To take it one step further, the environmental document could be interactive with sounds. Here’s an example of an interactive infographic that I found online from KCET.org. It is interactive and helps to not only describe noise impacts from the helicopter, but it also visually compares the noise impacts to real-life examples; examples that most people can relate to, such as: vacuum cleaners, restaurant noise, or jack hammers. It also includes sound clips, so you can audibly compare these examples.
Another idea is to create a video or podcast that can be streamed through the web or played at a public meeting. Converting the presentation of the environmental document and the potential impacts to a more relatable and digestible movie-format. The video option not only explains the examples, but walks people through the project, providing sketch-up or visual mock-ups to show what these impacts would look like. It also provides sounds and audio descriptions of the proposed impacts with the video images.
To take 150-700 page environmental documents and boil them down to a 5-30 minute video offers great potential for the environmental professional. Video formats could widen the potential audience, by making the information more accessible and easier to understand more people may choose to be informed. Furthermore, the format reduces the burden on the public. Members of the public and decision-makers would no longer need to read long documents, but could instead watch a quick video to better understand how they would be affected by the proposed project.
Social media’s increased prevalence in the market provides agencies with an opportunity to spread the video messages very quickly. Using video formats like YouTube, Vimeo, Broadcaster.com, etc. and broadcasting the message of the video’s availability through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or Google+ provides a vehicle for conveying, transferring and spreading project information quickly and effectively; ultimately democratizing the information – meeting the ultimate spirit of NEPA.
Here is an example from the Honolulu on the Move Rapid Transit Project. They have divided their FEIS video guide into 3 parts:
Additionally, they produced abridged versions of the video, alos divided into 3 parts:
Members of the public could also use these formats to share comments, exchange ideas, and develop alternative solutions in a more immediate format. They would no longer have to wait for a public meeting or hearing to learn about the project or express concerns.
Now let me be clear: I am not, by any means, recommending that a visual or video format of an environmental document replace or be the sole-substitute for the traditional environmental document format. However, I do feel strongly that as environmental professionals we have a responsibility to disclose information in the easiest and most accessible formats possible; offering several different formats and media for presenting environmental impact information to decision-makers and the public.
Notwithstanding, alternative formats for presenting environmental impact information do come at a cost. Production, whether in-house or contracted can be expensive. Converting highly technical information to summary level information can also be very time intensive. Thus, staffing burdens should be recognized. Staff must not only be trained and technically able to develop alternative methods of communication, but there must also be staff time and resources available. Leadership support is also necessary from a political and administrative perspective. Without policies in place, policy support for social media and alternative presentation formats, and guidance, most professionals are fearful of the “risk” involved with making information more accessible and less technical. Currently, no guidance from the President’s Council for Environmental Quality exists on alternative formats of presentation; or of the use of social media in NEPA environmental documents; or even whether comments received on alternative media formats could be considered as part of the Administrative Record.
Sometimes what seems so simple and obvious can be so very complex!