UW Students Innovate for WSDOT

The Washington State Department of Transportation has University of Washington students to thank for putting together some ideas for how they can better communicate with commuters. On Friday, June 8, three teams of students came together in the Communication building to present their projects to WSDOT representatives.

The WSDOT partnered with the University of Washington and Washington State University to create a strategic communications competition.  Funding was provided through the Francis B. Francois Award for Innovation, which was created by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2000, honoring a former AASHTO executive director.

At UW, three finalist teams, consisting of Anna Huang and Starling ShanDacia SaenzSean Fraser, Kondrad Palubicki, and Laurie Sperry, presented their proposals on how to improve different aspects of communication within WSDOT. A fourth team, Billy Witherspoon and Lydia Rin Kye, did not present.

“The partnership with WSDOT is a great example of the value that places like UW and WSU can add…undergraduates and graduates working together across disciplines and areas of expertise on the development of timely and relevant solutions to the challenges that we face in the state of Washington,” said Scott Macklin, Associate Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media.

Presenting first were Shan and Huang, with their recommendations on how the WSDOT can better communicate with students surrounding the SR520 bridge construction, and how they can make travel across the bridge more convenient for the UW student body. The team recommended that a status widget for the UW website be created in order to notify students of most recent updates on the construction that would link directly back to the WSDOT website. Shan and Huang also recommended more frequent use of social media by WSDOT with updates similar to what would be on the UW widget, as well as a more easily student-accessible payment system for the GoodToGo tolling system.

Saenz (MCDM student) was next to present, and brought forward her idea of “Short C.U.T.S. (Short Creative Uses of Traffic in Seattle)”. Saenz recommended that WSDOT spark conversation within the community about ways to get around congested areas through social media and message boards. People could share their own “secret” routes, and learn what insight others may have, as well. She also suggested that WSDOT partner with different companies, like Microsoft, PBS, or Audible.com, to provide commuters a way to get to their “happy place” when they are stuck in traffic. Possible activities drivers could engage in could include learning a new language, listening to an audio book, or practicing their karaoke skills.

Lastly, Fraser, Palubicki and Sperry shared their social media guidebook which can help WSDOT employees choose the best social media tools for the different kinds of information they want to communicate to the public. The team determined that most people use Facebook to get information from WSDOT. The public would like to see more posts about traffic accidents and other things that may affect their driving. Additionally, people interact more with WSDOT when the agency uses photographs and cross-promotes amongst many social media platforms in their social media posts. On WSDOT’s YouTube page, the most popular videos are disaster simulations and the team determined that people generally want to see things that they wouldn’t normally see. WADOT should continue to give the public visualizations like that, but be conscious of YouTube best practices surrounding length and editing of videos to tell a better story.

Jeremy Bertrand of WSDOT Communications said he was very happy with what he saw in the presentations. “It was a pleasure working with the students and hearing such unique and creative ideas presented to real world problems.”

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