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Using Strategic Communications to Align Support for Potable Reuse

As part of a feasibility study for a new indirect potable reuse program, Rancho Water sought guidance on strategic communications to gauge public support and envision a pathway for implementation.

At a Glance

  • Rancho Water engaged Hazen to formulate a stakeholder engagement plan for a future IPR project.
  • Through community surveys and targeted interviews, the team distilled key insights on stakeholder sentiment to inform future messaging on the project.
  • Working in tandem with technical engineers, the team also identified opportunities to adjust and improve the project design using stakeholder input.
Jeff Neale

In 2020, Rancho Water engaged Hazen to design concepts for a new indirect potable reuse (IPR) program and determine the project's holistic feasibility in terms of permitting, cost, and public acceptance. Before launching a communications campaign, Rancho Water recognized the need to conduct market research on their customers and reinforce relationships with their stakeholders.

A survey of 600+ residential customers revealed some key insights on water reuse: customers care most about water rates and drought protection.

Gathering Data

The team conducted one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders to gather background information on currently held attitudes toward Rancho Water. As is typical, stakeholders felt comfortable being more honest about their opinions when talking with a third-party entity doing research on behalf of the utility than they would have talking with the utility directly. These open dialogues produced some surprising insights:

  • Some stakeholders who had previously been resistant to partnering with the utility expressed eagerness to do so moving forward.
  • Others requested more frequent contact with the utility along with materials they could distribute at their group meetings.
  • One neighboring utility shared lessons-learned from their own challenges with managing an IPR program that will be directly relevant to Rancho Water’s future project.

An online customer survey sent to Rancho Water’s entire customer base garnered a relatively high response rate and revealed important opportunities for alignment between today’s customer concerns regarding water supply and water quality and future messaging on IPR.

Plan Development and Outreach

The team delivered a stakeholder engagement plan to guide the strategic communications plan needed for the IPR project. The plan was supported by qualitative and quantitative research, along with literature provided by WateReuse and other organizations focused on promoting reuse and its benefits. The plan also identified Rancho Water’s stakeholder support network, outreach challenges and opportunities, target audiences, and recommended outreach tactics and materials for each phase of the project.

Equally important as this plan was the outreach process it initiated. Hazen's IPR design concepts were meaningfully informed by insights gained from this research. By integrating communications planning into the design process, Rancho Water is laying the groundwork for future implementation. And by listening to the experiences of residents and stakeholders in the community, the team helped Rancho Water improve customer satisfaction, brand perception, and trust among stakeholders.

Engaging Stakeholders