Tag Archives: DeMent

Making the business case for dedicated truck lanes

Our project team, which has been studying the business case for designing and building dedicated truck lanes on 800 miles of I-70, have just  submitted our project nomination for a Transportation Planning Excellence Award.

This biennial awards program is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), in partnership with the Transportation Research Board (TRB).

Our nomination is focused on the innovative planning goals and strategies we employed on the I-70 Dedicated Truck Lanes Feasibility Study, which was sponsored by Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

The Transportation Planning Excellence Awards (TPEA) Program recognizes outstanding initiatives across the country to develop, plan, and implement innovative transportation planning practices. Winners represent a variety of planning organizations from across the county, and will be published in an Excellence in Transportation Planning resource report for their peers.


Changing my mind to avoid changing my shirt

Back in June, I started running again after a layoFFFF of many years.

My clever use of a visual representation of the Doppler Effect may have left you with the impression that I run like the wind, despite having only picked back up in June.  That would be a misapprehension. 

I’m what’s known in running circles as a Clydesdale, both because of my size and lack of whippet speed (the term for lean, fast runners, by which I mean Kenyans).  All I can say is:  no one has ever cried over a Christmas commercial of whippets pulling a wagon through freshly fallen snow nor laughed at one in which they kick a field goal.

‘Nuff said.

Health scare … mid-life crisis … nostalgia for the athletic stud I once was (at least in anecdote); none of these factored into my decision.  Instead, running again was the price of admission to something I’ve always wanted to do – run the bulls in Pamplona.  That’s right. I’m a clichéd Hemingway wannabe who wants to dash into the ruedo in my white linen shirt and pants, my red sash blowing in the wind behind me. However, in the 34 years of life with Linda, I could never get her to see the wisdom and allure of this … until in a moment of weakness and drink, she said: “Sure, if you run a half-marathon first.”

She may have been laughing up her sleeve when she said it, but that stopped when she sobered up.  And to our mutual surprise, five months later I finished the Waddell & Reed Half Marathon here in Kansas City. Didn’t run it in the fasted time ever, but I did run my first half marathon fifteen minutes faster than NBC Chief Meteorologist did, to which I say: “Suck it, Al Roker.”

During that time, I also was busy researching and planning my 2012 Pamplona bull-running trip.  And I mean planning.  Working with engineers over the past five years has really stoked my love of Excel spreadsheets, critical paths and key dependencies. I had pulled together an action plan for getting there and, more importantly, how to sprint the 903 yards to the ring and survive. I knew everything. How they had put down non-skid surfaces at Dead Man’s Turn so that the bulls wouldn’t slip and could keep accelerating after the Euro-trash that deserved what they got. How they keep goring stats so you can schedule your run on a day less likely to end in injury or death.  And mucho, mucho mas!

But here’s the thing.  The more I researched, the more Pamplona videos I watched, the more I learned an important lesson about myself (and not the one people kept trying to teach me, that bulls can kill you). What I learned was that I’m just too damn old to stand in a Plaza with 10,000 youth of the world projectile vomiting from chugging cheap two-liter bottles of sangria.

I’m happy to risk getting gored.  But I don’t want to be vomited on. And I don’t want to be jammed, jostled and generally pawed by thousands of sweaty, pukey twenty somethings. (Hey, I veered away from the High Five Squad at mile six of the half marathon because I didn’t want to touch hands that had patty-fingered 11,000 other runners.)  So I’m not going to Pamplona. 

But at least I’m still running.  So join me for the next outing – the Dec. 4 Great Santa 5K – http://www.sportkc.org/sportkc.aspx?pgID=866&event_id=458.  No bull. No sangria. No puking up.

Ignore the bull behind you and think of Spain

How do you sell others, let alone yourself, on going to Pamplona?

One approach is to focus on the things that are easier to understand – the beauty of Spain, for example, charm of Pamplona itself or the vibrant, colorful experience of the Festival of San Fermin.

The cost of emotionally investing in the fun and pageantry is so much lower than investing in the possibility of death or dismemberment, and it makes it so much likelier that you, friends and family may actually be in Pamplona in July 2012.

100 days of rain rots the brain

While I’m looking up the definition of a cubit and doing an endless “Fooba” rerun of Bill Cosby’s Noah’s Ark routine, I thought I’d bring us all together – not with some pithy insight about coalition building – but with the ten greatest rainy day/night songs ever.

It’s the best I can do until I see some sunshine, and I can empty out my brain pan.

11.  (Bonus track)  Rain, Woods, Songs of Shame

10. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

9,  I Wish It Would Rain, The Temptations, The Temptations Wish It Would Rain

8.  Who’ll Stop the Rain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, More Creedence Gold

7.  Storm In a Teacup, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium

6.  Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Willie Nelson, Red-Headed Stranger

5.  Cloudy (Live), Average White Band, The Best Of Average White Band

4.  Lightnin’ Hopkins, R.E.M, Document

3.  Rainy Day, Dream Away/Still Raining, Still Dreaming, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland

2. Thunderball, Tom Jones, The Best Of James Bond 30th Anniversary Collection

1. One Rainy Wish, Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold As Love

Stakeholder engagement programs win KC PRISM awards

Last night’s PRISM Awards Gala was a great night for coalition builders.

My dear friend, Jackie Clark, was honored as the Roger Yarrington PR Pro of the Year at the annual event hosted by the Greater Kansas City chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Jackie’s career has been spent building coalitions around effective resolutions to complex problems, and it was gratifying to see her recognized for all she has done.

Additionally, I was lucky enough to win three awards for internal, government relations and stakeholder engagement efforts:

  • A silver award in Special Programs for “The HNTB Kansas City Office Strategic Plan Open House.” The internal communication event, developed in partnership with Jan Ruemker, engaged HNTB staff in developing our office strategic plan through information stations, surveys, quizzes and face-to-face brainstorming with office leadership.
  • A PRISM award in Special Programs for “The HNTB Infrastructure Day.” This top award in the category was also won in conjunction with my friend and colleague, Jan Ruemker.  This day-long program of tours, presentations and face-to-face interaction helped brief key Congressional staffers on our region’s transportation challenges and opportunities. The goal of this government relations program was to help members of the area’s Congressional delegation become even stronger advocates for the interests of Greater Kansas City.
  • A silver award for Internet Communications for development and implementation of the Johnson County Gateway Study website.  This group stakeholder engagement effort featured the hard work of many individuals, most notably Robyn Arthur, HNTB, and Kim Qualls, the Kansas Dept. of Transportation. The project and website are designed to engage thousands of local residents and “thru travelers” in developing a long-term solution to improving a large-scale, complex set of interchanges in Johnson County, Kansas.

Online meeting strategy for coalition building wins kudos from Missouri Governor

An online public meeting strategy developed in partnership between the Missouri Dept. of Transportation and HNTB’s public involvement group was honored by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Oct. 15.

The Governor’s Award for Quality and Productivity recognizes State of Missouri teams that excel in the areas of excellence, efficiency, innovation, technology, process improvement, customer service and employee development.

MoDOT and its partner, HNTB Corp., an engineering firm, held Missouri’s first-ever electronic meeting to meaningfully and cost-effectively get input from the public on rebuilding Interstate 70 with lanes separating cars and trucks.  This innovative public involvement tool is believed to be only the second such online meeting in the country.  Due to this innovative approach, up to 10 times as many people attended the online public meeting than had attended previous face-to-face meetings.  MoDOT has since used virtual meetings for other projects as a way to broaden the agency’s outreach efforts and get more people involved in its decision-making process.

Representing HNTB at the award ceremony were Betty Burry and Michael DeMent, APR.

The online public meeting was honored earlier in the week as 2009’s best public involvement approach in the nation at the 2009 National Transportation Public Affairs Workshop. NTPAW is a national organization representing public affairs, public involvement and communications professionals at the nation’s departments of transportation.

Jennifer’s holiday newsletter – networking masterpiece.

Each year, my holiday newsletter is a small publication written by an international cast of characters gerbil-herded by Jennifer Wilding, my good friend and stakeholder engagement goddess.

In a moment, there will be important networking lessons for us all. But first, some background.

Jennifer has been producing this annual 32- to 40-page opus for so long that I can’t remember when it started or how/why/if I know everyone represented in its pages.

I’m sure the same is true for everyone else who contributes to the newsletter.  Yet, like me, with more or less nagging, each Yuletide they crank out poems, short stories, reportage from the fields of broken and unbroken dreams and, when all else fails, detailed answerage to a personal/cultural survey that Jennifer gives us to keep us involved even when we’re pressed for time, out of the holiday mood or convinced that everyone else has a more interesting life than we do.

Jennifer would argue that the key reason we snap to is her innate charisma, and I’m sure that accounts for some of our collective dedication.  

But I think her success also illuminates some key lessons regarding how to organize and motivate networks to help you achieve your goals (in her case, the opportunity to mock and contradict our writing in various parentheticals and marginalia):

  • Have a central purpose for your network, but don’t be afraid to let that purpose shift or evolve over time. In the case of this newsletter, it began with a core group of people primarily from college wanting to keep up with each other.  Over time, it has become an annual Newsweek (Newsyear?) for a weird and wonderful collection of many people on many paths.
  • Provide your network(s) with understandable, doable tasks or responsibilities – and what the reward is for coming through. In this case, I have to turn out a piece of copy once a year or face Jennifer’s relentless editorial pursuit.  In return, I get peace of mind, some ego gratification, an entertaining read and membership in an interesting club. In other words, I can easily assess the cost/benefit ratio of network membership and specifically what I must do to be an active member.
  • Don’t over-burden your network with demands; call on it commensurate with the engagement of its members and in line with their assessment of what’s important to them. I suspect (or perhaps am merely projecting my  own misanthropic tendencies) that the group of contributors to Jennifer’s newsletter would rapidly dwindle if it went to a quarterly or monthly publication schedule.

Most importantly, the key lesson to take away from this holiday newsletter is that successful networks are ones in which every member is made to feel that his or her role and contribution is important.  

In our case, continued participation over a number of years has swung into play a powerful sense of tradition.  I’ve got to confess, a creeping sense of mortality seems to have made us a tighter band of brothers and sisters when it comes to cranking this out.

And when all else fails, there’s always Jennifer there telling the reluctant among us that it wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t represented. And you know, we believe here.

Do you win control – by losing control – of the conversation?

Consumers trust each other more than they do the various organizations that turn the communications firehose on them every day, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

The piece, about Web 2.0 marketing, has an important implication for public involvement, community relations and other coalition- and network-building professionals.

One potential remedy for the persistent and often widespread mistrust of government and other large organizations may be to unchain (let alone allow) full public discussion of motives, actions and results on those organizations’ own blogs and websites.

The vast majority of such official sites do not allow public comment (except in narrow, heavily moderated instances), outbound links to special interest group sites or other mechanisms that promote unfettered dialog. The fear is that doing so will expose people to “crazies” who will muddle the discussion with erroneous information about public policy, large-scale projects or other initiatives.

Such fears may be beside the point.  No highway project, for example, was a great success because people were able to accurately cite the basic facts about it.  Such projects are a success when people are confident that the sponsoring agency is truthful and trustworthy.

How does a non-technical stakeholder make that assessment?  By personal experience with the agency.  By witnessing how – and how effectively – the agency responds to the questions and criticisms of others.  And by evaluating how others assess the performance of that agency.

These avenues to to trust, confidence and support, however, are blocked by a non-existent or highly controlled Web 2.0 dialog between large organizations and their stakeholder.  In fact, such a dialog may force stakeholders to detour into information exchanges with the very “crazies” that policy makers fear most.

On the other hand, the fastest route for winning stakeholder confidence may simply be to throw open completely the conversation mechanisms you control. Doing so will be scary and uncomfortable at times; that’s guaranteed. 

But empowering stakeholders to air any question or concern, no matter how unlikely or unreasonable, provides you and your organization a continuous showcase for proving that you are open, honest and constituent focused.  And in the end, the result will be that those whose support you need most, the broad middle of the spectrum interested in the right decision above all else, will trust you to make that decision even if they don’t understand every technical detail.

The Coalitionist manifesto

All the simple problems have long since been solved.  

Now we have to deal with the personally, professionally, culturally, politically and all the other complex “lee” challenges that no one person or group can solve.  And in that kind of environment, the person most likely to succeed is the person who can effectively identify, engage and motivate people and organizations to band together, share resources and stay focused on meeting a common challenge.

That’s the theory, anyway, behind The Coalitionist. It’s intended to be a useful and sometimes irreverent soapbox for communicators, public involvement professionals and the occasional crackpot to share ideas, insights and tools for creating networks and coalitions united behind achieving common goals.