Montana Department of Transportation

The Montana public was seemingly lacking knowledge of transportation plans that would affect them daily. The Montana Department of Transportation needed to reach a diverse and widespread public to help educate and inform them about the work the department was doing in towns throughout Montana; the changes and advantages of the road improvement work; and the value this work delivered to the public in infrastructure improvement.

Local Know-how
With our in-house research team, S360 was able to kick-off MDT’s new outreach plans with accurate insights. MDT has employed several firms to support hundreds of projects across the state, but only S360 could deliver the valuable research needed to understand the public’s comprehension of transportation issues—research that is shared widely and referenced frequently for all of MDT’s projects. 

Our approach 
Through our research, we learned that people were very apprehensive about new roundabouts being installed at major intersections and felt ill-informed. We began our journey by reinventing what public engagement really means. Instead of the classic public meeting and flier method of outreach to meet state requirements for engagement, we envisioned a hybrid marketing/public involvement plan. It needed to be dynamic, interesting, and most importantly effective at informing people about new road designs, how to navigate them, and why they were being proposed in the first place. 

What we did
We met people where they were—online. Updating MDT’s digital footprint included a content strategy and corresponding media plan. We crafted informative videos and ran digital ads that ended up on high traffic sites like Reddit, Amazon, and local news. Our social media strategy evolved to deliver community benefit messages and more engaging content. Finally, we updated the community meeting format from a static presentation to a dynamic, open-house event with fresh collateral and opportunities for informal and informative conversations with community members.  

Why it worked
In our latest public survey, we found that community understanding of new roundabouts have risen and apprehension levels have fallen. Our approach to community meetings has set a new bar for public engagement.  

For each of MDOT’s roadwork improvement projects we work with the department to asses communications and support needs, building a package of materials unique to that jobsite that can include: public polling research, digital advertising, stakeholder engagement, public relations, digital marketing, logo design, print collateral design and production, and public meeting facilitation and support 

Major successes include: 

  • Solving irrigation issues during a roadway realignment in an agricultural community 
  • Discovery of support for roundabout installation in long-haul transportation groups 
  • Installation of a roundabout in a major interstate interchange with little impact on hotels, gas stations, and travelers during high volume tourist seasons 
  • Major media coverage of simple but important projects in every district in the state