The National Academies

NCHRP 08-161 [Pending]

Cultivating Accountability Through Meaningful Public Engagement

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Contract Time: 30 months
Staff Responsibility: Jennifer L. Weeks

State departments of transportation (DOTs) are charged with avoiding discrimination in the application of federal funding to plan, design, build, and operate transportation through a variety of laws, executive orders, and regulations. However, there remains disparity in the equity of transportation performance outcomes among different demographic groups and communities. As state DOTs and transportation agencies seek to deliver quality projects that improve transportation infrastructure and services within their service jurisdictions, agencies remain challenged to create meaningful public engagement in transportation decision-making processes, particularly with underserved and vulnerable communities such as low-income, minority, and limited English proficiency individuals and communities.
Meaningful public engagement at a minimum should include active two-way communication on transportation needs, strategies, and solutions that could span multiple transportation decisions and actions from long-range planning through design and construction to operations and maintenance. While several studies and guidebooks have focused on the design and execution of effective public involvement in transportation decision-making, and the importance of engaging underserved and vulnerable populations, there remains the need for focused research to help agencies understand and establish what meaningful communication with transportation stakeholders encompasses, and provide direction on successful strategies and solutions for how to achieve it.
The objective of this research is to develop a manual with practical strategies, processes, methods, and procedures for understanding and establishing meaningful public engagement in transportation decision-making with an emphasis on the engagement of vulnerable communities. The manual will address institutional and practical barriers and include appropriate instruction on the design and execution of public engagement processes and methods that lead to meaningful public engagement in transportation decision-making.
Among the issues that this research should address are the following:
  • Defining the elements and intended outcomes of meaningful public engagement in transportation;
  • Creating a process or set of procedures for the identification and engagement of all affected communities and stakeholders to a proposed transportation plan or project;
  • Creating a DOT culture that places a premium on public input in decision-making;
  • Creating an internal process or set of procedures that tracks, communicates, and responds to public input received over the full life of a transportation project or other decision-making process;
  • Facilitating public understanding of transportation decision-making processes, including major decision milestones, the roles and responsibilities of different agencies and institutions in that process, and when and how to become involved;
  • Overcoming public cynicism and distrust, particularly that is based on past decisions;
  • Navigating public input that may be outside the scope of a specific transportation project or plan under development;
  • Addressing conflicting input received by disparate communities and decision makers;
  • Navigating language and cultural differences among populations; and
  • Building the workforce skillsets and capacity within an organization to effectively engage affected communities of all types in transportation decision-making.
The research plan should: 
1. Include a kick-off web conference to review the amplified research plan with the NCHRP project panel, convened within 1 month of the contract’s execution;
2. Address how the proposer intends to satisfy the project objectives;
3. Be divided logically into two phases encompassing specific detailed tasks that are necessary to fulfill the research objective including appropriate milestones and interim deliverables; and

4. Incorporate opportunities for the project plan to review, comment on, and approve milestone deliverables.

Task descriptions are intended to provide a framework for conducting the research. The NCHRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the research objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals must present the proposers' current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objective.
Phase I: Data Collection and Needs Assessment
Task 1. Conduct a thorough literature review addressing public engagement in transportation decision-making. In addition to traditional academic research and other published guidance on public engagement, the research should include a review of published material and other media (such as videos or documentaries) documenting the perspectives of members of the public, particularly by vulnerable population groups, such as low-income and minority populations.
Task 2. Conduct a state DOT and transportation agency state of practice assessment with respect to public engagement policies, strategies, procedures, techniques, and the experiences agencies have had in the design and implementation of public engagement. The state of practice assessment should identify opportunities and barriers agencies face in the design and implementation of effective public engagement. This should include institutional and practical issues related to the design and execution of meaningful public engagement, as well “people-oriented” issues such as cultural, linguistic, and/or social.
Task 3. Conduct outreach with representatives of groups and organizations that represent the interests of vulnerable groups and populations to identify their experiences, concerns, and ideas for defining and achieving meaningful public engagement with transportation agencies over transportation decisions.
Task 4: Develop a Phase II work plan for completing the research, including recommended steps to be taken to market test or validate recommended methods with agency practitioners and public stakeholders for incorporation into final products. An outline of the manual and other resources should be within this work plan. 
Task 5. Develop an interim report that documents the research process and data collected in Phase I. This report and the Phase II work plan will be shared with and presented to NCHRP and the panel in an interim meeting.
Phase II: Develop Manual and Resources 
This phase of the research will focus on testing the value of suggested strategies and methods for improving public engagement and developing the final products as required to meet the research objective.

Task 6
: Plan, execute, and document a set of pilot case studies that demonstrate implementation of engagement methods and strategies that address specific barriers to effective public engagement with a focus on engagement of vulnerable populations and communities. The case studies shall illustrate a diverse range of agency experiences, challenges, and transportation decision-making contexts from internal institutional and process reform to the application of specific techniques used by practitioners to engage different types of vulnerable communities. 
Task 7. Develop the draft manual and other research products.
Products of this research will include the following deliverables and/or manual contents:
  • A manual of practice that provides practical strategies, processes, methods, and/or procedures for cultivating meaningful public engagement in transportation decision-making;
  • Communications media and/or training modules that provide a snapshot of the direction provided in the other products regarding how to plan for and execute meaningful public engagement in transportation. Examples may include videos or PowerPoint slide decks targeting different audiences of the research, such as agency executives, practitioners, and elected officials;
  •  Robust implementation plan that articulates a strategy for marketing and bringing this set of resources to the state DOT community; 
  • Transportation decision-making process milestone chart indicating when and how to engage the public. This could be delivered within the contents of, or as an appendix to, the manual;  
  • An annotated bibliography of available resources for agencies and members of the public to use to strengthen their public engagement programs and activities in transportation decision-making; and  
  • Conduct of Research report that documents the entire research process, data collected, recommendations, and products developed.

STATUS: Responses have been received for the RFP. The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.


To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=5139