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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Information Hotlines

Information hotlines are generally used for larger and more controversial projects. They provide information in two ways: 1) via live telephone access to project team staff members who can answer questions or provide additional information and assistance; and 2) via a telephone call-in number that provides pre-recorded project information. Stakeholders can also leave comments and questions on the call-in number and receive a return call from staff in a reasonable timeframe. Consider SMS/Text if the community you are working in is more likely to use.


  • Delivers accurate, consistent information over the telephone to those who wish or need to know about an issue or event
  • Offers an inexpensive and simple device for simple messages, information and public input
  • Provides a good service to the public by preventing people from “doing the run around” to access project information
  • Serves as a link between the citizens and government
  • Provides simple updates and announcements on project activities
  • Describes ways the community can become involved
  • Offers a report-in mechanism for volunteers who act as extra observers in reporting on events
  • Enhance sponsor agency accessibility
  • Can be an avenue for citizens to feel more involved in their community
  • Serves as a tip or information line to find out about issues in the community

Challenges to Consider

  • Must be broadly advertised to be successful
  • Can be time consuming, unless staffing is carefully organized
  • Any live contacts must have sufficient knowledge of the project to be able to answer questions quickly and accurately
  • May prevent staff from performing other tasks when on hotline duty
  • Presents a significant commitment to respond in a timely manner to comments and questions received

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Set up an easy-to-remember phone number
  • Put the phone number on all project information
  • Set limited times when callers know the line will be staffed
  • Set a performance standard so callers know how long they will have to wait for a response
  • Determine the information to be recorded and timetable of updates
  • Make clear processes and responsibilities for keeping the line up to date
  • Include information that will answer the most commonly asked questions
  • Set up a toll-free number for non-local callers
  • Offer the option of being put through to a specific person for more details
  • Appoint staff to answer questions
  • Brief and train staff to ensure they can access all information, have contact details of who to ask for information on specific aspects of the project, and have a pleasant telephone manner, even with difficult callers
  • Record calls/common complaints/concerns in a telephone journal for your records and input to the participation process
  • Calls can be forwarded to allow staff to be on-call without having to be tied to a specific location

Resources Needed


  • Needed to set up and maintain recordings
  • Needed to provide live support
  • Multiple language support


  • Dedicated phone number
  • Comfortable workroom with desks, telephones, and computer access for recording contacts, tracking updated information, and contacting expert sources
  • Polite, brief, up-to-date recorded message giving details of the project, proposal or issue, and inviting further enquiries

Planning Time

  • Set up is relatively simple but requires commitment to long-term maintenance and staffing

Implementation Time

  • Lines should be maintained throughout the life of the project

Group Size

  • Unlimited


  • Relatively low cost unless staffed on a continual basis

Most relevant participation levels:

  • Can be used at all levels on the IAP2 spectrum.

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460