This report and visualization tool are products of Water Research Foundation Project #4455: Rate Approval Process Communication Strategy and Toolkit. The primary objective of this project was to identify and develop communication approaches, messages, and tools that water utilities can use to communicate water rate and pricing changes more effectively to governing board members, and gain support for needed utility rate adjustments. Addressing current and future utility challenges requires a diversity of messages, techniques, and methods to clearly define the problems the utility is facing in a way that resonates with governing board members. The result of the research is a Rate Communications Toolkit that contains several materials for utility managers to use to communicate and garner support for the rate adoption process. The toolkit was designed and prepared based on experience with past successes of rate case approaches and processes, research about the appropriate content and level of detail of communication materials, and consideration of additional factors that influence the success of a utility rate case.
The Rate Communications Toolkit
Watch a video introduction to the Rate Communications Toolkit (link to YouTube).
On the Water Research Foundation’s website, members can access the following resources:
- A report with the findings and recommendations for utilities.
- A rate case visualization tool for water utilities: a Microsoft Excel file that creates and prints an easy-to-understand infographic using your utility’s data to convey key messages to your governing board when requesting rate increases.
- Presentation slides and a recorded webinar summarizing key strategies.
Read about the key findings and find out more from our blog posts (public access):
- 10 Statistically-Proven Tips for Getting Higher Water Rates Approved (Based on a Survey of >1,000 Utilities)
- Eight Communication Strategies to Help Water Utilities Get the Rates They Need
- In it for the long-haul: Water rate approvals from real communication with boards
- Get What You Need: Survey results on communicating the need for a water rate increase
- The Power of Words: Survey Results on Communicating the Need for a Water Rate Increase Part 2
About the Project
Water utility managers face numerous challenges including aging infrastructure, regulatory requirements, population growth, regional economic decline, and increasing scarcity of suitable water supply sources. Each of these forces create fiscal and public communication challenges, so water utilities must make the case to the elected or appointed officials in their governing boards for rate increases while keeping the focus on environmental stewardship, public health and good resource management. Because of these multitudes of objectives as well as considerations for affordability of services, presenting the need for a rate increase and obtaining the approval from the governing board can be daunting for utility/local government staff.
The primary objective of this project was to identify and develop communication approaches, messages, and tools that water utilities can use to communicate water rate and pricing changes more effectively to governing board members, and gain support for needed utility rate adjustments. This was accomplished by identifying the factors critical to successful rate case adoptions, identifying factors that tend to inhibit successful rate adoption, developing a framework for effective rate communications, and preparing a Rate Communication Toolkit that can be used to effectively communicate and garner support for rate adjustments.
With funding from the Water Research Foundation, the EFC worked with Arcadis Consulting, Raftelis, and ABT Associates conducted an extensive national research project, leading to the development of evidence-based toolkit. The research aimed to determine the type of strategies and information that would be most effective in overcoming the obstacles to rate increase approvals, as well as the preferred styles and methods to communicate this information to governing board members. The communication framework presented in this report is intended to provide utility managers with insights and an effective approach to develop a robust communication platform between utility management and governing board members, and to identify and present example content that can be used to communicate the importance of a rate increase more effectively.
Specifically, the project team researched the current literature related to the utility budget and rate approval processes, partnered with ICMA to conduct an original survey of >1,400 local governments’ elected officials and utility managers across the country, developed a messaging strategy and communication framework that builds trust and supports effective communications during the budget and rate approval process, and created an electronic clearinghouse of utility-specific communication strategies to support peer-to-peer learning.
In addition, the EFC created an interactive Excel-based dashboard tool that utilities can use to present vital information to governing boards in a single-page, colorful infographic format by simply typing in the utility’s basic information and uploading pictures following step-by-step instructions.