App-Based Advocacy

By: Katie Bascuas

The American Society of Civil Engineers created an app version of its annual U.S. infrastructure report to help its advocacy efforts. [Titled "Mobile Report Card" in the print edition.]

Educating the public about the state of U.S. infrastructure got a lot easier this year, thanks in large part to a mobile app.

For the fifth installment of its quadrennial "Report Card on America's Infrastructure," the American Society of Civil Engineers went digital, launching an app to deliver the comprehensive assessment of America's roads, bridges, water systems, and other public works.

As opposed to previous print versions, the app allows ASCE members, legislators, and the public to easily download data from the report onto their smartphones and tablets. It's also a game changer in terms of who can access the material.

"Our ability to reach folks is only limited by their ability to connect to the internet and download [the app]," says Brian Pallasch, managing director, government relations and infrastructure initiatives.

And while the report card has always drawn attention from legislators and the media, "the visibility is easier with an app," says ASCE Executive Director Patrick Natale, FASAE, CAE. "It expands our capabilities and allows us to deliver the information more quickly. People want things quicker. They don't want to wait."

Just a week and a half after ASCE launched the latest version, for example, President Obama mentioned the report card in a speech in Miami. "[Apps] are viral," Natale says. "Somebody gets it, and they give it to a couple of friends, and they tell a few more friends. It can move very quickly."

In addition to increased accessibility, the app provides a more cost-effective and nimble approach to delivering information than the 167-page book ASCE printed in 2009. "That was an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch tome," Pallasch says.

The print versions were harder to carry around, and updating them was difficult. With the app, ASCE staff can easily edit content at any time. "It's more of a living document this way," Natale says.

And, free of physical page limitations, ASCE was able highlight more of the success stories happening in U.S. infrastructure—despite the country's overall infrastructure grade of D+ (up from a D in 2009).

"It gives you a positive feel for what's going on," Pallasch says. "Obviously a D+ is hard to be positive about … but we see that there are a lot of positive things going on. That's why we wanted to focus on these success stories—to remind people that while overall we've got some significant problems, we are starting to address them even if it's one project at a time."

Katie Bascuas is associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is an associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC.