Tag Archives: Strategies

Five more random acts of kindness for readers

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been reading and editing a lot of project reports and documents lately.  As I have, I’ve been keeping a running list of suggestions, errors and missteps to consider when embarking on a new writing assignment. Here are the latest additions. (Previous list is here.)  I’ll add to the list as my editing marathon continues.

  1. Define in your mind who your audience is and what you want them to do as a result of reading what you’ve written.  Consider making that definition a part of the document you’re writing to help readers better understand how they may benefit from or act upon what you’re written.
  2. Based on your intended audience, examine what you’ve written to determine whether an intended reader will know or understand every term of art or technical word/phrase.
  3. A declarative statement or editorial comment should be bolstered by proof points; without them, readers often judge such pronouncements as naive or obvious.
  4. When presenting  lots of information, think about using a matrix to organize and summarize material for the convenience of readers. 
  5. If you are discussing items in a series, present the same kinds of information for each item.  Deviations from item to item will stop readers in their tracks as they try to divine whether an omission is an error, an attempt to manipulate a conclusion or something entirely different.

Four ways to break up a coalition

If you’re in the business of building formal or informal coalitions to get things done, you know that you are going to run into people who are working just as hard to undo your good work.  As I’m currently working on a legislative initiative, I’m seeing that dynamic in action.  Here are just a few of the many potential ways that opponents try to peel away supporters (be on guard):

  1. Allege that the proposed action is insensitive at best, unethical at worst, while attacking the motivation of the proponents. Few people want to be evil, and this will cause supporters to at least temporarily question their involvement. Response: Make sure coalition front organizations are recognized positive advocates for change and that communication facts and analysis as to who is affected and how are bulletproof.
  2. Claim that the effort, while perhaps not unethical, is certainly illegal or unconstitutional, especially for obscure or highly technical reasons.  Leave a whiff of litigation threat in the air. People are so skittish about getting sucked into the American legal system that some will start to flee.  Response: Come prepared with legal precedents and analysis that the proposed change has/can withstand legal challenge.
  3. Suggest that the proposed initiative is unneeded because existing entities or organizations can make the changes under their current framework or rules/statutes.  Standing pat is a comforting position for many folks and will sap their drive, ignoring the fact that change wouldn’t be in the air if those groups had done something already.  Response:  Prepare timeline of worsening conditions and/or failed opportunities to previously address needed change.
  4. Agree that change is needed and then propose a complex administrative or funding scheme for making the change happen. The more intricate the problem-solving approach – often offered under the guise of “if we’re going to fix it, let’s get it right the first time” – almost always guarantees failure.  It ensures that the effort will likely collapse under its own weight and inertia. Or it creates a situation in which there are so many things, each hated by one person or group, that the coalition driving for change falls apart.  Response:  Stay focused on solving only the precipitating need and, to use the cliché, harvesting the low-hanging fruit first.  Further change can be pursued when successes have been established and everyone wants to be on the winning side.

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.

 

Good design makes you smarter

The bottom line of a recent post of mine is that bad design – of anything: process, materials, content – prevents us from winning the confidence and support of potential allies.

It probably also prevents us from fully tapping the creativity of stakeholders when we ask them to help us brainstorm solutions for knotty problems, according to Don Norman in the following video (see esp. the portion at around five minutes).

Norman’s a world-renowned usability expert who believes intellect and emotion are – and should be – brought together by good design in ways that increase creativity, productivity and satisfaction.

Nudging people to find the middle path

Since finding compromises is often the hallmark of a good coalitionist, I thought this from The Frontal Cortex might be of interest…

“I found this minor anecdote, from Peter Baker’s authoritative NY Times article on Obama’s decision-making process for Afghanistan, to be quite fascinating:

On Oct. 9, Mr. Obama and his team reviewed General McChrystal’s troop proposals for the first time. Some in the White House were surprised by the numbers, assuming there would be a middle ground between 10,000 and 40,000.

‘Why wasn’t there a 25 number?’ one senior administration official asked in an interview. He then answered his own question: ‘It would have been too tempting.’

General McChrystal, it turns out, is a shrewd student of decision-making. He realized that the introduction of a compromise option – say, a troop buildup of 25,000 soldiers – would have been irrationally attractive. This is known as the compromise effect, and it was first documented by Amos Tversky and Itamar Simonson.

Here’s an example of the compromise bias in action: A group of sixty undergraduates received descriptions and pictures of microwave ovens taken from an actual catalog. They were asked to choose between an Emerson oven priced at $110 and a Panasonic priced at $180, which had a few more features. Both items were on sale, a third off the regular price. In this scenario, 57 percent of subjects chose the Emerson and 43 percent chose the Panasonic.

Now let’s consider a second scenario, faced by another group of undergraduates. They were presented with the same two microwave options, but given a third choice as well: a $200 Panasonic oven at a 10 percent discount. Of course, this Panasonic oven is a clearly inferior choice, since it comes with a much smaller discount; it’s mere presence in the catalog shouldn’t influence our decision. Nevertheless, the introduction of this new alternative dramatically increased the attractiveness of the other Panasonic oven, so that 60 percent of subjects new chose it.

Retail stores have long manipulated this bias, as they constantly present consumers with deliberately mediocre and expensive options, just so other options seem more reasonable. (The easiest way to make a $50 T-shirt seem like a good deal is to surround it with $100 T-shirts.) When it comes to decision-making, context is everything.

The point is that most of us are natural compromisers, eager to find a middle-way. (There’s some suggestive evidence that the tendency to pursue the compromise option is mediated by culture, with East Asians more likely than Westerners to show the compromise effect.) Furthermore, our compromising tendencies can be skewed by the audience: when American subjects were told that they might have to defend their choice in front of a whole classroom, they shifted towards the safety of the middle option. Obama, of course, needed to justify his decision to an entire planet.

Read the comments on this post…

(Via The Frontal Cortex.)

Why don’t we reward committed stakeholders?

I’ve been having a Facebook conversation with a colleague of mine, Erin Browning, regarding a recent post on this blog.

As our conversation has unfolded, it’s dawned on me that we seldom – if ever – directly reward stakeholders for being committed participants

Think about the typical public involvement for a typical infrastructure study, for example.

If you attend every public meeting, visit the project website regularly to stay updated, take all the surveys, go to outside information sources to learn more, what do you get?  Bupkis.

So now I’m wondering what would happen if we rewarded people for outstanding participation in a project or campaign?   Perhaps it could be something as simple – and powerful in terms of building an informed, engaged group of stakeholders – as detailing in advance a participation path along which you could promote yourself from the public to something more substantive like a topic advisory committee.

I realize I’m begging some really critical questions like how you’d measure the quantity and quality of involvement, but…..

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.