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New Tools for Public Involvement and Communications about Public Infrastructure Projects

Let’s face it: communicating about public infrastructure projects isn’t easy.

From public meetings to open houses, fliers and door hangers and surveys and more, it can be frustrating to produce a level of public involvement that supports good agency decision-making.

Meetings and public events are effective in attracting well-organized advocates, but less so at engaging the broader public, who deserve a voice as well.

The New Toolkit

The good news is that technological advances have changed public outreach dramatically, creating opportunities for broader engagement that did not exist even a few years ago. As a result, our public involvement toolkit has expanded dramatically:

* The world of digital communications including geofencing, which creates geographic boundaries for messaging and their timing.

* Digital retargeting, in which content and messaging about the project follows an online user from social media platform to platform.

* 3D modeling of project elements to create understandable digital renderings.

* Time lapse video to show construction progress.

* The creation of virtual tours on Google Earth, which allows transportation corridor improvements to be shown from start to finish before the project breaks ground.

* Post-production animation to visually show project phasing.

* Fast, cost-effective video production for social platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and others that traditionally don’t engage younger audiences.

* Imaging systems of progress that synch with leading construction management platforms such as ProCore and CMiC Global.

* Aerial imaging to show location and perspective for projects such as the Joint Water Treatment Plant expansion in Forest Grove, OR, where ATC is providing monthly progress documentation for reporting and public communications for the City of Hillsboro (see below).

Analytics are Key

To guide these new tools, deep analytics can measure the daily reach and effectiveness of content and platforms, and we use these analytics to guide optimum posting times, and answering key questions such matching demographics to platforms.

For example, if the project needs to survey Native American business owners about staging options, what social media platforms best reach those business owners and direct them to the project website or other source? What is the optimum time of day? Which messaging content produces the best responses, and how do we test and adjust content to reach that goal?

Analytics provide those answers.

Drone Technology

In combination with these broad toolbox, the arrival of drone technology is one of the most exciting advancement for broadening outreach, stimulating engagement, and making the case for additional investment in public involvement.

Drones can go where cameras and people could not easily go before. Agencies and companies can make the case for increasing infrastructure investments through the use of aerial photos and video that include thermal and multispectral imaging. These technologies show defects and flaws in existing structures like bridges, viaducts, and roads in ways that were not possible in the past.

Tools for Public Involvement

Consider these advantages of drone technology for public involvement and outreach:

An aerial view literally provides a different perspective. There is no comparison between street-level images and even a single aerial shot for conveying scope. And such a comprehensive view helps inform the public and gain their understanding and acceptance. Many, in fact, often do not know just where a project is and what area it touches until they see an aerial perspective.

Last year Prosper Portland was preparing to issue an RFP for the ODOT Blocks properties in the Central Eastside and needed to show potential responders and the public what the development opportunities looked like. ATC did the aerial photography for the RFP and the public process and also produced an interactive 360 degree panoramic image so the public could experience a sense of place for the project.

Processing tools

Aerial imagery can add interest to any development properties, and with processing software such as Lightroom, you can use vignetting, which darkens the perimeter of images, to focus attention on the right properties without drawing awkward lines on the image.

Clinton Triangle, Central Eastside, Portland Oregon 2018

Check out a range of image processing choices here:

Post Production Animation

In coordination with other strategies, drone technology transforms complex projects with multiple phases into visually understandable images by combining aerial footage with animation in post-production. One example below is the Centennial Mills project on the Willamette River, where at the Portland Development Commission I commissioned aerial images that were then animated and colorized to show stakeholders each phase of the demolition plan.

3D Modeling with Google Earth Pro

The use of 3D modeling allows for before and after images and allows the public to interact with changes to and redevelopment of existing buildings.

Drone missions planned with software such as Litchi are then exported to Google Earth Pro and programming to create 3D virtual reality tours of any corridor, neighborhood or region without every leaving the office.

Cathedral Point Park in Portland, OR 3D Virtual Tour

(Video is at

Integration of Tools

During the planning phases of development, transportation and environmental projects, aerial imagery effectively shows various options, especially over extended areas and transportation corridors. An aerial video featuring an interactive 3D model and 360-degree panoramic images adds an entirely different dimension and perspective to your outreach and creates an immediate understanding of place.

Any of these digital video products can be quickly and inexpensively turned into looping videos for open houses and public presentations, and the still images can be the foundation of memes, social media postings, enlarged posters for open houses, and more.

Union Station – Broadway Corridor Plan Project (ATC did the aerial photography

and video for the Broadway Corridor development public involvement process.

Showing accountability through progress documentation demonstrates how agencies are using the public’s money, and progress is more easily viewed from the air.

Geofencing and Retargeting

Striking aerial imagery for public outreach is even more effective when combined with digital communications techniques such as geofencing. Geofencing draws a virtual line around a neighborhood or district. When people enter that area, the outreach event or opportunity to participate appears on a mobile device or computer and triggers a video or other messaging, with retargeting following them from site to site. Timing can be customized, for example from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so that only people who live in the project area receive the retargeting.

Cost Effective

Those of us in public construction know that the apparent size of projects budget is misleading - every dollar is tightly allocated and budget spent on public involvement needs to produce results. With all that it has to offer, aerial imagery and digital technology are surprisingly affordable and one of the most cost-effective elements of any public outreach campaign or process.

To find out how aerial technology can transform your public engagement, call me directly at (503) 706-4204, email at, and check out our website at

COMING NEXT: The digital toolkit, social equity and cultural competency - the essential combination for inclusive public involvement.

Check out our project photography portfolio at

Check out our project video highlights at

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