One of my primary responsibilities as Director of Communications at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is to work with municipalities, engineers, planners and other stakeholders, to communicate infrastructure projects to the public. Historically, infrastructure projects haven’t been communicated well; the focus has been reactive rather than proactive (putting out fires). Complaints are dealt with by engineers or contractors who are not trained how to interface with the public. As a result, residents and business owners don’t know why their streets are being torn up, or how to access their homes or businesses in a safe way. They don’t know when the noise will stop, or how to deal with dust and dirt.
There is a laneway running parallel to the street I live on. This is where everyone on the block has their garages. Recently, my roommate went to drive out of the garage. There was a gigantic hole; it was cavernous. Unbeknownst to us, construction had begun on the laneway, blocking access to the entire row of sheds and garages. She was trapped. Fortunately, there were still contractors on the site who built a makeshift bridge over the hole, and she was able to proceed.
My dad lives beside a school. There are renovations going on – big ones. Construction began at 5am for almost one month, until complaints to the City encouraged a more resident-friendly start time of 7am. No hoarding has been put up to mitigate noise or dust, and one day my dad found a hose attached to his home from which water was being pumped to the construction site. (Luckily he was reimbursed for this later.)
These kinds of issues arise around construction sites every day. We all understand that schools must be built, that roads must be repaired, and that new infrastructure must replace the old, or be added to existing systems to meet the needs of growing populations. Urban growth is a positive thing. So why do we get so angry when our daily routines are
interrupted by these projects?
I believe the answer lies beyond that of obvious inconvenience. No one likes to be stuck in traffic to accommodate a lane closure, but we can trust that most people will take this in stride if the five “W’s” have been explained:
- Who is responsible for this?
- What is this project about?
- When will it be completed?
- Where will it occur?
- How will the needs of residents and business owners be taken into account during construction?
But how many projects are communicated well even at a high level? Most of the time the onus is on residents to track down the answers to these questions, and it often occurs after they’ve been upset by an issue. This can lead to ill will between citizens and political representatives.
At HSAL we believe that excellent communications is vital to the success of infrastructure projects. We work with municipalities, engineers, planners and other stakeholders to design proactive communications plans to raise awareness and build trust between those implementing projects, and the people they serve. We create simple, highly visible, positive and attention-getting communications which form a suite of tactics that, when
implemented, will stop complaints before they start. But more than that – we provide communications services that will foster good relationships between these groups. That’s right – we get people on-side.
We know that when individuals are properly educated and empowered to assist in the decision-making process, they are happy to participate and to share their knowledge with friends and family. From public consultation, to websites and collateral material, Public Information Centres, Business and Institutional Care Programs, Ambassador Programs and more, we encourage the dissemination of information, and the collection of feedback from those affected by the construction process. This is how we stop complaints before they reach undesired levels of government. This is how we foster community well-being.
If you would like to know more about how HSAL can help your city or municipality build an excellent communications plan to deliver your infrastructure project on time and on budget, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-944-8444 ext. 225.
Bryna Jones is the Director of Communications at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, and a member of the International Association of Business Communicators. Bryna’s project experience includes communications and marketing planning, advocacy campaign development, social media strategy, government relations, and project management. She also has considerable experience in copy writing and public speaking.