Monthly Archives: January 2009

Helpful research tools and tips

It’s easier to build trust and motivate people when you can marshal and provide the right facts; that is, information that strengthens rather than distorts public decision making.  

Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to figure out just where to find that information.  That’s when something like the  Journalist’s Toolbox comes in handy, as we’re reminded by Poynter Online.

Found at the Society for Professional Journalists, the Toolbox provides an extensive collection of links to search tools, election coverage, First Amendment issues, jobs, education resources (high school and college), Investigative Reporters and Editors and other data/statistics sites, and links to topical issues (terrorism, floods, etc.).

The Journalist’s Toolbox is available at or from SPJ’s home page. Its list of categories displays the number of posts per category, and allows you to link directly to a particular topic, so you can bypass the front page if desired.


Social media “hmms” and thought starters

Social media tools and insights were the draws for nearly 60 people nationwide who recently attended or videoconferenced in on a Web 2.0 luncheon presentation hosted by the Public Involvement Group I lead at HNTB.

The material presented by Mike Lundgren of VML provided participants with a great rationale and a road map for developing a highly effective, holistic Web 2.0 presence.

Although I can’t share with you the presentation itself, Mike graciously provided copious links to related examples and information, which I provide here as thought starters:

Meanwhile, mega kudos to Robyn Arthur, for organizing and managing the very successful event; those who know Robyn and her work know that excellent outcomes are typical of all she does.

TV still leads as action influencer

A new study shows that when it comes time to move people and spark action, TV is still the number one game in town.

Although the study focused on product purchases, it probably is safe to assume that the findings hold true when trying to sell ideas or prompt individual civic or community action. Here’s more:

“TV still has the most influence on purchasing decisions in five major markets—even among Internet users—according to a study conducted in September and October 2008 by Deloitte

The Internet and traditional media such as magazines, newspapers and radio constituted a second tier of influence among online consumers surveyed in the US, UK, Japan, Germany and Brazil.


Types of Advertising that Have the Most Impact on the Buying Decisions of Internet Users in Select Countries, September-October 2008 (% of respondents)

Television’s dominance came despite the majority of consumers in all five countries saying their computers were used more for entertainment than their TVs. Deloitte said the top two Internet ad influences across all countries were search engine results and banner ads.”

If you’re surprised, you weren’t listening

Suddenly having to deal with angry people or, conversely, sitting in an empty room, just stinks.


But when it happens, it shouldn’t come as an ugly surprise.


Ironically, members of groups you work with usually broadcast their dissatisfaction well in advance of the final breakdown (not to be confused with “The Final Countdown”), if you pay attention to the warning signs:

  1. Participants can’t agree on or won’t engage in defining what the group’s goals are;
  2. Attendance drops and stays down;
  3. Group members won’t return calls or emails in a timely fashion;
  4. People complain about, or focus on, small or insignificant items; and
  5. They start holding side or substitute meetings without including you.

However, you can minimize the chances of having this happen to you by:

  • Making clear the expectations you have for coalition participants;
  • Doing nothing until you and participants define success for the group;
  • Agreeing on how you will measure progress towards success;
  • Having a clear plan for providing information, interaction and support;
  • Checking often to see if expectations are being met; and
  • Moving swiftly to resolve expectation issues as they occur.

Prospecting for volunteers

Public involvement professionals often are challenged to find new faces and perspectives to serve as community or stakeholder representatives on advisory boards, study groups and the like.

But research conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau finds that volunteers are almost three times more likely to engage in any community organizational activity. Community organizational activities include formal and informal volunteering, religious and spiritual activities, group participation, and a variety of other civic activities.

On average, recent volunteers spend about 218 hours per year engaged in such activities, compared to 78 hours for non-volunteers and only 50 hours for former volunteers.

These findings suggest that those who are compiling their list of steering committee candidates might want to add to their list of criteria a current accounting of the individuals’ volunteer status to identify who might be most willing to participate and, more importantly, to devote adequate time to the effort.

Networks. Coalitions. The important distinctions.

In this blog, you’ll see that the terms “networks” and “coalitions” appear frequently.

When you do, there’s more than search engine optimization going on (although like many Americans, I’m hoping for the kind of SEO nirvana that produces wealth all out of proportion to actual labor or worth).

There’s an important difference, one that affects how well you can achieve personal, professional and community goals.

For the longest time, there’s been a lot of emphasis on networks and networking as a way to get ahead. The idea is that networks organized around personal relationships and the friendship or kinship exchanges that build and sustain them make it easier to find new ideas and opportunties through lots of social connections. Additionally, power tends to flow to those individuals who are closest to the center  of high quality, high volume relationships.

Of course, networking as a tool for advancing your agenda has problems, particularly when trying to advance more formal policies and programs. It can be slow, vulnerable to the vagaries of how well you network and dependent upon how powerful your friends and allies are.

More importantly, it turns making friends and acquaintances into a tawdry, inauthentic process in which personal regard and affection are trivialized and a complex calculus of favors earned and returned must be created and maintained at the potential risk of soured relationships.

On the other hand, coalition building seems a much more honest approach, even when used on an informal personal basis. A coalition is an alliance among individuals, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in his own self-interest, with full and equal knowledge of what the goal is and agreement about the desired end results.

Fundamentally, a coalition is a more open, honest enterprise. Members of a coalition have formally or informally defined the issue that unites them. They trust each other to be credibly and equally committed to their common issue or goal.  They’ve figured out ways to manage their differences in mutually satisfying ways.  And this is key, they share an incentive to participate and, consequently, benefit.

Bottom line, lots of things in life can be achieved through networks and often with less effort that it takes to build and sustain coalitions. But the use of coalitions is more likely to produce long-term, sustainable … and honest … progress towards personal, professional or community goals.

A picture’s worth a thousand words

For several years, infographics has sat smoldering on the launching pad, ready to take off but somehow always failing to ignite and take flight.


Despite the influence of the likes of USA Today and Edward Tufte, the visual representation of information traditionally served up in text has been slow to take over the printed page.


People readily acknowledge that visuals can be powerful tools for organizing, informing and motivating people, groups and coalitions. However, it is very difficult to develop truly innovative instances of graphic representation of data, particularly representations that engage people in testing the “truth” of the information or analysis being presented to them.


(For interesting exploration of and thought-starter regarding visual representation of information, you might want to check out “The Periodic Table of Visualization.”)

There are exceptions.  One outstanding example of infographics – and graphic decision making – is the T-LINK Calculator, profiled in The New York Times and now being picked up worldwide.

The calculator was created by the Kansas Dept. of Transportation’s (now) Government Relations Manager Kyle Schneweis (see p. 4).  It was designed to help KDOT educate the public about statewide transportation funding and policy by empowering them to make transportation policy decisions for Kansas and see the fiscal results of their choices. Even better, the tool enables KDOT to collect data about the choices users make to help guide the department in its decision making.

What’s not to like?  The T-LINK Calculator embodies the key principles of effective infographics by:

  • Easing the process of developing and communicating conceptual information;
  • Integrating multiple, differing types of information;
  • Highlighting relationships between different data streams; and
  • Empowering users to make and act on decisions derived from their own interpretation of the data.