Public Notice Needs To Evolve

The street I live on is having a lot of work done on it this year. A LOT. There’s been a replacement of storm drainage lines, there’s a replacement of the water main that goes under most of the length of the street coming up, and a sewer main later in the summer. And then the road will be milled and repaved.

As you can imagine, this will be creating some issues for those that live on our approximately 1.5 mile long street for most of the summer. There will be points where people will not be able to get their car to their house, lots of construction noise, some disruption of water service probably expected, etc. Such is the price for improving capability, and that’s fine.

What has become a bit clear, though, is that the old ways of getting information out about what is happening in our neighborhood is not very effective. It’s really been up to neighbors to investigate for themselves what is happening, through online research and old-fashioned personal communication, to have an idea of schedule and plan.

It’s not that the information isn’t available. It’s how it is being distributed and managed.

For example, the water line project was a very recent add-on to the other projects. Neighbors received a form letter about the project and were invited to a meeting to hear details. Further details, including schedule, was provided to the public via a press release that was sent to the media.

Now all this activity is happening very quckly. Letters in envelopes that look like junk mail, and press releases, may meet public notice requirements but they are really not an effective way to get the word out.

Why can I say this? Because a substantial number of neighbors didn’t know much about the water project until our homeowners association posted the information on their email list.

If the water company had just had someone responsible to look for a bit closer community communication, they could have easily found avenues to use more viral methods to get the word out. A homeowners association that includes the street involved – a homeowners association with an email distribution list and a web site. A Facebook page for the neighborhood NOT affiliated with the HOA that has about 50 followers as well.

In essence, what I’m saying is that the message is not the problem – the messenger is the problem. The nature of information filtering is changing. You can’t rely on press releases to the news media and form letters in the mail. They get buried and ignored. Would you use just those techniques to sell a new product to a market? Of course not – because you need to get market’s attention. So why rely on those same techniques for important information to send to EXISTING market?

In the past, that was an acceptable minimum for notice. But in today’s world, with the general population fading interest and use of newspapers and unsolicited direct mail, that can’t be the minimum any longer. Online community contact has to be searched for, and utilized.

And this goes both ways. Online communities also have to search for, and find effective ways to deliver, the information from outsiders that their community needs. These responsibilities differ from for-profit to volunteer organizations, but still, the need is there.