The National Academies

NCHRP Synthesis 20-05/Topic 49-11 [Active (Synthesis)]

Practice for Online Public Involvement
[ NCHRP 20-05 (Synthesis of Information Related to Highway Practices) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $45,000
Authorization to Begin Work: 6/2/2017 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Tanya M. Zwahlen
Research Agency: Rutgers
Principal Investigator: Mariam Salerno
Effective Date: 10/18/2017
Fiscal Year: 2017

Final Scope

The past decade has seen expanded use of online methods for public participation in transportation ranging from web sites, interactive web tools, surveys, social media, text messaging, and mobile applications. These methods have engendered much experimentation, reached new audiences, and changed the dynamics of public participation. As the variety of tools and the number of state DOTs using them have expanded, the state of the practice has outpaced the availability of guidance materials for public participation practitioners.

Online public participation methods offer agencies the potential for expanded participation, but also present new challenges and demand new thinking – about the appropriate mix of techniques in a public participation program, communication protocols, staffing and skill requirements, and how best to integrate emerging online engagement tools with traditional face-to-face methods such as public meetings.

The objective of this synthesis is to provide a snapshot of current practice regarding online public participation strategies being used by state DOTs today. It will also summarize the effectiveness of using these strategies and tools.
Information to be gathered will include:
• How state DOTs define online public participation for policies, plans, programs, projects, and operations.
• The intended purpose of online public participation (e.g. information dissemination, cost savings, reaching more people, transparency).
• What strategies DOTs are using, and if they are different based on the project phase (e.g. design, construction, operations) and the type of project (i.e. larger project or controversial project).
• Whether or not online engagement is addressed in state DOT public participation policies or plans.
• What position/title within state DOTs is responsible for establishing state DOT public participation policies/guidelines.
• The role of consultants in designing and implementing online public participation strategies and their relation to the ongoing agency maintenance of online presence.
• How state DOTs evaluate or measure online public participation strategies used (e.g. cost effective, time efficiency).
• Logistically, how online comments are interpreted and addressed.
• What factors state DOTs consider when choosing strategies and tools.
• Whether or not (and if so, how) state DOTs are tailoring their online strategies for mobile versus computer-based engagement.
• Examples of how online activities are paired with face-to-face tactics as part of a holistic engagement strategy.
• Internal challenges related to issues such as internal protocols, training, staffing resources, budgeting, and legal considerations.
• External challenges related to issues such as addressing the digital divide, language needs, and low-literacy populations.
• How DOTs adapt and incorporate new online strategies and tools.

Information will be gathered by a literature review, a survey of state DOTs and a series of interviews that expand the understanding of online public participation in both urban and rural areas. The report will also document knowledge gaps and research needs.
Information Sources:
• Barron, Eileen, Shane Peck, Marie Venner and William G. Malley. NCHRP 25-25 Task 80: Potential Use of Social Media in the NEPA Process. Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington D.C., 2013.
• Morris, Anne and Louise Fragala. NCHRP Synthesis 407: Effective Public Involvement Using Limited Resources. Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington D.C., 2010.
• FHWA Office of Environment, Planning, and Realty (HEP) task order to create, identify and share information on public involvement online engagement tools.
• NCHRP study 08-105 entitled “Measuring the Effectiveness of Public Involvement.”
• Ongoing Florida DOT research project by Pryanka Alluri entitled “Use of Communication Technologies to Enhance Public Involvement in Transportation Projects” (contact panel member Rusty Ennemoser for more information).

TRB Staff
Tanya Zwahlen
Phone: 585-315-1834

Meeting Dates
First Panel:  October 18, 2017, Washington, DC
Teleconference with Consultant: November 14, 2017, 3:00 p.m., ET
Second Panel: June 26, 2018, Irvine, CA 

Topic Panel
Eileen Barron, Utah DOT
Jacqueline H. Cromwell, Virginia DOT
Mary E. "Rusty" Ennemoser, Florida DOT
Tina Geiselbrecht, Texas A&M Tranportation Institute
Dallas Hammit, Arizona DOT
Jacqueline LeBlanc, Vermont Agency of Transportation
Jamie Simone, Illinois DOT
Camille Bonham, FHWA
Dan Wolfe, FHWA
Matthew Hardy, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Jennifer L. Weeks, Transportation Research Board


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