At Forerunner we help government agencies streamline floodplain management workflows and get more out of their resources. In many of the conversations we have with floodplain managers and planners, conducting better outreach around flood education is top of mind. This is not surprising since Americans have historically trusted their local governments more than state or national government. Indeed, municipalities are uniquely positioned, and uniquely incentivized, to leverage outreach as a resident mitigation tool for a few reasons:
For all of these reasons, many of the people we work with feel strongly about the power and responsibility of resident engagement. But not all of them have access to the time, resources, and expertise needed to invest meaningfully in designing dynamic flood outreach projects. Luckily, conducting great outreach isn't rocket science. For those of you working in local government looking for ways to improve engagement around flooding, here are some things to keep in mind when you're designing your next outreach project.
Well-designed materials with clear messaging can make a huge difference in engagement with local programming. Thankfully, there are a lot of materials out there that you can use as a starting point (check out Ready.gov's toolkit, FEMA's FloodSmart resources, and these assets from the Association of State Floodplain Managers)
For some of you, these resources might be enough! For others, you might be wanting something more bespoke for your community. We find that this is true when communities have locally-specific outreach objectives. Templated materials make assumptions about audience and message that might not be quite aligned. For other communities, local government officials are interested in brand recognition. Since local governments have a leg up in building trust, aligning graphic language across materials can help you tap into your social capital.
Outreach projects can range from community events, to emails, to door-to-door chats. While each of these types of projects will require significantly different resources, they might involve the same types of questions at the outset. Here are some of the questions we ask municipalities when they're starting to design outreach:
The question of audience might seem pretty straightforward. You're targeting your residents, after all. But taking the time to be specific about this target audience will pay in dividends. You might want to create a persona (a composite theoretical audience member) to be more specific in design. Let's say you want to send a repetitive loss property mailing. A vague audience would be "all of the rep loss property owners in my city". Not all buildings in a rep loss area are equally mitigated. A better answer might factor demographic data or elevation certificate data into this description. Once you've defined your audience, some questions to ask:
These are especially important questions when you're dealing with floodplain management because individuals don't necessarily process and respond to flood risk in the same ways.
Communicating in the right language is crucial in the context of flooding. Does your community refer to sunny day flooding and high tide flooding? What is nuisance flooding to your residents? Is it an applicable term or would your residents consider it to be offensive? Once you have your language right, remember that effective messages are simple and have clear calls to action. Your audience will likely have an easier time remembering shorter, more impactful messages. Plain Craft effective messages with clear calls to action. The federal government's Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) website has some great examples of clear messaging if you want some inspiration!
Similarly, clear and attractive graphic design can increase engagement with your projects. You don't need a lot of imagery to make a powerful point, fewer graphics can often leave a more lasting impression. If your outreach project involves communicating with a lot of text, consider leveraging contrast and hierarchy (using colors and sizing) to differentiate sections of your message. This could make your message more accessible to residents who have a lot on their mind. Just as it's important to carefully consider verbal or written language, be deliberate about your graphic language. How do you want your project to be perceived? Is it neighborly? Conversational? Official? Urgent? Images can tell a story as much as words can.
Depending on the message you want to communicate, you might want to utilize one or many engagement channel. As you know, every medium has its pros and cons. A lot of our customers use these:
Hopefully this gives you some thoughts to chew on as you consider your next outreach campaign. Get in touch with us if you have additional questions. We're always happy to chat about ways to increase engagement. In the meantime, we'll leave you with a few quick tips: