Public Involvement Techniques
1.C.e - Video Techniques
What are video techniques?
Video techniques use recorded visual and oral messages to
present information to the public, primarily via tapes or laser
disks. Although many people now prefer video as a means of getting
information, public agencies are just starting to tap its potential
use. During preparation of its statewide transportation plan, the
New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) opened its regional
forums with introductory videos.
Why are they useful?
A video is worth a thousand words. An easily-understood
video is more useful to some people than reading or hearing about
transportation. With the nearly universal availability of television
and the emphasis on visuals in todays society, videos have
a role in transportation planning and project development that has
yet to be fully explored.
Videotapes provide an additional medium for reaching people.
Although videotapes are widely used in this country for entertainment,
they are also used for education and the dissemination of information
about transportation. Videos can describe the steps in a process.
They are geared to a group or an individual, depending on an agencys
purposes, and enliven the presentation of a potentially dull subject.
The Connecticut DOT, for example, prepared videos to enhance public
understanding of incident management on an interstate highway. Agencies
make videos available through local television stations, public
libraries, and video stores or distribute them door-to-door, as
has been done in recent political campaigns. The Central Puget Sound
Regional Transit Authority (RTA) produced a short video at each
major milestone during development of its regional transit ballot
proposal and sent it to public libraries as well as interest groups.
Videos are used to introduce people to meetings and hearings.
Set to replay endlessly, videos present the same message each time
without variation. Because these repeated messages are "canned,"
they should be presented in an informative, lively, and friendly
manner. This may be extremely important when used with, say, a formal
public hearing. (See Public
Houses/Open Forum Meetings.) The Virginia DOT, for example,
used videotapes to introduce and describe an open house public hearing
Agencies use videos to document a planning process. They
can document proceedings of events in a public participation process.
Viewers are thus exposed to a wide range of participants and their
concerns. Focus group proceedings are frequently recorded on video
for later replay and analysis.
Videos illustrate different planning scenarios or project alternatives
and help people visualize a situation before, during, and after
construction. Many incorporate computer simulations, such as a ride
on a transportation facility before it is built. (See Computer
Presentations and Simulations) For example, a New York State
DOT video illustrating the impacts of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV)
lanes was shown to elected officials, the business community, and
the general public. A separate video simulated the experience of
driving a car on both 10- and 12-foot-wide HOV lanes.
Videos help ensure that a consistent message is conveyed
during a series of meetings or other events, particularly when different
staff members are in charge. San Franciscos Metropolitan Transportation
Commission and Regional Planning Commission both produced videos
on their long-range plans and showed them at meetings to make sure
the same information was provided to all participants.
How do agencies use the output?
Videotapes reach a broad audience for participation. People
who cannot be reached in any other way often respond to videotapes.
Presentation software is now available to provide viewers with information
they can play on their VCRs. Currently, this technique often uses
stationary images similar to slides, but in the near future video
presentations for television will include live action as well as
stationary and animated material.
Dry runs of presentations are often videotaped. Presenters
rehearse a presentation, review it on tape, critique elements such
as substance, voice modulation, posture, body language, jargon,
and use of visual materials, then make changes accordingly.
Agencies often distribute videotapes over a large geographic
area and in more than one language. They frequently clarify
a complex process to supplement an oral presentation. For example,
Bostons Central Artery/Tunnel project uses videos to simulate
driving through a tunnel and along a surface street during various
stages of the project. Videos also update the community on construction
staging plans and mitigation proposals.
What do video techniques cost?
Costs of producing videotapes vary. Simple videos produced
in-house are inexpensive but may not be successful in reaching the
target audience with the right message. An amateurish production
may alienate people from an agency's approach or goals, because
its unprofessional quality reflects on the caliber of the project
itself. A more professional production is expensive initially but
more cost-effective in the long run. Reproduction of tapes is relatively
Length varies in accordance with the message to be delivered:
videotapes are prepared with a brief message or with more substantive
content. For example, in Missoula, Montana, a four-minute videotape
was used to introduce people to the principal issue of a meeting—the
improvement of a single, complicated intersection.
Video production demands a high level of staff expertise.
Even with donated video equipment, it is often difficult for agency
staff to produce a good video. Staff may be available to record
highway or transit rights-of-way, but these rudimentary skills fall
short when a video must be credible and informative about complex
issues. If the in-house staff does not have sophisticated production
skills, outside assistance is required to produce a high-quality,
Who develops these techniques?
Video usage requires a lead person within an agencya
creative and adventuresome person interested in trying new techniques
for involving the public in transportation. This can be an existing
staff person or a staffer hired for the purpose. Agency staff people
are the best resource to draft a video script and ensure that it
is consistent with written materials and the particular goals the
agency is aiming to achieve.
Production frequently requires outside assistance. Although
personal recorders are widely used, videotapes to portray public
activities should be professionally and competently produced, using
How do they relate to other techniques?
Video techniques are often part of a media strategy. A video
can be released for use on television as camera-ready copy. An agency
thus provides the news media with an accurate portrayal of a process
or project to be shown as part of regular programming. Videos are
a good means of providing information about meetings or ongoing
planning processes. (See Media Strategies.)
Seattles Regional Transit Project, for example, used videotapes
for 30-second advertising spots broadcast more than 300 times on
five local television stations.
Videos reach people who would not otherwise participate
in transportation processes, including people with disabilities.
Special efforts should be made to accommodate hearing disabilities.
TDD (Telephone Devices for the Deaf) phones are available with small
screens and keyboards to aid people who are deaf or have hearing
disabilities. (See People with
A video is always part of a larger process and closely related
to other techniques. Because a videotape is a one-way device, suitable
for disseminating information, it has many potential applications.
It can be an element for discussion in a focus group or charrette.
(See Focus Groups;
Charrettes.) It can
record the points of view expressed at public meetings and hearings.
(See Public Meetings/Hearings.)
It can document positions established at civic advisory committee
meetings. (See Civic Advisory
Committees.) It can report on agency progress at a transportation
fair. (See Transportation
Fairs.) A video should not be used in isolation from other techniques.
It cannot replace face-to-face encounters with other participants
and agency staff. Public involvement participants should always
be fully informed if they are being recorded.
Videotapes can substitute for field trips. A video can illustrate
the characteristics of a region or a corridor, alternative modes
of transportation, alignments and adjacent neighborhoods, potential
impacts, mitigating measures, and methods of participation. (See
How are they produced?
Videotapes incorporate a variety of technologies such as
live action, computer images, graphics, maps, and charts. They can
be produced incrementally. Slide shows can be augmented by scripts.
Scripts can be recorded and slides shown at pre-determined intervals.
A finished script and storyboard (picture sequence) can be developed
and turned into a video. Special equipment and processes are required
to transfer computer information onto tapes, and the level of quality
Who participates? And how?
Any community member can use videotapes. The only requirements
are a television set and a playback machine. Printed materials such
as brochures often complement the information presented graphically
in a video. It is also important to provide telephone contacts for
access to agency personnel for further information.
What are the drawbacks?
Videotapes are not two-way. Unless special provision is
made for an individual to respond, the viewer watches a message
without being able to give feedback and without hearing opposing
views. Thus, a tape should include a means of contacting staff or
obtaining additional information. Some cable television stations
use interactive techniques, including playing a video and allowing
responses from viewers by telephone. (See Interactive
Video Displays and Kiosks.)
Video viewers are basically self-selected. Access is limited
to viewers with a playback machine. Special attention should be
given to the needs of people with disabilities. Interpreters may
be needed to make the information available to individuals with
hearing disabilities. Text must be sufficiently large so people
with sight disabilities are able to read it. For the blind, narration
should be sufficient to explain the material even though it cannot
Video techniques are rapidly changing. While videos are
available now principally via home rentals or scheduled programming,
in some localities it is already feasible for viewers to call in
to view non-scheduled material immediately or at a viewer-chosen
hour on a specific channel. Increasingly interactive techniques
are being developed in the media. For example, in a few years, it
will be possible for agencies to compose videotapes with information
about specific processes to be broadcast on television, with community
residents able to register opinions in a poll immediately following
Agencies sometimes over-estimate viewers attention spans,
making videos too detailed or too long. A good norm is probably
5 to 15 minutes. Agencies should seek sound professional advice
about how to define their message succinctly and with an appropriate
level of detail. For easy comprehension and retention, a good video
strikes a balance between substantive information and simplicity.
For further information:
|Central Artery/Tunnel Project, Boston, Massachusetts
|Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority,
|Missoula, Montana, Department of Transportation
|New Jersey Department of Transportation Long-Range
| New York Department of Transportation Region
|Puget Sound Regional Council, Seattle, Washington
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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle
at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls
at FTA (202-366-5362).