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Public Involvement Techniques

Foreward  |   Table of Contents
Chapter 1  |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Chapter 4  |   Index of Techniques

4. Using Special Techniques to Enhance Participationskip page navigation

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4.C - Finding New Ways to Communicate
4.C.a - Interactive Television
4.C.b - Teleconferencing
4.C.c - Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks
4.C.d - Visualization Techniques
4.C.e - Mapping Through Geographic Information Systems
4.C.f - 3D Visualization
4.C.g - Visual Preference Surveys
4.C.h - Handheld Instant Voting
4.C.i - Plan or Text Markup Software
4.C.j - Remote Sensing Applications

4. Introduction
4.A
4.B
4.C
4.D

4.C.c - Interactive Video Displays and Kiosks

What are interactive video displays and kiosks?

Interactive video displays and kiosks are similar to automatic teller machines, offering menus for interaction between a person and a computer. Information is provided through a presentation that invites viewers to ask questions or direct the flow of information. Viewers activate programs by using a touch-screen, keys, a mouse, or a trackball. Software used in interactive video displays and kiosks is highly specialized, storing information on hardware that allows retrieval of specific information based on directions from the viewer.

Interactive displays and kiosks:

  • Deliver information to the user;
  • Offer a variety of issues to explore, images to view, and topics to consider;
  • Elicit specific responses, acting as a survey instrument;
  • Enable the user to enter a special request to the sponsoring agency or join a mailing list;
  • Are used in a variety of locations and may be either stationary or mobile; and
  • Receive and store user input.

Interactive displays take advantage of evolving video and communications technologies. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has installed interactive tourist information kiosks at each of its ten rest areas. The kiosks have a constantly-running video designed to attract passers-by. During the loop presentation, viewers touch the screen to activate certain modules of information such as museums or other attractions by region or for any part of the Commonwealth.

Why are they useful?

If well-sited, interactive programs reach people who do not normally attend hearings or meetings. Visual communication is very powerful, delivering large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. Interactive displays help people understand plans and complex programs. They raise public awareness about projects or programs and reassure people that their government is listening. A public involvement technique using interactive video may be very successful in attracting broader participation.

Strategic siting of interactive programs is imperative. They should be located where large numbers of people gather—for instance, in shopping malls, community colleges, and government buildings. They are placed where people naturally congregate to talk, shop, or socialize, or—in airline terminals—where they wait for arriving or departing planes. Displays are also set up at non-transportation special events. The Colorado Governor’s Office initiated a program of touch-screen informational displays in shopping centers.

Interactive displays can supplement other methods of obtaining public input. If an interactive display is part of an open house, participants may be able to provide written comments based on the interactive display program. Kiosks in a shopping mall or other similar setting may be equipped with comment cards in a pocket or tray and a mailbox type container in which to deposit the cards. Project staff would collect these comment cards periodically. Agencies use feedback from interactive video displays just as they use public input obtained by more conventional means.

Interactive displays are useful in explaining a project and its implications. The New York State Urban Development Corporation developed an interactive video for public distribution to help explain the Miller Highway Relocation Project in New York City. The video offers highly-developed video images and animations to explain various project alternatives and their environmental implications. Users see the different alternatives from a variety of perspectives and enter their reactions. (See Computer Presentations and Simulations; Visual Preference Surveys; 3-D Visualization.)

Do they have special uses?

Interactive displays provide the public with access to areas that are distant or dangerous to visit. The Tennessee Valley Authority and the Florida Power and Light Company use video displays to illustrate the workings of nuclear power facilities.

Interactive displays elicit preferences from people who do not otherwise participate. Displays are used to collect comments and public input. They are useful for disseminating detailed information or generating interest in transportation planning. They are used to expand mailing list databases. (See Mailing Lists.)

Interactive displays complement staff availability. As agency resources become more scarce, the City of New York Human Resources Administration is expanding its use of interactive terminals to assist social service clients. Interactive terminals are appropriate as a primary or initial contact and cost-effective for answering requests for general information. For specific responses or more detailed information delivery, other public involvement techniques are probably required. Video displays should not be used to avoid face-to-face contact with the public.

Interactive displays can provide printed messages. Supporting machines record the information requested by a user from the screen and dispense it in printed form. Automatic teller machines are common examples. Rental car agencies provide driving directions to local destinations on video terminals with full-color maps of selected destination areas. The Texas Employment Commission now has 44 easy-to-use kiosks in public locations around the State with interactive displays that print out hundreds of job openings. The kiosks are already tapped an average of 60,000 times a month.

Who participates? And how?

People of all ages participate. Children, adults, and the elderly are encouraged to use displays, ask questions, and retrieve available information. Interactive displays in public places allow an agency to reach people who otherwise would not participate in transportation processes.

Interactive displays reach people at a variety of education or computer-literacy levels. Physical and program designs should encourage broad use, since children and some disabled people may not be able to reach or use equipment. Designs should facilitate ease of operation to encourage people without computer experience to interact with the program. The Arizona Supreme Court has developed interactive displays, called Quickcourt terminals, to assist people in understanding how to navigate through the judicial system. On-screen text is written at a fourth-grade reading level, and a narrator gives audio direction. Key words and numbers flash in synchronization with the narration to assist users with poor reading skills. In the first year of operation, almost 24,000 Quickcourt transactions were conducted, and only a handful of users had to seek further help.

Interactive displays are often multi-lingual. New York City installed 62 bilingual (English and Spanish) kiosks throughout the city to inform people about city services.

Interactive displays and kiosks provide an opportunity to search for information of specific interest to an individual user. Users interact by touching the screen. Software programs allow computers and video monitors to react to touch and respond with information or questions relevant to the user’s request. These programs can lead a user through a great deal of available information to find a specific answer. The display and kiosk may also display a point of contact for further information.

Users find interactive displays in a variety of public places. The Arizona Quickcourt system has used locations such as shopping malls, schools, and government offices. Orange County, California, uses a movable kiosk display to show transit project information on a touch screen.

How do agencies use the output?

Interactive displays provide information from an agency to the public. This method of displaying information supplements other methods of dissemination, thus conserving staff resources. (See Public Information Materials.) The Smithsonian Institution added an interactive kiosk about transportation to an exhibit at the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The kiosk allows visitors to ask questions about public transit, commercial vehicle operations, traffic management, traveler information, and accident prevention. It gives information about transportation and, in doing so, exhibits the use of technology for a larger exhibit, “The Information Age.”

Interactive displays collect information from the public for agency analysis. Output from an interactive display can be used to record preferences or to recognize and respond to specific participant concerns. It is also used to expand mailing list databases. (See Mailing Lists.)

Displays offer agencies flexibility in controlling and directing where a message goes. As with commercial video productions, specific audiences can be targeted. A program can be designed to appeal principally to adults who seldom go to public meetings or to parents of children who delight in observing different modes of transportation. When presentation information is developed to appeal to that audience, the interactive feature of a touch screen adds a means of collecting reactions from the audience. Targeted marketing by local governments, according to Indiana Business Magazine, has the potential to increase an audience’s retention of information by 50 percent.

Who leads?

Software experts design and develop interactive displays. These sophisticated computer programs are usually produced by special contractors. Preparation, distribution, and maintenance of interactive displays, collection of stored data, and reprogramming of machines require special technical and logistical skills. One company is developing an electronic panning camera system that allows people in separate locations to view a scene from an infinite number of perspectives. These sophisticated techniques require special equipment and contact with vendors that market these tools.

What are the costs?

Costs associated with kiosks and interactive displays can be broken down into hardware, software, updates, and maintenance. Purchasing the hardware (e.g., enclosure, CPU, touch screen, keyboard, laser printer) and installing a kiosk (e.g., site negotiation, electrical and telecommunication connections) may cost an agency between $12,000 and $20,000 per unit. In most cases, agencies purchase kiosks, rather than lease them. They may however reprogram kiosks after a project is complete to fit a new information need.

The cost of software for kiosks is highly variable. It often depends on the complexity of the graphics and interaction screens and on whether or not information and photographs to be used are readily available. For a relatively simple interface and with pre-existing information and photos, software development could cost an agency approximately $40,000. More extensive graphics and sound, graphics that must be designed by the vendor, and original video footage would add significantly to the cost.

Costs to update the content of the video display or kiosk could range from a few hundred dollars for simple text-based changes to thousands of dollars for new, motion-based video screens. These costs could be avoided or reduced by having an agency manage the updates. If the kiosk design involves a central computer controlling the display and software created in a common development language like HTML, agency personnel may be easily able to make updates to the kiosk information.

Kiosks and interactive video displays also need regular maintenance including cleaning, refilling paper, and stocking extra parts for quick repairs. Agencies can reduce the cost of maintenance by assigning on-site staff to be responsible for maintenance. Alternatively, the kiosk vendor may charge several hundred dollars per month for maintenance services. An agency also may have professional staff accompany interactive displays to assist users. The State of Vermont has an advanced computer-based survey instrument with full-color graphics, photographs, and video segments, accompanied by two to four survey attendants to guide respondents through a questionnaire. Such additional staffing requirements should be considered in the cost equation.

How are interactive video displays and kiosks organized?

Interactive displays are usually independent, free-standing installations. A television monitor is required, operated by either touching the screen or using a keyboard. Depending on the anticipated level of use, a touch screen is sturdier than most peripherals. Interactive displays are best situated in places where they will attract users. A minimal need is connection to a reliable power source for the electricity required by the monitor, the driver, and the computer. Displays are frequently linked to terminals in a central location that monitor their continued performance and reliability.

Interactive displays may be operated as a network of terminals, like automatic teller machines (ATMs) or the Arizona Quickcourt system. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA), in Seattle, has developed a fiber-optic based “Interpretive Display” formatted around a map of the region. The RTA uses it, without staff, to reach people in shopping malls and other high-traffic areas and get them involved.

The decision to use kiosks is highly dependent on the nature of the project, other public involvement techniques being used, community norms, and available resources. In the mid-1990s because of a confluence of computer technologies and public outreach needs, a number of projects employed kiosks as one of many outreach techniques. However, since that time, alternative forms of disseminating information have emerged (e.g., Internet, community-access television, etc.). In addition, because of the visual sophistication of the public, given the pervasiveness and societal influence of mass media and advertising, there may be expectations on the part of the public for high quality and completeness. The public may dismiss the visual content because the renderings or presentation are not developed to a comparable level of detail and quality they are used to viewing in the print and visual mass media.

Consequently, it is not possible to offer reasonable “rules of thumb” on key issues of number of kiosks, location, message content, etc. Because of the cost individual kiosks, if an agency is going to seriously consider kiosks or interactive video displays as part of a public involvement program, a separate study should be conducted to confirm expected use, types of information perceived to be valued by the public, candidate locations, message content and format.

How are they used with other techniques?

Interactive displays are stationary components of a larger outreach program. They cannot be an agency’s sole means of public communication. Instead, they offer a dynamic and potentially absorbing method for expanding public involvement. Innovative use of this technology offers a new way to meet an old goal: sharing information with the public.

What are the drawbacks?

Any new technology involving machines may cause unease. People resent the use of machines as a perceived replacement for personal communication. Interactive displays, like ATMs, offer people added convenience and the appearance of one-on-one interaction. However, frustration with menu-driven machines and the tedium of struggling through pre-programmed displays alienate some people.

Software purchase is a high up-front cost. Moreover, the software package needs to be updated regularly to keep it fresh.

Maintenance costs are incurred. Screens get dirty, especially touch-screens, and may need daily cleaning if usage is high.

Potential vandalism is a factor in site selection, the type of equipment selected, and the location of the power source. The installation should be designed and sited to help its maintenance crew cope with defacement and abuse.

Liability issues may be associated with location of displays. Movable displays, in particular, should be insured to relieve property owners of responsibilities for incidents that occur where they are parked. Stationary displays should also be insured.

For further information:

Bellcore (201) 740-4762
City of New York, Department of Information, Technology, and Telecommunications (718) 403-8011

New York State Urban Development Corporation (212) 930-0431

Portland Metro, Public Involvement Office, Portland, Oregon (503) 797-1746

Quickcourt, Arizona Supreme Court, Phoenix, Arizona (602) 542-9300

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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle Noch at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls at FTA (202-366-5362).

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