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Integrating Communications in Strategic Planning: Helping Utilities Communicate the Value of Water

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Abstract:

Communication, both within the utility and with external stakeholders, is essential for the long term sustainability of utilities. One of the biggest challenges that utilities face is the ability to obtain the finances necessary to complete projects related to water quality and water quantity. If the utility can effectively communicate the value of the water services it provides and the value of water as a life-sustaining resource, customers may be more prudent in their use of water and more willing to pay higher rates, city decision makers will be more likely to approve rate increases, and the utility will be more likely to gain the finances needed for long term sustainability.

Several studies exist to help a utility estimate the true cost of the water it provides and the benefits associated with the water. However, a considerable gap exists in how to effectively communicate that value. AWWA and WEF have initiated national programs to communicate the value of water, but ultimately, the utility will need to develop and implement its own plan for communicating the value of water. An ongoing AwwaRF project is evaluating key messages and techniques that can be used by a water utility as it communicates with community stakeholders (e.g., customers, media members, and elected and appointed officials) and uses case studies to illustrate how to integrate value of water communications with overall strategic planning.

The final products from the AwwaRF project are a Communications Guidance Manual and Communications Toolkit. The Guidance Manual contains a literature review of previously conducted studies; information collected over the course of the project from focus groups with utility leaders, elected and appointed officials, and the media; case studies of utilities with successful communications programs; and a step-by-step model for developing plans to communicate the value of water. The Communications Toolkit is a CD that accompanies the Guidance Manual and contains sample materials that can easily be manipulated and used by a utility in its communication efforts.

The primary focus of this presentation will be to review the importance of communicating the value of water with the audience, share key messages of importance to the stakeholder community, and introduce the model for developing plans to communicate the value of water.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864708788805972

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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