Eric Wood is our featured associate this month. [...]
Speaking to groups of people can sometimes be a challenge for engineers. Some of us are introverts, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the details of a project. But sometimes it’s necessary and very important for us to communicate technical messages to the public. Though it may be a challenge, it’s something we’re happy to do.
This often comes into play when a project is federally funded. Public involvement is required to complete the environmental document phase. Since a lot of the transportation work Sain Associates does is federally funded, we have been involved in many of these meetings. In other instances, we’ve had clients request a public involvement meeting to inform their communities on upcoming improvements and to give the public a chance to comment prior to the project getting designed.
Our job as the engineer of record is to take responsibility for gathering a full understanding of the subject matter and communicating clearly with the public. We can get so wrapped up in the details, it is very challenging to step back and explain the project in a way that is understandable to all people. It is also a practice of self-control because it’s important that we not allow ourselves to get upset or defensive when someone questions our design or approach to a project.
Public involvement is a very important step in the development of infrastructure projects. Citizens can provide important insights into community values and concerns. They also bring a fresh perspective to reviewing design plans because they are often everyday users of the facility being studied. A good engineer learns not only to convey information to the public, but also to listen to the public and assimilate their concerns into his or her design.
Following are some best practices we’ve developed over the years for preparing for a public meeting and conveying technical messages:
Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.