As it pertains to transit planning, the public input phase can be challenging. Although transportation decisions impact our daily lives, transit can be a very dull topic that generates low community interest. This is especially evident at in-person public meetings where there is oftentimes low participation. Even then, it can be difficult to gather constructive feedback in a way that promotes actionable results. Not to mention, transit riders are considered a hard-to-reach audience in many communities, making it challenging to gather input from those that probably know the systems best.
Collecting meaningful public input, however, is a very necessary step; in order to develop transit plans that meet the needs of the communities they serve, agencies need actionable data to support their projects and make decisions that truly reflect their community’s top priorities and values.
In a recent webinar, Jen Higginbotham, Principal Planner at Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), shared how the agency gathered meaningful insights from nearly 2,000 survey responders by successfully demonstrating the difficult tradeoff decisions that arise in transit planning. Today, let’s explore some of the top tips the agency shared for collecting actionable public input in transit planning and achieving public engagement success!
Top Tips on Creating an Engaging Online Experience
Transit agencies nationwide have turned to online surveys to increase community engagement and collect more data-driven insights. Compared to traditional outreach strategies, online surveys help planners unpack monotonous transit proposals and ask the public for feedback in a compelling and engaging way. Not only does this help encourage more community members to participate and provide input on the plan, online survey tools enable planners to imbed education into the survey experience to explain complex planning issues and, as a result, collect more reliable insight.
Let’s explore the top tips Indianapolis MPO shared on how to effectively use an online survey to help gather actionable input from members of your community!
1. Develop a survey template that can be customized for other projects
Create a survey template to speed up the development and approval time for your next project. After exploring the MetroQuest dashboard and selecting 5 screens for their online survey, Indianapolis MPO was able to craft a very customized online engagement experience with their first survey and use the same template to achieve similar success within their next project.
2. Use concise and clear language
Be as clear and specific as possible when presenting information to the public. Avoid jargon and speak in layman’s terms, both for clarity and to help your participants stay engaged. Using plain language and short, clear phrases will help participants better grasp complex transit issues and, in turn, provide your agency with more reliable insight.
3. Include visually engaging images
Incorporate eye-catching visuals to captivate participants and keep them engaged while they are taking the survey. You can learn more about the benefits of visual versus text surveys here.
4. Educate participants along the way
As Jen mentions in the webinar, transit is a complex topic and many have preconceived notions about how systems should operate and be improved. Embed education into your survey to inform the public about the transit plan, various issues and important planning alternatives and decisions.
5. Emphasize choices and tradeoffs
Ask participants to weigh in on transit choices and tradeoffs. This helps them recognize that certain choices will mean less resources put towards the other elements, that developing an effective transit system requires difficult decision-making and that there are limited resources in transit planning.
Promotional Formula: Tips for Gathering More Informed Community Input
By using the right promotional strategy, the team at Indianapolis MPO was able to achieve incredible results! Let’s explore 5 more tips on how to leverage social media to increase your survey participation and achieve great public engagement online.
1. Keep surveys open for a short time
Depending on the type and phase of your project, keeping the survey period open for a short amount of time can help incentivize the public to provide their input sooner rather than later. If you promote your survey and emphasis the short window of opportunity, participants will feel hastened to provide their input instead of putting it off. Keep in mind that this can backfire—if participants don’t feel sufficiently engaged with the outcome of the project to begin with, they simply might not respond!
2. Leverage organic and paid social media
Social media is a great strategy to gather more input, craft engaging content to post on a wide range of platforms to promote your survey, build public trust and engage with the public. You can also use paid ads to target specific geographic locations and demographic groups to broaden and diversify your reach.
3. Be strategic with images
Incorporate enticing and relevant images into your social media posts to engage your audience and increase your reach! Adding visuals on social media earns attention, improves engagement and also has the power to deliver vital information quickly.
4. Take advantage of in-person opportunities
Take advantage of opportunities in your community to engage with participants. Indianapolis MPO set up booths at various events in the community to hand out contact cards and provide individuals the opportunity to take their online surveys with iPads. This is a great way to increase engagement and provide the public with an opportunity to discuss issues or provide suggestions and feedback face-to-face.
5. Boost engagement with email newsletters
Develop a community focused and engaging email newsletter to send out to the community. This can help you reach individuals who are more active on email, compared to social media, and encourage individuals to participate in the online survey by including a call-to-action and link within the email.
For more information on how to collect actionable data with MetroQuest, visit the link here.
You can also watch the full webinar to learn how Indianapolis MPO successfully designed their online surveys to educate the public about transportation tradeoffs and obtain usable, actionable public input.
Indianapolis MPO’s Formula for Actionable Public Input on Bike, Ped & Transit
In this webinar, Jen Higginbotham at Indianapolis MPO shares her step-by-step formula for engaging the public in alternative transportation planning using both online engagement and traditional involvement methods!