The National Academies

NCHRP 20-97 [Final]

Improving Findability and Relevance of Transportation Information

  Project Data
Funds: $900,000
included funding of a 2nd phase for refinement, dissemination, and pilot implementations
Research Agency: Spy Pond Partners
Principal Investigator: Frances Harrison
Effective Date: 4/18/2014
Completion Date: 1/31/2020
Comments: NCHRP Projects 20-97 and 20-97A are included here.

The term “information” encompasses a variety of content and formats; for example, printed documents, written and electronic data files, maps, images, audio, and video files. Information collectively is a valuable asset for any organization, but finding the right information to support mission-critical analysis and decisionmaking is often difficult. The information assets of a state department of transportation (DOT) may exist in many forms, both structured and unstructured. (Experts estimate that 80-90% of information is unstructured and that an agency’s employees may spend up to 35% of their time looking for information.) Organizations, public and private, invest in information-management systems designed to make information available in useful forms when and where it is needed.  Information findability means ensuring that information users have access to the information they need, when they need it. A variety of tools have been developed to support findability, such as ontologies and metadata frameworks; taxonomies and other structured vocabularies; format and location conventions (e.g., Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or Digital Object Identifier (DOI)); practices for engaging subject-matter experts in the work of maintaining information and making it accessible; and more. General principles and procedures that are developed for information management may be useful in many fields of knowledge, but each particular field—health care, law, transportation, and others—may require adaptations to make the tools more effective and efficient in serving the field’s practitioners. At the same time, procedures and tools developed for specific applications may be adaptable to enhance information findability in other fields. Some work has been done within the DOT community to improve information findability. The Transportation Research Thesaurus (TRT), the Freight Data Dictionary, and the creation of topical web portals such as AASHTO’s Workforce Toolkit or the USDOT Climate Change Clearinghouse are examples. NCHRP Report 754: Improving Management of Transportation Information was published but much remains to be done. The quantities of information a DOT must use are growing exponentially. Technologies for information acquisition, archiving, and retrieval are evolving rapidly. Research is needed to advance practices of capture, archiving, and retrieval of information about the surface transportation systems for which state DOTs and other transportation agencies are responsible. Improving findability of transportation information by advancing practices for information classification, search, and retrieval represents a high-priority initial target for this research. Applying such practices to unstructured information in particular is a pressing challenge. Tools and procedures for technology-assisted review, development of micro-thesauri, application of “folksonomies” integrated with more formally defined taxonomic schemes, and the like, offer potential value for dealing with unstructured transportation information.
The objective of this research was to improve state DOT information findability by (1) defining a management framework—including responsibilities of a transportation agency and its partners—for classification, search, and retrieval of transportation information; (2) describing successful practices for organizing and classifying information (e.g., ontologies or metadata schemas) that can be adapted to classification, search, and retrieval of the diversity of information a transportation agency creates and uses; (3) developing federated or enterprise search procedures that a DOT can use to make transportation information available to users, subject to concerns for security and confidentiality; and (4) undertaking example implementations of the management framework, the organization and classification practices, and search procedures to demonstrate enhanced findability for a DOT’s data. The research report, supplemented by an implementation guide, was published at NCHRP Research Report 846.  Subsequent work to demonstrate the methods developed were documented in NCHRP Research Report 947 and web-only document NCHRP WOD 279. In addition, 3 videos produced in cooperation with the Washington State Department of Transportation, to describe that agency's efforts to make its guidance manuals more accessible, are available.

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