Offering a Fresh Perspective: An Intern’s Guide to Developing a Marketing Plan

To commemorate Hana’s internship with Avid Core, we have donated in her honor to the non-profit of her choice. Hana selected the Fair World Project, an organization that advocates for fair trade for small-scale producers and labor justice for workers around the world. We are proud to support this organization and the important work they do.

Spring intern, Hana Chabinsky, smiles for a selfie and shows the title page of her marketing plan.
Photo by Hana Chabinsky.

My first day as Avid Core’s Spring 2021 Communications Specialist Intern was not typical. I met the team virtually, all sitting down via Zoom with a smörgåsbord of Grubhub-ordered lunches. After the rounds of enthusiastic introductions, we naturally began talking about that morning’s event: Inauguration Day.

As we chatted about the powerful speeches and celebrity performances, I couldn’t help but get distracted by the commotion of the closed-off street right outside of my building— full of Secret Service agents and police patrolling Kamala Harris’s apartment (fun fact: I was neighbors with Kamala Harris before she became the Vice President!). The excitement of this day—marking the beginning of a new presidency, internship, and my last semester of college—carried through my entire time at Avid Core.

I’m no President of the United States, and my work as an intern may be slightly less stressful, but in hindsight, there was something symbolic about joining Avid Core on the same day a new presidency began. I felt inspired and eager to make my mark, offer a fresh perspective, and, most of all, absorb as much as possible and learn from my hardworking colleagues.

My capstone project seemed simple on the surface: create a marketing plan for Avid Core’s second year. From interviewing internal stakeholders (my lovely co-workers) to copywriting a value proposition, to developing a website assessment report with short and long-term recommendations, the learning never stopped.

The best part of creating the marketing plan was taking on the role of head chef. The ingredients were all there; I just had to find a way to weave them together to make a cohesive dish that told the story of Avid Core.

Screenshot of the Avid Core team smiling during a virtual meeting, all with different Billie Eilish photos as their backgrounds.
Photo by Hana Chabinsky.

For example, when I interviewed each team member, one of my questions was: What does Avid Core do better than anyone else? Avid Core does lots of things better than anyone else. But I took each answer—each ingredient—and found the underlying consistencies and themes, added a little spice, and told a succinct story in the form of a value proposition.

If you’re currently working on a marketing plan or just thinking about how to best position your company or product offering for the future, I have a few tips.

  1. Interview your key stakeholders. What does your company/product do better than anyone else and why does your company/product exist? These interviews will serve as an excellent baseline and guide the direction of the plan.
  2. Get a fresh perspective. As a new team member, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the things we didn’t have or hadn’t done yet. I focused on the present and the future, not the past, to offer new insight to the team.
  3. Create both short-term and long-term goals to set your team up for present and future success. Make sure these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based (S.M.A.R.T). For example, a goal could be: Increase brand awareness and reach. A S.M.A.R.T goal would be taking it a step further: Increase brand reach by growing LinkedIn followers by 5 percent by the end of 2021.
  4. Develop a process for allocating your budget, even if it’s just posing a few questions before deciding whether to invest your resources into a marketing tactic. Ask yourself: How will this opportunity serve our goal(s)? How will we determine if this tactic was a success? What will be our return on investment? What is the next best alternative?
  5. Check-ins are your best friend. There were so many components of the marketing plan that it was easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Looking at it as smaller components and getting edits and feedback for each one along the way kept this project from veering away from its goals.

While I enjoyed and appreciated learning about and practicing the technical aspects of writing a marketing plan, my favorite part was the sense of comradery I developed with my team as I asked countless questions, bounced ideas off everyone, got constructive feedback, and brainstormed what Avid Core’s future would look like. The symbolism of my fateful first day turned into a palpable energy and passion that not only carried throughout the last five months, but that I will take with me in my next chapter.

Hana Chabinsky is a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she concentrated in International Business and Marketing. She will be continuing her work in the communications field post-grad at ICF as an Energy and Sustainability Communications Coordinator. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Digital Inclusion on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Hi there! My name is Kaylee and I’m a Design SHINE Specialist for Deloitte Services LP. While I spend most of my time creating layouts, concepting for visual identities, and making sure no one uses Comic Sans, I also am passionate about educating others and myself on accessibility. A big thanks to Avid Core’s Stephanie Mace for letting me share my experiences through a guest post!

A website popup window showing an icon of a person using a wheelchair. A mouse cursor is pointed at the popup window. The image has a light blue background.

Before we dive into the core of this, I want to make it apparent that I don’t speak for all disabled people. I have my own experiences with my disabilities and have been afforded privileges others may not have. I want to use that privilege to elevate voices in the community and continue to learn about new perspectives, because I don’t always have all the information. Disability is not just a person in a wheelchair—disability comes in all types, and each disabled person’s experience is equally as valid as another’s.

Did you know there are one billion disabled people in the world? Did you also know that according to a WebAIM Million Report, 98.1% of home pages have at least one WCAG 2.0 failure?

The purpose of those statistics and Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), is to show how important digital inclusion is. Everyone who has access to an internet browsing device should also have access to the content.

According to, Section 508 states that “Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an ‘undue burden.’” This keeps people accountable and ensures disabled people have equal access to information. So how can you help make technology accessible?

One of the most important parts about integrating accessibility in your work flow is to get the proper training related to the platform you’re working on. While it would be great if you or your company could source an outside vendor that was an expert on content accessibility, I know that’s not always available. Instead, you can look at resources online to integrate inclusivity in your work and not rely on automated accessibility companies. Each platform you work on is going to have a different accessibility measure to take on, so I’ve included a few tips to help you get started.

#1: Use Alt Text (or more technically, Alt Attributes), any time you have a visual in your document or on your website.

Alt Text is important for screen readers, which is an assistive technology device typically used by blind or low vision individuals. The screen reader will take the Alt Text, or text describing a visual it’s attached to, and read it aloud so blind or low vision viewers are able to better understand the visual content. You may have seen this feature on social media platforms like Instagram or on applications like Adobe Acrobat under Accessibility.

Here’s a link from Adobe on how you can make your PDFs accessible through Alt Text.

#2: Make sure that all of your videos have closed-captioning or open-captioning.

Closed-captioning, which can be turned on and off, and open-captioning, which stays on the screen, is text shown during a video or webcast. The text displays spoken dialogue and any audio cues of the surroundings. Because there are a variety of platforms you can post videos on, there are different ways to caption them for anyone who is deaf, hard of hearing, non-native speakers of the content’s original language, or someone in an environment where they need the sound off. It is detrimental to rely on automated captioning capabilities because these features are rarely ever accurate and are a disservice to the viewers who need those captions.

Here’s one link from Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, a deaf YouTuber, so you can learn how to caption your YouTube uploads.

#3: Pair all of your podcasts with transcripts.

Since podcasts typically do not have a video feature attached to them, you need to have a transcript, or a typed version of the audio, readily available for the same audience included in tip number two. There are pros and cons to providing a PDF versus plain text/HTML on the site, so it might be best to do both if possible.

This website provides examples, how to set up podcast transcripts, and more.

#4: Ensure that the website you’ve created is accessible.

There are a variety of points to keep in mind when it comes to website accessibility, including the tips I’ve already listed. It’s also important to use a color palette with enough contrast, which makes it easier for blind and low vision viewers to separate content. Any flashing or moving elements that last for three or more seconds should have the ability to be paused for epileptic viewers.

The WCAG is the industry standard for website accessibility. If you want to go through a checklist to ensure your site is accessible and learn about other related information, you can check out the W3 website.

Accessibility is integral to incorporate through a variety of digital mediums for equal access. These few tips and links I’ve listed are by no means an exhaustive list of everything that involves inclusive technology and the disabilities they assist. I implore you to do your own research, listen to a variety of disabled perspectives, and continue learning and adapting to the evolving accessibility standards. Don’t just do the bare minimum because Section 508 says you have to—go above and beyond to make equal access for all a possibility.

You can learn more about GAAD on the GAAD website.

Avid Fans of: National Preservation Month

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you. 

May is National Preservation Month! This month we celebrate the importance of preserving historic sites across the U.S., which provide a sense of pride both in our nation and within local communities. Avid Core’s work prioritizes effective community outreach that supports environmental and cultural planning, including the preservation of America’s historic and archaeological resources.

In celebration of the spirit of this month, we’re sharing a few sites on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) that hold special meaning for our team.

Dorthea Dix Park. Photo by u/zhrllover.

Hana – Dix Hill in Raleigh, NC

Founded in 1856, Dorthea Dix Hospital, located on Dix Hill, was the first facility caring for mentally ill patients in my home state of North Carolina. Today, the facility is no longer open, but you can still honor its history at Dorthea Dix Park, Raleigh’s largest city park. I spent many days after high school at the park— a wide open grassy field perfect for frisbee and picnics with friends. My first quarantine hangout was at this park, with plenty of space to socially distance. It is so easy to take for granted the dissipating stigma around mental health and the institutions we have in place today that care for those who need treatment. Visiting the origin of such an iconic care facility reminds me of the amazing progress we have made, as well as the work that still needs to be done.

Frying Pan Park. Photo by Amanda Roberts.

Amanda- Frying Pan Park

Frying Pan Park is a working farm park that preserves and interprets farming from the 1920s to 1950s. It includes historical buildings, farm animals, old farm equipment, a 1920s carousel, and a modern playground.  My children and I love coming here in the early mornings before the rush of visitors to see the farm animals as they are just waking up. As the area around this park becomes more developed, this park seems like a hidden country treasure and a reminder of what much of this area (now suburbia) used to look like. 

The Nauset lighthouse, notoriously pictured on Cape Cod potato chip bags. Photo by Stephanie Mace.

Steph – Beacons of Light

I’m that person who always buys the postcard with the local lighthouse on it. My fascination with watch towers started at an early age as I imagined myself as the keeper peacefully watching the sun dance across the water from 300 – 436 feet above the rest of the world. Before GPS and Siri existed, lighthouses spread across thousands of miles of shoreline proved to be vital beacons to captains anxiously navigating across the choppy seas. Each lighthouse is unique—the identification signal, the painted exterior, the curvature, and the design. That’s why I make sure to visit as many as possible during any road trip.  

Even though approximately 700 U.S. lighthouses have weathered the storm, they face many maintenance and funding challenges.  The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 allows the U.S. Coast Guard, National Park Service, and General Services Administration to sell the lighthouses to private owners and keep the beacons of lights around for many generations to come. I’m looking forward to crossing an item off my bucket list by staying at the Cove Point Keeper’s House in 2022. Be on the lookout for postcards!

Duquesne Incline. Photo by Ashley Dobson.

Ashley – Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh, PA

My husband went to grad school in Pittsburgh and when he was in class, I spent my time exploring this rich historical city. One of my favorite views came from the top platform at the Duquesne Incline, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

At one point in time Pittsburgh was home to 17 active funiculars (aka inclines), using them to transport people and cargo up and down the many different hills located around the city. Now only two remain. The Duquesne is extra special because the community came together to save it, raising funds to make necessary repairs and working out a deal with the Port Authority of Allegheny County to keep it open and viable for the public.

Also, the Duquesne Incline features in Flashdance, a movie that stands as an absolute pop culture revelation. Its use in the movie makes no sense with the supposed geography in the film, but it’s just one more reason that this spot should be celebrated as a historical treasure!

Hubbell Trading Post. Photo by Tremayne Nez.

Tremayne – Hubbell, Lorenzo, Trading Post, and Warehouse

The Hubbell Trading Post in Winslow, Arizona, was built in 1917 and was initially used for storage and shipping for the railroad. In 1920, the warehouse was sold to Lorenzo Hubbell, who transformed it into the Hubbell Trading Post. The trading post became the central location for Native Americans to exchange goods and supplies. The trading post was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and holds many great memories for my family. I remember hearing stories from my mom about how, as a kid, she would sit in a wagon for a day’s ride into Winslow from our home on the reservation. My mom and her siblings would wait outside the city limit while my grandpa rode alone into the town on horseback. He would visit the trading post and other places to gather essentials like flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and an occasional black licorice treat. Then, he would make the ride back and meet the wagon for another long trip home by nightfall.

Today, the trading post houses the Winslow Visitor Center, and the journey that once took a whole day can be made in 30 minutes by car. Whenever I drive through the area, I think about how fundamentally different and simple life was back then and appreciate the access to historical monuments and stories that hold value from the past.

Malcolm X Park. Photo by Washington Parks-People.

Virginia – Malcom X Park (Meridian Hill Park), Washington D.C.

It is hard to describe what Malcolm X Park meant to me when I lived in Washington D.C. It was my gym, my running route, my yoga studio, my concert venue or dance hall, my reading “nook”, my meeting place with friends, and the list goes on. It was a sanctuary for me during times of uncertainty, and it is where I would go to keep myself grounded, think, and reflect. The park has also served as a wedding venue for several friends! Twelve acres of beautiful landscape sit atop a hill in the middle of Washington D.C. with an incredible cascading fountain. It has also been the site of a weekly drummer’s circle for decades, among other long-standing gatherings. The park was listed in the National Register on October 25, 1994 and as a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994.

The history this park holds can be its own column! I’ll list a few facts below from Washington Parks & People, but there is so much more, and I encourage you to learn more about it.

  • The hilltop marks a defining feature of the federal city laid out by African American surveyor, writer, and naturalist Benjamin Banneker.  The hill would later be championed by Thomas Jefferson as the demarcation point for the Prime Meridian of the world.
  • The hill was the site of a camp for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw before he went to his death as the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Union Army Regiment, the northeast’s first all-black regiment whose courage led to the naming of the adjacent neighborhood of Shaw.
  • The hilltop was the home of a trail-blazing Black higher education institution called Wayland Seminary and College.
  • Many African American homes were displaced for the creation of the park, and many African Americans helped build it.
  • The park was America’s first national park built for the performing arts, with sunset performances ranging from Pearl Bailey to Bo Diddley Jr.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. frequented the park whenever in D.C., staying at the next-door Pitts Motor Hotel.
Houses on Benefit Street. Photo by Shinya Suzuki, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Andrew – Benefit Street, Providence

On the East Side of Providence, RI near Brown University, Benefit Street is a one-mile stretch of historic and NRHP-listed buildings rich in colonial history and architectural tradition. If you catch it on a quiet night, it can be like traveling through time. Many of the historic houses (locals call them “plaque houses”) are still private homes, but others operate as museums during the day and offer tours. You can also find walking tours of the whole neighborhood—and at night, even ghost tours!

Here are some of the places you’ll discover in the area:

Around the Table with Nic Frederick

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Nic Frederick

Company: DAWSON

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to the field of environmental planning?

Desperation, really. I came out of grad school in 2009 with a Master’s in Biology and wanted to be a wildlife biologist, but with the recession in full swing, the only job I could find was in environmental planning. Turns out that I love it, so I’m happy to say everything worked out.

What is one environmental planning policy you would like to see changed in the future and why?

It’s funny to say that this is a wild time in environmental policy, but with the change in administration and the differences in administrative agendas, it’s reality. CEQ’s Final Rule for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was issued in September 2020. While it did come with some truly novel ideas, such as a universal list of CATEXes, it stripped out a wide variety of progressive regulations, particularly in relation to climate change and cumulative impacts. The rule is going to change, likely this summer, and I would like to see those progressive ideals expanded. There’s also always been a discussion of streamlining NEPA. That can take many forms and there are lots of complicating factors that make it difficult. Still, I think most practitioners want to keep that as a priority.

You’ll be moderating a panel with Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts during the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) Conference & Training Symposium. What are you hoping people take away from the session?

NEPA is a complicated process that takes a wide range of professionals to complete. This is especially true when dealing with projects with significant tribal consultation. There has been a push in recent years to provide better support to Tribal Nations. We all work better when there is a clear, mutual respect between governments. I hope people will learn how best to engage with Tribes and how to develop truly meaningful long-term relationships with them. It’s going to be a great, engaging session and I can’t wait for people to hear it!

You host NAEP’s Environmental Professionals Radio. What has been your favorite part of putting on the show?

It’s been an absolute blast to pull together. I honestly couldn’t do it without the support of my co-host, Laura Thorne. Our chemistry is the reason the show works and I’m very thankful that we have it. I’ve always loved getting to know people and the show has provided a perfect excuse to do that. It’s so much fun to flick on my mic and dive right into an interview. Environmental professionals are such a diverse and interesting group of people and I’m glad the show gets to highlight that. We are always hoping to engage the environmental community through conversation. When we are laughing throughout, I know we’ve had a great show.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

There’s no such thing as “life or death” in NEPA. No decision that you make is going to cost you your life, so when you’re faced with difficult projects or challenging problems, don’t forget to breathe, and remind yourself to take things one step at a time.

What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in environmental planning?

Be flexible. When someone asks if you can support a project, say yes. The more you expose yourself to early in your career, the better. Pay attention to what you like and what you don’t, and it’ll serve you well throughout. Also, find an organization (like NAEP) that really speaks to your career path and become INVOLVED. I don’t mean become a member. Get on committees. Do some grunt work. Get to know the leadership. It’s a slow burn but that will pay dividends for your career.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

HA! I love to cook, so I’d probably bring some chili.

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Around the Table with Desireé Reneé Martinez

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Purple circular infographic that reads: "Around the table with Desiree Renee Martinez" with Desiree's headshot in the bottom right; various cartoons with diverse representation surround the purple circle

Name: Desireé Reneé Martinez, MA, RPA

Company: Cogstone Resource Management

Where to Find You:

LinkedIn (personal),  LinkedIn (company), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube

What drew you to the field of archaeology?

In fourth grade I visited the Southwest Museum for a class trip where we learned about California Indians. I am Gabrielino Tongva. During the tour, the docent stated that the Gabrielino were extinct, which I knew was not true because I was alive. In sixth grade, I learned about archaeology and found out that museum docents turn to archaeological and anthropological books for their information. I decided that I needed to become an archaeologist to correct the misinformation in those books about my community.

What sets Cogstone Resource Management’s approach to environmental services apart from other firms?

Our analysis and recommendations are based on good passionate science but also on practical solutions. We look at the bigger picture, as the work that we do affects other aspects of the project. We try to find solutions that are out of the box and help move the project forward.

What is one cultural resources policy you would like to see changed in the future and why?

Agencies and other government entities should create full-blown collaborative tribal programs that look at their managed lands as a whole, instead of waiting for a project to be undertaken to start communicating with tribes. A holistic approach would allow agencies to do better planning and not go down a rabbit hole on a project on land that is important to the tribes. They would then already know the importance of the land and thus avoid it, if possible.

You’ll be sitting on a panel with Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts during the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals Conference & Training Symposium. What are you hoping people take away from the session?

Communicating with Native American tribal leaders is different than talking to other stakeholders. You should approach it as you would a head of state. They are the leader of their nation and should be treated as such. Also, although a tribal leader may speak English, there are culturally based communication patterns that you need to be aware of because it will affect participation if not recognized.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

When discussing our careers in third grade, my teacher said that we should pick a career that we love. I love archaeology and here I am decades later.

What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in environmental planning?

You need to learn the laws in the state that you will be working in and talk with people who use them or get an internship so that you can actually see the laws in action on the ground. Know the difference between the federal and state lingo. You don’t want to look like a fool by using them interchangeably.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

Tasty Tongva Treats – well, that is what I call them. These are our super food power bars created by Craig Torres, one of our Tongva cultural educators. It is chia seed with various nuts and berries, like elderberry, one of our traditional foods, combined with agave syrup and rolled into balls. Chia was a staple in the Tongva diet and we have been moving to try and eat more like our ancestors .The recipe can be found in Cooking the Native Way: Chia Café Collective.

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Around the Table with David Boyes

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: David Boyes

Company: DAWSON

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to the field of environmental planning?

From the start of my career, I was constantly involved in determining impacts associated with various activities at the municipal level and how to best minimize impacts through careful planning. Much of my early work was under the oversight of the local Conservation Commission. Later as I became engaged in similar activities at the State and Federal level, it became a part of my daily work.

What sets DAWSON’s approach to environmental services apart from other firms?

Commitment to excellence in an atmosphere of family support. Kūpono Ka Hana (excellence in service) and Ohana (family) are mottos that our founder Chris Dawson is truly passionate about.

What is one environmental planning policy you would like to see changed in the future and why?

A more rigorous and expansive approach to Cumulative Effects, particularly on projects of significant size and scope. A separate study would perhaps provide for a more in-depth analysis than typically seen.

You’ll be sitting on a panel with Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts during the 2021 National Association of Environmental Professionals Conference & Training Symposium. What are you hoping people take away from the session?

I hope they see our true commitment to public outreach and stakeholder engagement.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

Keep it simple.

What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in environmental planning?


If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

Curry – I grew up loving Indian and Pakistani food!

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Ensuring Virtual Public Engagement Includes Environmental Justice Communities

Avid Core co-founder Amanda Roberts recently presented on this topic at the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) 2021 Annual Educational Conference (AEC) & Exhibition Three-Part Virtual Series. If you are interested in learning more, download our free resources or contact Amanda.

Amanda Roberts presents at NEHA AEC 2021

Virtual public engagement processes offer new opportunities for inclusion and accessibility. As planners, we must ensure our process allows for effective and meaningful participation of low-income, minority, and hard-to-reach communities.

Over the past year, three major events have modified the way we think of public engagement today.

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to cancel in-person engagements and accelerated the adoption of digital technologies. 
  2. The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement amplified awareness of systemic racism and spotlighted how individuals and organizations contribute to unfair systems and practices.
  3. President Joe Biden was elected and his first day in office, he issued two executive orders—one on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities and another reaffirming a commitment to Environmental Justice.  

Every community is unique so there is no magic formula to comprehensive public engagement, but there are steps we can take with every engagement to ensure we are reaching all audiences including those historically left out of the planning process.   


Every project should start with an assessment to understand if current engagement efforts truly engage stakeholders that are representative of the demographics of the impacted community or region.  

You can start by looking at your existing stakeholder lists and examining:

  • If your list is only self-selected.
  • When the list was collected and the last time it was updated.
  • If the organizations are representative of area interests.
  • If tribes, especially those with ancestral lands in the area, are represented.
  • If there are gaps in geography.

Look at the media for key stakeholders and experts. You may be noticing a person who is repeatedly quoted on community issues. If your project has the potential to impact that community, it would be a good idea to engage that stakeholder early. Also look for news coverage in non-English publications to see if there are experts that serve those communities.  

You’ll want to do the same for social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn can help identify interested and active members of the public. Reddit can be useful for identifying public sentiment on particular topics.  

And, of course, ask your known stakeholders who else you should be engaging.  

Once you have a comprehensive list of stakeholders, you also need to understand how those stakeholders would like to be engaged through interviews and surveys. Understanding this information will help determine your key messages and tactics.  


After you have a good understanding of the populations and their interests, you develop a plan for engagement. I like to direct people to the International Association for Public Participation’s Spectrum of Public Participation when they are thinking about their goals for public engagement. On one end of the spectrum, you are pushing information out and on the other end of the spectrum, you are receiving information and giving the public all the decision-making power. Understanding how you want the public to shape your project is important to define at the beginning and help you decide where to invest resources.  

You need to evaluate and prepare for the monetary cost and time investment for engaging with Environmental Justice communities. You may need to only send an email to get the most active members of the community engaged whereas a community member from a traditionally underserved group may require an email, canvassing, information from respected community leaders, and language interpretation. You are investing more resources to get the same level of participation in the project, but comprehensive engagement is worth the effort.   

As you are building your plan, you also need to understand that many communities, especially tribal communities, need time to process the information and expect to engage in a formal consultation process. That additional time needs to be built into your plan. You also must add into your timeline the process of distributing information. Canvassing, mailing, and distributing materials through trusted community partners takes longer than having handouts at a single meeting.   

Your plan should also identify messaging for your project and make sure it’s accessible to those you are trying to reach. Use plain language, avoid jargon, and write to a fifth grade reading level. You should be able to describe this project to a friend or family member who has no technical knowledge, and they should understand what you’re working on.  


With all the changes over the past year, organizations can no longer fall back on the way it’s always been done. But consider how many people were excluded when you weren’t digital, such as younger populations, those with non-traditional working hours, and those with limited English proficiency. 

To ensure a robust public participation, you will likely need to take a hybrid approach to public engagement where you combine traditional outreach methods with new technology.

Example combinations include:

  • Multilingual Website + Mailer + Video
  • Livestreaming + Polling
  • Social Media + Partnerships + Conference
  • Email Campaign + Phone Call + Webinar
  • Digital Mapping Tool + Site Visits
  • Pop-up Events + Online Survey
  • Community Listservs + Newspaper Notice + Online Public Meetings

The right blend is dependent on your audience and their specific needs.


The last part of our process is evaluation. It’s important to understand if your public involvement process has achieved its goals of reaching underserved and marginalized communities.  

Digital tools have powerful analytics built into their system—you can understand a lot about participants without asking them a single question. How they accessed your site, what they spent the most time looking at, and where they are located are all available through built-in analytics. However, you will likely need to supplement this information with a survey to understand the demographics of everyone who participated in the process.  

Once you get this data, if you still see gaps in your outreach, you need to go back to the assessment and planning phase and look at what might need to change to get representative input.

Public involvement processes are constantly changing and the last year has spotlighted the public’s adaptability and willingness to embrace new technology. Now it’s up to organizations to build those accessible options into their plans from the start and keep the focus on representative participation from all community members throughout the process.

Avid Fans of: Earth Day

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.  

To celebrate Earth Day this year, each of our team members took action in honor of the spinning rock we call home. From beach cleanups to farmers’ market adventures, we wanted to use this day to contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future. We encourage you to do something, big or small, to leave a positive impact on our Earth.

Isabelle & Sophie cleaning up the beach. Photo by Stephanie Mace

Cleaning Up Our Earth – Steph

“Leave this world a little better than you found it” is the motto our family lives by whenever we visit a park, beach, or a new place. Earlier in April we were fortunate to spend time at the beach and my daughters served as our trash detectives. It proved to be an educational scavenger hunt and we felt as if the beach wildlife would live longer without the pieces of plastic, bottles, and cardboard boxes we picked up. On Monday, my daughters kicked off Earth Week by taking shorter showers (which seems like a miracle), attending virtual school in their pajamas, watering plants, learning about endangered species, and pledging to volunteer with Rock Creek Conservancy to clean up our favorite local parks throughout the year.

Picking up trash at Rock Creek Park. Photos by C. Montgomery.

Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World – Hana

The Hebrew phrase and Jewish teaching, tikkun olam (תיקון עולם),translates to “repairing the world.” While I learned about this in religious school as a child, I love how this concept is a universally human one. We are all responsible for our planet’s future and we should all contribute to its resilience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you get stuck in the blackhole of statistics about climate change, habitat destruction, and greenhouse gas emissions.  But looking through the lens of tikkun olam, I remember that I can’t be responsible for saving the planet; I can just do my part to help repair it.

My apartment is a block away from Rock Creek Park. I’ve found myself there nearly every day—whether I’m taking a walk through it to get away from my computer or sitting at the picnic tables reading my book. It is both peaceful and vibrant and is home to some of the best fetch D.C. has to offer its canine residents. However, it is also home to countless discarded water bottles, plastic wrappers, and forgotten mystery items. To celebrate Earth Day and practice tikkun olam, I spent an afternoon picking up trash near the creek. As someone who loves the Park, I try to practice Steph’s family motto and leave it better than I found it when I visit, even if that means just picking up one piece of trash. When you dedicate an hour to it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly that trash bag fills up!

Photo by Amanda Roberts.

Helping Our Pollinators- Amanda

Last year, I invested in landscaping with native Virginia plants and flowers. For Earth Day this year, my daughter and I wanted to expand on our garden to include more plants attractive to pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies. We went on an adventure to purchase seeds from our local garden store and planted them along our yard. Now, we’ll be waiting to see if any germinate. I’m hoping our garden will help keep the pollinator population thriving! 

Tremayne poses with his wife and one-year-old daughter after picking up trash in the neighborhood. Photo by Tremayne Nez.

Neighborhood Cleanup – Tremayne

Every neighborhood has some sort of municipal code on street litter and waste. However, despite our best efforts to reduce our neighborhood litter, there will be a piece that escapes us, especially with active construction going on. My neighborhood had many construction projects this past year, with new homes and townhomes being built. Unfortunately, with the few remaining projects left, my front patio is now a favorite spot for the blowing construction debris. I started to grow frustrated when I would open my front door to find another piece of trash waiting for me to pick it up.

This year, I decided to celebrate Earth Day by doing my part to clean up my neighborhood. I love to take walks around the area with my wife and one-year-old daughter. We usually take our time to enjoy the cool breeze and warm sun. I now take a small garbage bag for our walks, so whenever we stumble upon a piece of garbage blowing around the street, I run it down and place it in the bag.

Keeping our neighborhoods clean is not only visually pleasing it is also a great way to keep our community and local habitat safe.

Photo by Andrew Curtin.

Anacostia River Cleanup – Andrew

Every summer, I try to get in as much kayaking as I can. Near me in Washington, DC and further out into Maryland, Northern Virginia, and West Virginia there are some pretty spectacular places to launch. But one of my favorites – often overlooked – is along the Anacostia River. While the Potomac can get you some great views of the monuments, the Anacostia is by far the best way to find wildlife within the District – there are always plenty of turtles, herons and cormorants out and about, and I’ve even seen a couple of ospreys. This year, I’m supporting the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Earth Day cleanup efforts to help restore and protect this beautiful natural resource for future generations.

Photo by Virginia Quiambao Arroyo.

Farmers’ Market Fun – Virginia

I lived most of adult life in New York City or Washington D.C. and took full advantage of every farmers’ market I could find. Since moving to the suburbs of Virginia, I lost sight of frequenting farmers’ markets but recently rediscovered my love for them. I try my best to buy our produce and meat from farmers’ markets. It has also been a great opportunity to spend time outdoors with friends during COVID and has become a Sunday ritual for my daughter Selena and me. When the Dale City Farmer’s Market is in full swing, the produce options are endless!

Herbs growing in the AeroGarden. Photo by Ashley Dobson.

Reducing My Food Waste – Ashley

I read recently that if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the U.S. I love to make new recipes or have themed food nights, but a lot of these one-offs meant I was not using the items I bought to their fullest potential. I’ve spent the past year putting more of a concerted effort toward reducing my food waste and for Earth Day this year, I want to make that commitment public.

I’ve been making it a personal challenge to plan my meals ahead of a grocery run to ensure I am only getting what I need and that I’ll be able to eat it while the food is at its freshest. I’ve also made the most of my refrigerator and freezer space to support this goal. I organize my fridge with the items to eat first in the front and often split items from the package to save half in the freezer. I love sandwiches, but as the only person eating gluten free in my household, I can’t eat a full loaf of bread before it spoils. Taking advantage of the freezer has extended the life of my loaves and meant that I don’t waste a single slice.

My husband bought me an AeroGarden for Christmas and I have loved growing my own basil, mint, thyme, dill, and parsley. The packaging that fresh herbs come in from the grocery store is often wasteful and it spoils quickly. Having easy access to it has kept me in a steady supply of pesto and offers me different ways to vary up the meals I plan for the week. I also repurpose food scraps, regrowing items like green onions and lettuce.

All of these strategies have had added benefits beyond conservation and reducing my food waste. I save money by only buying what I need, time because I’ve already made a meal plan, and I’ve also reduced my use of single-use plastic because of these efforts. My individual impact is small, but paying attention to my own food waste has been a wake-up call and brought my attention to advocating for more large-scale changes that can be done.  

What the 2021 Oscars Can Teach Us About Public Engagement

Photo by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

We’re less than a week away from the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. At my house, that means we are catching up on all the nominated films.

As I’ve watched, I’ve been struck by how many lessons for improving public involvement processes can be found throughout this year’s slate of films.

Inclusive Engagement

Judas and the Black Messiah is based on the true story of FBI informant William O’Neal and his role in the 1969 killing of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. This Best Picture nominee shows the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and community-led outreach. And this message resonates just as powerfully today as it did while Hampton was alive.

A community-led approach to public involvement means actively listening to the community you are working in about their needs, planning collaboratively with community members, and modifying and reshaping activities based upon community input.  The community must be actively involved in defining and measuring outcomes.  

In the film, we see Hampton’s Black Panthers work to form the multiracial Rainbow Coalition, a powerful force for community-led action and change. If government officials had tapped into this network instead of opposing it as they did at the time, results could have been wildly different.

One Night in Miami, up for three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor, builds on this theme in a quieter way. The film fictionalizes a real-life meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in February 1964. They are four men coming from different perspectives, but they have the same goals when it comes to combatting systemic racism.

Public involvement processes too often only do the bare minimum when it comes to diversity, asking one person to represent an entire population or group. Their conversations in the film remind us to celebrate the diversity in experience and approach, making sure to reach and include the most comprehensive audience possible.

Both films highlight the desire of and need for marginalized communities to have a seat at the table. In the public involvement process, it’s important for us to evaluate the processes we have in place and make sure they include all individuals—especially those who have historically been left out of the planning process.

Accessibility from All Angles

When we think about inclusion, we also need to consider accessibility in all facets of our public engagement process.

Crip Camp, my pick for Best Documentary, provides a very enlightening look into the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To me, it was very eye opening to see what conditions people with physical disabilities were faced with prior to the passing of this act.

But it’s not enough to just be ADA-compliant. The process to get accommodations should be simple, clear, and prominently displayed.

The Sound of Metal, which is nominated for Best Picture, also stresses the importance of accessibility. The film follows drummer who loses his hearing and who must learn to adapt to his new reality.

The most striking piece of this film to me was how crucially it stressed that disabilities are not deficiencies. We should approach accessibility in public involvement with this same mindset. It should be built in from the very beginning, not be an afterthought.

A Safe Place for Free Speech

The public involvement process with environmental planning is often seen as the place to express opposition or support for a project. While we know that typically the process is not a vote, the general public can sometimes use it to rally opposition for a project and we can sometimes see meetings become contentious and attract protests.

The Trial of Chicago 7, a nominee for Best Picture, highlights our responsibility to provide a safe place for people to express their First Amendment rights. The film offers a dramatic retelling of the trial of the antiwar activists charged with inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, known as the Chicago Seven. The entire story provides a blueprint for what not to do.

If I expect protests for a project, I work with my clients to develop security plans in partnership with meeting venues to ensure there is a safe place for expression of first amendment rights and everyone knows what to do if things should escalate. I’ve also seen success working directly with protest organizers to understand their plans and to inform them of the meeting ground rules.

Ensure Transparency

When you know you might face pushback, it is tempting to want to limit the information flow. Over the years, I have had many conversations with clients that are afraid to share information because they are worried about the ramifications. Transparency not only contributes to equity, but it often leads to better results overall.

Collective, an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, offers an extreme example of the power of the open sharing of information. The film is based on a 2015 fire in Romania that immediately killed 27 people and injured more than a hundred others. Four months after the fire, the death toll had risen to 64, partially due to the lack of proper healthcare and negligible medical care at the public hospitals. The documentary explores public healthcare fraud, corruption, and maladministration.

For me what stood out about this documentary, is not just the horrifying and haunting footage of the disaster itself, but the way the Minister of Health opened his doors to the documentary film crew. They are showing everything in the wake of this disaster, the corruption and cover ups. He even admits the country is not equipped to handle severe burn cases and, at one point, asks a member of the public for advice on how to solve this problem. His transparency empowers the general public and subject matter experts to weigh in on crucial decisions. This documentary is an extreme, but it shows how trust can be built by sharing information that would have otherwise perhaps been covered up.

Lessons for public engagement can be found all around us, even in pop culture. Did you have any takeaways from this year’s Oscars slate?

Water is the Essence of Life

April is Water Conservation Month, and the Avid Core team is committed to doing our part to secure safe, affordable, accessible drinking water for all communities and future generations. This month, we are donating to DIGDEEP, a non-profit organization working to provide rural communities in America with clean running water. We encourage you to join us to see where you can help—financially or otherwise—and to seek help when you need it.

Many of us take our access to potable water for granted. Take a minute to think about where your clean water comes from and how it gets to your faucet. It’s a hidden journey that only seems as easy as turning the tap on and off.

Experiencing life without the faucet changed my perspective on consumption and waste. I grew up on the Navajo reservation and my grandparents did not have running water. Clean water was hauled from a well several miles away and stored in barrels, eventually used to drink, clean, and cook. My grandparents survived on about eight gallons per day compared to the national home average of 350 gallons per day.

During the summer months, water was essential and not to be wasted. I remember spending time as a kid bringing in heavy five-gallon water jugs into their hogan (traditional Navajo home) to ensure that they had enough clean water to drink. Today, my Masaní (maternal grandmother) still does not have running water, and whenever I visit her, I bring in those same five-gallon jugs to make sure she has what she needs.

During the past year, my community suffered greatly from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to other inequities, the virus has highlighted significant gaps in water resources among tribal communities and prompted the community to conserve our water to sustain health measures. Even beyond the pandemic, practicing water conservation is an effective method for us to maintain our water supply for future generations and for rural communities to access for future use.

Clean drinking water is an extremely sensitive resource and not an unlimited one. To help put it in perspective, only 2.5 percent of the earth’s water is freshwater, of which 1 percent is accessible for drinking, agriculture, irrigation, and power generation. With dwindling sources of fresh water and fast-growing populations, we must do our part now to conserve this sensitive resource.

Photo by Tremayne Nez

In my Navajo culture, water is a sacred resource. We have a phrase, “tó éí ííńá” (water is life) that you will likely find painted on windmills across the reservation. Water, to my people, is considered the very essence of life and existence. When we all take steps to conserve our water, we not only secure the long-term supply for future use, we sustain life for future generations.

What does it mean to conserve water?

Conserving water means to practice using water more efficiently to reduce waste. Practicing a low water use lifestyle helps to maintain our current water supply, helps the environment, saves on energy costs, and allows for future needs.   

So why conserve now?

According to a Government Accountability Report, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages by 2024, highlighting the need to conserve water usage. Bodies of freshwater across the United States have supplied Americans with freshwater for years but changes to the climate, such as more frequent longer-lasting droughts and less precipitation, have shifted the attention to a more conservative approach. Across the western U.S., aquifers are depleting quickly due to high demand.

What can you do to conserve?

This is a significant problem that will take cooperative and comprehensive solutions to solve. While we know individual actions will only play a minor role, we believe that taking small steps matters. When we all make small changes in our daily lives together, we can create lasting change in maintaining our water supply for all to enjoy.

Here are some practical strategies you can take today:

  • When washing your hands, turn the faucet a half turn instead of a full turn.
  • When brushing your teeth, turn off the tap between rinsing.
  • Install low-flow aerators designed to reduce the amount of flow and save on cost.
  • Check for toilet leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring in the back of the toilet; if a leak is present, you’ll see the color in the toilet and you’ll know to change the toilet flapper. Leaky toilets can waste 200 gallons per day.
  • Water your lawn only when necessary and avoid watering on windy days.
  • Collect rainwater to water indoor plants.
  • Only run full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Consider replacing old home equipment (washers, dishwashers, water heaters, toilets) with newer, more efficient appliances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), households can all reduce their water waste by 20 percent by installing water-efficient devices and fixtures to prevent dripping.

When practicing conservation in my own life, I feel inspired and empowered to start thinking of the more significant ideas and solutions.

Let’s take these steps together this Water Conservation Month and work toward securing safe, affordable, and accessible drinking water for all communities and future generations.