The National Academies

NCHRP 20-78 [Completed]

Communicating the Value of Research

  Project Data
Funds: $307,123
Research Agency: NuStats, LLC
Principal Investigator: Johanna Zmud
Effective Date: 2/22/2007
Completion Date: 2/28/2010


The objective of this project was to develop a guide for successfully communicating the value of transportation research projects and programs. The material in the guide should be based on the results of communications research and best practices.


The overview and guide have been published.  Task 11 is complete.   


NCHRP Report 610: Communication Matters, a guidebook to communicating the value of transportation research; an Overview of NCHRP Report 610; and NCHRP Web-Only Document 131, the contractor's final report.


The nation's transportation system is a complex, dynamic, multimodal network of physical and virtual infrastructure, operations, and management practices. Its ability to move people and goods is essential to domestic productivity, international competitiveness, and quality of life.

Research is a small percentage of federal and state transportation budgets, but the return on this investment can be quite significant. Effective communication of the value of transportation research is needed to justify the resources spent on it and to leverage more support for implementing research results. Many transportation researchers and research managers struggle to meet these communication needs.

Investments in the transportation system are enormous--more than $1.3 trillion annually or 16 percent of the gross domestic product--and transportation accounts for 11 percent of national employment. Given the nation's crowded and deteriorating infrastructure, transportation professionals must sustain America's mobility by finding innovative ways to safely and efficiently move people and goods under more challenging conditions in the years to come. To be relevant and vital, transportation research must contribute to this innovation and play a greater role in the continuing national transportation debate.


Task 1.  Identify audiences that need a better understanding of the value of transportation research (e.g., media, legislators, state departments of transportation (DOT) CEOs and CFOs, and potential implementers of the research). For each audience, describe its information needs and preferred communication modalities.

Task 2.  Interview people responsible for justifying and explaining transportation research programs (both national and state) to determine the communications approaches and messaging strategies that have been used. Interview appropriate decision makers to assess the success of these approaches and strategies. Submit a working paper--2 months after the contract effective date--that describes and assesses the research-related communications efforts leading to the passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). 

Task 3.  Describe the characteristics of transportation research projects that would be useful for in-depth evaluation (Task 4) of the communication practices associated with them. Identify a suitable number of projects for Task 4 evaluation through contacts with state DOT research managers and other sources.  These projects should cover diverse sets of states and research topics. 

Task 4.  For the entire life-cycle of the transportation research projects selected in Task 3, interview participants in the process to (1) map the communication flow from initiation through implementation; (2) determine the communication practices (e.g., information design strategy; narrative structure, messaging, and arguments; modality; media) that were used; (3) elicit the participants' understanding of their roles as communicators and advocates of the project; and (4) determine typical responses to the communication strategy. 

Task 5.  Analyze the communication approaches and messaging strategies identified in Tasks 1 through 4. 

Task 6.  Compare the approaches and strategies from Task 5 with best practices from other fields and results of communications research. Describe communication approaches and messaging strategies that could be used to better communicate the value of research in transportation.

Task 7.  Develop guidelines and recommendations to effectively communicate the value of transportation research projects and programs to those who "set the agenda" and make the decisions (e.g., state and federal legislators, state and federal DOT executives, and media). By September 2007, submit an interim report for NCHRP review presenting the current vision of these guidelines and recommendations and illustrating their applicability to making the case for an investment in transportation research. 

Task 8.  Develop guidelines and recommendations to effectively promote the application of innovations developed through transportation research. It is expected that these guidelines and recommendations will build on those from Task 7 to address the specifics of implementing a particular research product. 

Task 9.  Combine the results of Task 7 and Task 8 into a guide that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), state DOTs, and other organizations can use to improve their ability to communicate the value of transportation research. The guide should include diverse examples to illustrate the use of the principles and concepts discussed. As appropriate, these examples should address issues identified in TRB's
Critical Issues in Transportation.

Task 10.  Submit a final report that documents the research effort and includes the guide developed in Task 9 as a stand-alone appendix.

Task 11.   Develop materials for conducting workshops on the research results.  Pilot test this material at several meetings, including the January 2010 TRB meeting.

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