When public agencies and their consultants plan large infrastructure projects or develop community master plans, gathering and integrating public input are crucially important — and a higher priority than ever, thanks to new awareness and policies around environmental, climate, and social justice.
In Texas, WSP is using advanced technology tools such as virtual reality (VR), telephone town halls, and digital polling to engage people, businesses, and institutions more effectively than was possible with traditional stakeholder processes alone. While such tools are used by WSP worldwide, their application for communications and public involvement (CPI) in Texas has been especially impactful.
One such location-based tool — geofencing — proved invaluable in countering false information that threatened a major rapid transit project and demonstrated the critical role planning CPI can have in the early and sustained success of a project.
Stopping False Information
MetroQuest public engagement software is the main platform used by the Texas WSP team and its public clients to reach people living in or traveling through an area that will be affected by a particular project or planning process.
“[MetroQuest] lets us drop a virtual geometry over a region as small as a room or as large as a country,” said Christopher Tarango, Texas CPI Manager for WSP. “We can tag smartphones in that geographic area and serve up messages in the form of ads on social media and other types of apps.”
When false information began spreading about a major extension of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART’s) Silver Line last year, WSP and DART used MetroQuest’s geofencing function to quickly send ads with accurate information to residents, drivers, and transit riders.
“We were able to educate the public about the facts of the project rapidly,” said Ruben Landa, WSP Texas business leader for CPI. “[Geofencing] also streamlines the gathering of valuable information with templates for surveys and crowdsourcing opinions and input, as well as providing smart communications tools.”
“This kind of approach reduces the influence of false information and allows an agency to get accurate information across to affected stakeholders,” Tarango added. He and other team members shared this experience in a presentation at the American Public Transit Association conference in June.