Many transportation departments are concerned that the public is relatively uninformed about such issues as how transportation facilities and services are financed, how they are provided, how well they function, and, in general, the importance of an effective transportation system. It is also perceived that the general public has little understanding of such things as the respective roles of federal, state, and local governments and the financial mechanisms being employed to operate and maintain these transportation facilities and services. This limited understanding complicates the process of consensus building in the provision and operation of the transportation system.
It is vital, first, to understand what the public thinks about how transportation is provided and what their feelings are regarding the adequacy of the system and how best to improve it, and, second, to develop and implement techniques for communicating the needed information to fill the identified gaps. In response to the first step, a previous NCHRP project identified and described various market-oriented research techniques and included a demonstration of a nationally conducted public opinion survey. The results of that project are described in NCHRP Report 329, "Using Market Research to Improve Management of Transportation Systems."
Further activity in this area needed to be directed toward using the results of market research, as well as the results of other techniques that have identified communication needs, to help design consumer-oriented programs to communicate with various audiences. Special emphasis was required on techniques to enhance interaction with the public on the development of policies, plans, and programs; the provision of facilities and services; and the performance of the transportation system. This would involve the identification and review of different techniques to assist transportation departments in implementing their own programs. A more effective public outreach program would assist in developing more responsive policies, building consensuses, and designing programs that are both effective and likely to gain broad support.
The objectives of this project were to recommend to state transportation departments programs and techniques to better inform the public of transportation issues and identify examples of effective applications. The research has been completed and produced three products: a handbook, research report, and videotape.
The handbook has been published as NCHRP Report 364, "Public Outreach Handbook for Departments of Transportation." Earlier versions of the handbook, in a notebook format, were provided to state departments of transportation at the 1992 AASHTO annual meeting or soon thereafter. The agency research report, titled "Public Outreach in Transportation Management," documents the conduct of the research effort. A videotape of three presentations at the 1992 AASHTO annual meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota, includes demonstrations of public outreach techniques used in a strategic planning process, in an awareness campaign during the reconstruction of a major highway system, and in the facilitation of an organizational move to a customer service orientation.