Community engagement, or establishing and maintaining an honest, intentional, and ongoing relationship with a target audience, is not always easy. Every community is different, which means every community engagement effort requires strategic thinking and a custom plan. Over the past three decades, Elmore has supported clients in managing complex issues with clarity and sensitivity to audiences connected by geographic location or special interest. As engaged representatives of our clients, we work with key stakeholders to unite the goals of an organization with the needs of the community.
So what does a high-performing community outreach effort look like? At a high level, Elmore employs the following process:
- Look at the big picture. Determine the need to inform, educate or solicit feedback from specific publics about a topic, project, or campaign, and consider how the situation may be sensitive or potentially divisive due to disparate points of view.
- Dig a little deeper to:
- fully grasp the situation at hand;
- conduct research and identify stakeholders and target audiences; and
- develop a plan and timeline for outreach.
- Craft messaging tailored to specific audiences, anticipating concerns and questions (especially the hard ones) the public might raise.
- Implement the plan to communicate regularly with key stakeholders, often other governmental agencies and partner organizations who have a vested interest or involvement in the project, to ensure everyone remains informed and utilizes consistent messaging.
- Most importantly, train organizational leaders to answer questions authentically, clearly, and with empathy.
While every community engagement campaign is unique, all require thoughtful consideration of audiences, viewpoints, messaging, timing, and troubleshooting. Elmore is honored to be our clients’ trusted partner throughout the process; working together to clearly communicate with, earn, and keep the trust of everyone involved.
Work Example: Harris County Engineering Department 2022 Bond Propositions Public Meetings
Elmore partnered with two communications firms to assist the Harris County Engineering Department (HCED) in a public engagement campaign for the 2022 Harris County Bond Propositions, where Elmore was primarily responsible for developing the messaging. We crafted a key messages document to ensure consistency across communications channels and created training materials with best practices to help county staff respond to community questions. Other responsibilities included drafting the press release announcing the public meetings, writing the script for the virtual meetings, and preparing our client in advance of radio and television interviews, including the Houston Newsmakers segment on KPRC-TV. The input received from residents will be used to help prioritize public safety facilities, roadway infrastructure and greenspace projects.
Work Example: Harris County Flood Control District
While some community engagement projects have tight timelines, others are in the works for years. For instance, Harris County Flood Control District hired us more than a year ago to begin preparing a community outreach campaign to educate reporters, elected officials, and the public on an additional new concept for flood mitigation. The Flood Control District is considering adding deep underground stormwater tunnels to the existing stormwater management system. We spent many months with engineers learning and breaking down the technical concepts to develop educational materials lay audiences could understand. These communications tools were then used to educate reporters and elected officials on the concept of these underground stormwater conveyance channels and to articulate their benefits. Elmore facilitated a virtual public meeting with more than 600 people in attendance, and presentations to stakeholders continue as the Flood Control District pursues the final phase of the study process. We continue our community engagement plan with a tunnel specific website launching soon and will keep the conversation with Harris County residents ongoing through online channels for the next several years.
Work Example: Hemwick Place Asphalt Roadway Reconstruction Project
Consider the award-winning community engagement campaign Elmore completed for Harris County Engineering Department (HCED) in Spring 2021. HCED would lead the Hemwick Place Asphalt Roadway Reconstruction project, repaving approximately two miles of roadway from the service road of Highway 290 into the Hemwick Place neighborhood, all in the path of 84 homes.
Elmore was hired to facilitate a virtual public meeting about the project with the goal of providing impacted residents with more information on the upcoming roadway reconstruction, giving them an opportunity to ask questions about the improvements, and articulating Harris County Precinct 3’s ongoing commitment to improving area neighborhoods.
Utilizing purposeful outreach and thoughtful messaging, and through the planning and facilitating of the successful online public meeting, Elmore guided our client to earn the trust (and ultimately, cooperation) of the 84 impacted households. Genuine communication had been established between Harris County and these residents, providing a positive experience for all parties involved in an otherwise inconvenient situation. This work won Elmore Best of Show at the Houston-area International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) awards, and a regional award of merit from the IABC Southern Region, in 2022.