, fax, or phone.
Studies have shown an increase in response to messages sent through a
person's preferred channel of communicating.
Best yet is being able to share this information across a network for use by key
members of your project team. Such access allows full use of the data for a
myriad of uses such as quick mailing to one sector of a project or key
stakeholders. Retain Right of Way data so commitments can be retained through
the live and phases of large-scale projects that take years to build.
Successful Recycled Water Projects of the Future
Successful recycled water projects of the future will be using all of these channels of communication and more for the simple reason that the public will demand and insist on them. Just as in the private sector, competition drove such services and caused them to evolve; public projects have also begun feeling this impact. Recycled water projects should not and cannot ignore them. Adopting such practices early on will alleviate public frustrations and create a better atmosphere of trust. It is already tough enough to sell, design and build recycled water projects. Improved communications, public education, and informed stakeholders who feel they have been responded to, should smooth the way and enhance a more successful outcome.
Great Examples of Good Use of Web Sites Dedicated to Specific Public Projects
of Santa Rosa, CA, Geysers Pipeline Project --A unique project that will
pump millions of gallons of recycled water to geothermal wells to generate
electricity for about 100,000 households.
of Santa Rosa, CA, Incremental Recycled Water Program
Town of Windsor, CA, Storage Project
Shine, Sean, “Building Customer Relationship Management in Government”, Insights--Accenture, Issue No. 6, January 2002, p 2
Goldenberg, Barton J., “CRM Automation”, pp 157-160
Kimberlee Roth, “Stemming the Flow-- Marketing 1to1