The National Academies

NCHRP 20-45 [Completed]

Scientific Approaches for Transportation Research

  Project Data
Funds: $199,999
Research Agency: Georgia Institute of Technology
Principal Investigator: Simon Washington
Effective Date: 3/23/1998
Completion Date: 3/31/2001

Background: Most transportation agencies have either a research organization or a research function. Yet, there is no formal guidance or training available for agency personnel who perform or supervise research on what constitute sound, scientific research methods and approaches. Many members of the transportation research community have voiced the need for guidance and training for applying principles of scientific inquiry to the spectrum of transportation problems. This need is even greater for agencies where individuals without prior research experience are assigned to manage research programs or to conduct research.

In response to this need, a manual was prepared under NCHRP Project 20-7, Task 74, "Development of a Manual for Scientific Inquiry into Transportation Problems: Research Methodologies." Using this manual as a foundation, the NCHRP has decided to further develop the concept of a single comprehensive source of information for methods of research and project planning and execution. Because of the difficult, but important, nature of the subject, more attention will be focused on presentations for statistical methods and applications. A new document, Scientific Approaches for Transportation Research, consisting of two volumes is envisioned. Volumes I and II will be subtitled Principles and Processes and Design, Analysis, and Interpretation, respectively.

The basis for Volume I, Principles and Processes, will be the manual developed under NCHRP Project 20-7, Task 74, excluding Chapter 4, Statistical Considerations in the Design and Analysis of Research Studies; Appendix I, Glossary; Appendix IV, Illustrations and Examples of Methods of Data Analysis and Study Design; and Appendix VIII, Training and Development Course Outline. The resulting Volume I will provide state-of-the-art techniques for problem statement development; literature searches; development of research work plans; execution of experiments; data collection; management and quality control; reporting of results; methods for evaluating the effectiveness of research; and requirements for professional and ethical conduct of transportation research. The original authorship of the material in Volume I must be recognized during the research effort and in the final deliverables.

Volume II, Design, Analysis, and Interpretation, will be newly created and will provide guidance for research managers on the appropriate uses of statistical techniques. Volume II will develop descriptive and quantitative techniques and methods that are considered important to performing transportation research. Volume II should be a resource that raises the level of awareness concerning statistical techniques and their usefulness in transportation research.

Training will be required to ensure use of the document Scientific Approaches for Transportation Research. Using this document as a resource, a training course based on Volumes I and II, suitable for possible presentation under the Federal Highway Administration's National Highway Institute (NHI), will be developed.

Objective: The objective of this research project is to develop (1) a comprehensive document describing scientific approaches for transportation research and (2) a training course for researchers and research managers on the conduct of research for state DOTs. The ultimate goal is to improve the skills of transportation researchers and research managers. The material developed will assume the audience has little to no prior research experience.

Tasks: Accomplishment of the project objective will require the following tasks: (1) Fully develop the outline for Volume II and draft one chapter, which will be selected by the NCHRP. (2) Identify other resources that could complement or supplement the document, primarily Volume II. This will form the basis of a recommended "bookshelf" of highly relevant references including Internet sources. (3) Develop a plan of action for Task 8 to evaluate how well the document (Volumes I and II) meets the needs of researchers and research managers. Use a representative sample of state DOT personnel. (4) Submit an interim report, within 3 months, to document Tasks 1 through 3 for review by the NCHRP. The contractor will be expected to meet with the NCHRP approximately 1 month later. NCHRP approval will be required before proceeding with subsequent tasks. (5) Fully develop Volume II and the bookshelf. Volume II will summarize available techniques and methods and their characteristics. Note that Volume II is not intended to be a text book. Volume II should include: (a) practical applications of statistical techniques to transportation research problems, (b) identification of those techniques where expert advice should be sought, (c) methods for development of study designs, data analyses, and proper interpretation of results, (d) sample uses of selected classes of commercial software products for the assessment of data, problem analysis, and interpretation of results, (e) specific examples to illustrate appropriate and inappropriate uses of selected parametric and nonparametric statistical methods such as hypothesis testing conventions, linear regression, multiple and multivariate regression, ANOVA, and MANOVA, and (f) an appended bookshelf of carefully selected, highly relevant references. (6) Prepare Volume I from the previously developed manual and revise as needed to be consistent with Volume II. (7) Submit the fully developed document (Volumes I and II) and an annotated list of bookshelf references to the NCHRP. Two months will be required for NCHRP review and approval before starting Task 8. (8) Execute the Task 3 evaluation plan. Submit results of the evaluation to the NCHRP. Based on subsequent NCHRP direction, make necessary revisions to the document and bookshelf. (9) In close coordination with the NHI staff, develop a modular training course and associated material for the overall content, Volume I, Volume II, and, where appropriate, major chapters of the document. A variety of examples and case studies related to transportation should be included. Investigate the potential for satisfying continuing education requirements for maintaining professional registration in affected states. (10) Provide and evaluate pilot training sessions for researchers and research managers from state DOTs. Pre- and post-testing of participants shall be included, as a minimum, for the training modules on Volumes I and II. (11) From the results of Task 10, revise the document, course outline, and materials. (12) Submit final deliverables to include: (a) a final report documenting the research effort; (b) the comprehensive document, Scientific Approaches for Transportation Research, Volume I, Principles and Processes, and Volume II, Design, Analysis and Interpretation; (c) an annotated list of bookshelf references; and (d) course material and its modules. The best method(s) of dissemination (e.g., print, CD-ROM, Internet) of the document (item b) and bookshelf (item c) shall be recommended. The course material (item d) shall include, as a minimum, the course content, outline, and objectives; student and instructor materials; instructor qualifications; visual and other learning aids; teaching materials; pre- and post-testing tools; and background and reference materials. These training materials must conform to an NHI format or other previously agreed-on standards and must be in a reproducible form.

Status: The NCHRP research contract is complete and the agency's final report is available on CD. An FHWA National Highway Institute (NHI) course is proposed and is moving forward. Pilot training courses were held on February 5-8, 2001, in Arlington, Virginia, and on May 20-23, 2002, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On completion of the training courses, a final version of the two-volume manual and revised training material were submitted.

Product Availability: The agency's final report, Volumes I and II, Scientific Approaches for Transportation Research, is available as CRP-CD-22.

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