The National Academies

NCHRP 08-179 [Pending]

Strategies and Actions for Collaboration: A Guide for DOTs, MPOs, and Partners

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Trey Joseph Wadsworth
Comments: A research agency has been selected for the project. The contracting process is underway.


State departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have been working in partnership for over 60 years under the concept of “3C planning,” in which their transportation planning activities are continuing, comprehensive, and cooperative. Since the 1960s, the scope and requirements of transportation planning have evolved for state DOTs and MPOs through federal aid provided with each successive transportation authorization bill. New and multidisciplinary planning activities have been authorized or required, shifting the paradigm from complying with the legally required minimum of cooperative approaches to collaborative approaches with a broader set of partners.

In 2016, the U.S. DOT published the Regional Models of Cooperation Handbook to promote notable examples of regional cooperation for various topic areas. In the 7 years since its publication, transportation planning has continued to evolve with a growing list of multidimensional outcomes and shared objectives that state DOTs and MPOs strive to achieve, directly or indirectly, through partnerships with other agencies, local governments, and others. As transportation agencies shift toward more community-centered outcomes, opportunities and challenges for collaboration are impacted by many contextual factors. 

These factors may include different-sized state DOTs and MPOs; state legislation; skill, capacity, and resource variances among agencies; and competing priorities. Additionally, emerging technology, freight, e-commerce, public health, housing, and land use drive the need to work with an additional set of partners. Research is needed to provide state DOTs and MPOs with actionable models of collaboration beyond the traditional cooperative approaches with specific recommendations for implementation.


The objective of this research is to develop a guide to provide state DOTs and MPOs with (1) implementable collaboration models for existing or emerging issues areas and (2) aspirational models where practices do not yet exist to strengthen state DOTs and MPOs relationships, external partnerships, and capacity to achieve community-centered outcomes. 

Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.


The sequencing of tasks and deliverables (such as technical memorandums or summary reports) shall be structured for delivery in quarterly progress report submissions where specific deliverables are requested or proposed. There will be three project phases, with a 2-year duration broken into eight 3-month quarters.  

For proposal consideration, a clear and concise engagement strategy to achieve the research objective shall be developed and presented in the proposal under the header “Engagement Strategy.” Engagement is envisioned for several purposes: (1) identifying priority issue areas to examine where collaboration models are needed, (2) identifying challenges and opportunities for collaboration or leveraging capacity and skills effectively, (3) identifying models of collaboration or designing aspirational models, and (4) conducting a workshop for the draft guide before finalization. Proposers may consider using focus groups, peer exchanges, or other methods as appropriate in the first two phases. NCHRP discourages using survey questionnaires for this project unless necessary to gather information from MPOs. This engagement strategy will be considered under the second evaluation criteria described in Special Note F.


The first phase includes tasks to initiate the project and consists of the delivery of (1) the Amplified Research Plan, (2) a kick-off meeting (with summary notes), (3) a detailed memorandum identifying how to operationalize the engagement strategy as proposed, (4) engagement of DOTs and MPOs to identify issue areas for focus in later tasks, and (5) a scan of practice and literature review.

To identify existing collaboration models or aspirational models to design, the research team must be guided toward issue areas that are most in need of collaboration. This requires input from the community of practice through an engagement activity. The research team shall consider the following in the execution of the engagement.

  • Planning or programming activities that necessitate collaboration (1) between MPOs and state DOTs or (2) among MPOs, state DOTs, and other partners (for example, local governments, regional agencies or councils, transit operators, freight, federal partners, tribal communities, or agencies for housing, economic development, environmental protection, parks, or land management).
  • Planning or programming activities that are emerging or multidimensional as exemplified in the six aspiration goals in the vision framework identified in NCHRP Research Results Digest 404: Collective and Individual Actions to Envision and Realize the Next Era of America’s Transportation Infrastructure: Phase I (found here: https://doi.org/10.17226/27263).  
  • Challenges to collaboration that could stem from (1) contextual factors such as administrative practices or processes or legislative requirements, (2) complex jurisdictional arrangements related to urbanized areas, bi- or tri-state MPOs, etc., (3) from additional planning requirements (for example, transportation management areas, non-attainment areas, international border crossings, etc.), or (4) historical relationship challenges such as mistrust, conflict, miscommunication, or unaligned or competing priorities.
  • Development, alignment, and approval of federally required transportation plans and programming documents. For example, finding alignment with plans and programs required in prior transportation authorization bills with the newly required plans and programs in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
  • Activities to plan for equity, environmental justice, Justice40 Initiative, Title VI compliance, and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Data acquisition, collection, harmonization, analysis, maintenance, and sharing. 

The research team shall execute the engagement activity and prepare a summary report. The report shall detail findings and propose issue areas for the scan of practice and literature review.  

The scan of practice and literature review shall focus on the approved issue areas and may include, but is not limited to, a review of collaboration methods used by state DOTs, MPOs, and other partners. This review shall identify and assess collaboration methods, document best practices, and suggest areas of improvement or new model design for practice gaps. Information shall be gathered from DOTs and MPOs that represent the spectrum of contextual factors that make relationships unique and ultimately influence the opportunities or barriers to collaboration. 


Note: There are two NCHRP synthesis projects on topics that may assist the research team in avoiding duplication of effort: NCHRP Project 20-05/Topic 55-05, “Practices for Statewide and MPO Coordination” (found here https://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=5288) and NCHRP Project 20-05/Topic 54-08, “Practices for Integrating Performance-Based Plans with Long-Range Transportation Plans and Statewide Transportation Investment Programs” (found here https://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=5291). DOTs were surveyed in early 2023 to document practices, and the results will be available for this project; however, MPOs were not included in the information gathering.


At the conclusion of Phase I, the research team shall deliver the first interim report and updated Phase II research plan. The interim report shall include (1) initial concepts for collaboration models and the design of aspirational models, and (2) a detailed outline for the proposed guide. One month shall be reserved for review and NCHRP approval. The research agency shall not proceed to the next phase without NCHRP's approval of the interim report and updated research plan. An in-person interim meeting shall immediately follow a workshop. The intent of the workshop is for DOTs, MPOs, and nontraditional partners to further the exploration of opportunities and challenges to collaboration. The results of the workshop shall inform or refine the activities in Phase II.



The proposer shall propose tasks for Phase II that substantially achieve the research objectives and further identify nontraditional partners for DOTs and MPOs to include in their collaboration. Phase II tasks shall build upon the findings from Phase I. 

The research team shall propose the content, format, and organization of the guide for review and approval before proceeding with the development of the guide. The intent of the guide is to assist practitioners in easily extracting key actions and applying strategies for collaboration. 

At the end of Phase II, the research team shall deliver the second interim report and updated Phase III research plan with a virtual interim meeting. One month shall be reserved for review and NCHRP approval. The research agency shall not proceed to the next phase without NCHRP's approval of the interim report and updated research plan.




The project's third phase shall be reserved for developing the final deliverables and not exceed two project quarters. The final deliverables shall include:

  1. A guide,
  2. A conduct of research report that documents the entire research effort,
  3. A PowerPoint presentation with speaker notes that summarizes the project and distinctly illustrates for the audience how the research can be applied in their organization,
  4. A draft article suitable for publication in the TR News (no guarantee of publication is implied), and 
  5. An implementation plan.


STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.

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