Public Involvement Techniques
1.C.f - Telephone Techniques
What are telephone techniques?
The telephone offers a unique, two-way medium for public
involvement. It can be used to obtain information and to give opinions.
Its use has entered a new era of potential applications to community
participation, going beyond question-and-answer techniques toward
the evolving new multi-media connections with television and computers.
Telephones have long been used for community involvement.
However, innovations are available for expanding telephone use.
For example, Iowa City, Iowa, offers telephone contact to an information
television channel, which includes bus routes and transit information,
a route finder to specific streets and points of interest, transportation
for the elderly and persons with disabilities, and a "tow list"
of all license plate numbers that have more than $15 in accumulated
Potential telephone techniques for public involvement include:
- Auto attendant—a series of tiered recordings
leading an inquirer to a recorded answer or the appropriate staff
- Information bureau—a staff person responds
orally to a broad variety of standard queries, such as bus schedules
or meeting dates;
- E-mail—a staff person responds to computer
queries; (See On-line
- hotline or voice bulletin boards—a staff person or recording
answers questions about a specific project or program; (See Hotlines.)
- FAX-on-demand—a recorded message provides
a menu of documents available by FAX and how to obtain them;
- Telethon—a telephone call-in for comments
during a television program; (See Interactive
- Electronic town meeting—a telephone call-in
combined with a scheduled television program, which shows results
of public calls; (See Interactive
- Interactive voice response system—information
retrieval from a main computer using telephones or terminals;
- Interactive cable television information—a
series of information boards or videos that can be called up by
phone to a television screen. (See Interactive
Why are they useful?
Telephone techniques are basically interactive. The telephone
is used to initiate a conversation or a query, and a response of
some kind is made to advance the action. Responses can vary from
pre-recorded messages to staff responses on specific topics. For
example, a toll-free hotline number was provided for public information
during the Washington, D.C., Bypass Study, which covered an area
of 6,600 square miles in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of
Columbia. (See Hotlines.)
Telephone techniques reach out to a broad variety of people
who might not otherwise participate in transportation processes,
including people with disabilities. (See People
with Disabilities.) They are used in community surveys to reach
a statistically viable sample of the general population. (See Public
Opinion Surveys.) When combined with television, telephone techniques
potentially open a new audience for public involvement. (See Interactive
Television.) For example, in SavannahChatham County, Georgia,
a local television station presented a VISION 2020 program, process,
and critical issues, followed by an invitation to give opinions
by telephone; results were tabulated and shown later on the same
station like election night returns.
Do telephone techniques have special uses?
Agency use of telephones can cover many topics. An audio
text service can be programmed to give answers to many pieces of
information, including times and dates of community meetings. For
example, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a municipal telephone service
is capable of answering 700 commonly asked questions; after receiving
information, people leave messages and respond to survey questions.
Agency use of telephones covers a large geographic area
and shows a desire to communicate with the general public. Telephones
can be available around the clock for messages and can be programmed
to respond in more than one language. They can be used to poll community
opinions. (See Public
Telephone techniques are easily understood. Special training
for participants to get involved or express ideas is not required.
For example, to introduce new users to its municipal service telephone
information system, Colleyville, Texas, provides refrigerator magnets
as a telephone directory to three-digit subcategories for guidance
when calling about specific topics, including transportation.
Telephone techniques can combine several applications. For
example, in Diamond Bar, California, an aggressive telecommunications
project is enhancing public communications and reducing vehicle
trips by combining an electronic bulletin board, optical imaging
technology, geographic information systems, electronic and voice
mail, and FAX systems.
A FAX-on-demand system can deliver documents in response
to queries. These documents can be works-in-progress or final results
of a process. Costs can be covered through use of a 900 number (the
call is charged to the callers phone bill) or a credit card
billing. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the State House of Representatives
uses a FAX-modem system to provide documents to its members.
Who participates? And how?
Any community resident can participate in most telephone
techniques—the exception being the structured telephone survey,
which requires specific individuals as part of statistical sampling
techniques. (See Public
Opinion Surveys.) In using the telephone, it is important for
an agency to provide background information to participants to bolster
the ability to understand the subject matter and this method of
participation. Agencies need to make special efforts to accommodate
people who do not speak English. (See Ethnic,
Minority, and Low-income Groups.)
People participate by phoning their queries or ideas to
an agency. The agency is responsible for noting and recording ideas
presented in this way and for informing inquirers of how their comments
are being recorded and considered. Participation is further encouraged
if results of telephone interactions can be displayed and distributed
How do agencies use the output?
Telephone survey results are especially useful in sampling
public opinion. They demonstrate the degree of public support for
an agencys proposals and thus shape the results. They show
potential political difficulties, becoming useful in developing
Hotlines help people reach the right staff person to give
out information about a program. They help an agency receive and
disseminate accurate information. (See Hotlines.)
For example, Fort Collins, Colorado, offers a pothole hotline in
its City-Line telephone service for people to report pothole locations.
Fort Collins also offers information on right-of-way permits, highway
access, excavations and construction activities, signal problems,
bike lanes, and buses and carpools as well as city council and neighborhood
meeting dates and subjects.
How are they organized?
Highly technical telephone techniques require outside assistance
from specialized agencies or firms. The evolving relationships with
cable television are likely to require expertise and specific programs
Telephone techniques need a lead person within an agency—a
person who is vitally interested in trying new techniques for reaching
people. The Loveland, Colorado, interactive telephone/cable television
service was initiated by the City Manager.
How do they relate to other techniques?
Telephone techniques can be part of a media strategy. They
can provide information about meetings or ongoing planning processes.
(See Media Strategies.) For example,
nine cities in the Dayton, Ohio, area provide a community calendar
of upcoming events, accessible by phoning a local cable television
Community surveys are sometimes made by phone. Telephone
surveys or opinion polls are frequently used to obtain information
that is not otherwise available to an agency. They are also used
during a process when a specific piece of information is required.
(See Public Opinion Surveys.)
Results of telephone polls are used in many other situations.
They can be part of a focus group—as an element for discussion;
they can be part of a charrette—to establish the points of
view of the community at large; they can be used in civic advisory
committees—to deal with community feedback on a program or
project. (See Focus Groups;
Special efforts should be made to accommodate hearing disabilities.
Text telephones such as TDD (Telephone Devices for the Deaf) phones
are available with small screens and keyboards to aid people who
have hearing disabilities. (See People
Telephone techniques are not used in isolation from other
techniques such as public meetings or hearings. (See Public
Meetings/Hearings.) They are especially useful in obtaining
community reactions after programs or proposals have been adequately
explained. They cannot replace face-to-face encounters with other
participants and agency staff. (See Open
Forum Hearings/Open Houses.)
What do telephone techniques cost?
Costs of telephone techniques depend on the extent of a program.
Simple answering devices are inexpensive but not interactive. Staff
assignments may be necessary in nearly all other techniques.
Telephone surveys are often inexpensive but in all cases
involve a sampling technique that should be statistically valid
for subsequent use and for credibility.
Basic interactive machines for cable television use are becoming
less expensive, and some channels donate air time as a public
service. The expense of producing a telethon or cable television
program depends on the extent of information to be presented. Live
action and animation are the most expensive portions of a presentation.
(See Interactive Television.)
What are the drawbacks?
In recorded messages, participation is strictly limited
unless a means of contacting staff or obtaining additional information
is offered. Information is frequently disseminated without a means
for people to offer opinions or to reach appropriate staff people
for further queries.
Telephone techniques may not be democratic, if a large part
of the population has no phone. This reduces the possibility of
all participants having an equal status and an equal opportunity
Telephones do not always allow people to hear other opinions.
A hotline provides agency information only. In telephone surveys,
participants must wait until the results are posted for them to
read. However, in electronic town meetings the results are posted
shortly after polling is completed.
For further information:
|Diamond Bar, California
|Fort Collins, Colorado
|Miami Valley Cable Council, Dayton,
|Pennsylvania House of Representatives
|Virginia Beach, Virginia, City-Line
|Washington Bypass Study, Virginia
Department of Transportation
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