The National Academies

NCHRP 08-161 [Active]

Cultivating Accountability Through Meaningful Public Engagement

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Staff Responsibility: Jennifer L. Weeks
Research Agency: Center for Neighborhood Technology
Principal Investigator: Heidy Persaud
Effective Date: 11/27/2023
Completion Date: 5/26/2026

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.
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: The project is now active. 


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