Many would say that the kitchen table is the heart of the home. It’s a place that fuels conversations and strengthens relationships amongst family and friends. For the Lochmueller Group Public Involvement (PI) team, kitchen tables hold a slightly different significance. At the onset of design efforts for the I-69 project from Evansville to Indianapolis, our PI team implemented an improved approach to customer service for state projects: Kitchen Table Meetings.
Typically, this type of project would involve hosting a large public meeting where potentially impacted property owners would be invited, along with anyone else that wanted to attend. These meetings afford very minimal opportunity for one-on-one attention, and the large crowds often cause discomfort for people who just want a chance to talk with someone about their concerns. Therefore, our team approached INDOT Project Manager Tom Seeman and asked if he would allow us to replace the large meeting. The alternative idea was to go to where people are most comfortable (in their homes) and sit down with them at their kitchen tables; this way, we were the ones feeling more uncomfortable or vulnerable, but the property owners felt safe in their space. Tom Seeman agreed to the idea, and the meeting planning began!
During the Kitchen Table Meetings, our team met face-to-face at property owners’ homes to learn about their concerns, educate them on the project and acquisition process, and to help them understand potential impacts the project may have on their property. The first effort involved nearly 50 families, and this was only part of Section 1. Throughout all six sections of the I-69 project, several hundred meetings were held, Lochmueller Group alone participating in nearly 300 Kitchen Table Meetings. Multiple other teams also conducted meetings throughout the corridor.
These types of meetings were the first of their kind and proved beneficial when it came time to acquire right-of-way. INDOT was even recognized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials with a Gold Performance Excellence Award, which recognizes projects with performance excellence results that meet the highest standards of quality, service, and performance. Since bringing forward the idea in 2010, and thanks to Tom’s willingness to take a chance, nearly every major new terrain project in the State of Indiana has incorporated the approach since.