Innovative Public Involvement Strategies for Improving the Quality and Timeliness of Projects

Focus Area

Context Sensitive Solutions


Community & Cultural Concerns, Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

This project focuses on identifying and developing approaches to more meaningfully involve the public in transportation decision making and to maintain this connection through the development and construction phases. It builds on efforts, such as the FHWA/FTA guide on “Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision Making,” published in 1996, which provides an overview of tools and approaches to involve the public, as well as a range of state and local efforts to improve public involvement processes. In addition, to date, most environmental streamlining efforts have been directed toward permitting and other interagency coordination processes to speed project approval. Very little attention has been given to how public involvement processes affect environmental streamlining at both the planning and project development stages.
This project assumes that a better understanding of what constitutes good practice will allow practitioners to focus on adapting well-developed strategies to suit the specific project or process at hand, rather than struggling to determine when and how to involve the public. The research involves identifying and testing innovative public involvement efforts through pilot demonstrations for a range of different projects and plans; developing training on effective techniques and approaches; and assessing various costs and timeframe implications of different public involvement strategies. It addresses not only specific techniques, but also broad issues associated with scheduling and incorporating active public involvement plans into the planning and project development processes.
a)      Identify and characterize the full spectrum of stakeholders (from elected officials to the general public, and specific subsets of the public, including highway users, affected communities, and minority populations) involved in, or affected by, transportation planning and project development, with a focus on factors that contribute to customer satisfaction for each stakeholder group.

b)      Identification of traditional processes and practices common to many transportation agencies such as long-range planning, implementation planning, concept development, environmental analysis, design, construction, and maintenance that could be modified to incorporate early and continuous stakeholder involvement for successful context-sensitive design/solutions.
c)      Investigate and identify innovative approaches to public involvement to better gauge public opinion of transportation projects and broad visions of community goals, and to involve meaningfully the public in all aspects of decision making, including the “solutions screening process,” alternatives analysis, project design, assessments of design trade-offs, and the construction phase. This task involves investigating approaches used by transportation agencies, other government agencies (such as economic development and land use planning agencies), and the private sector to gauge public opinion (such as use of public polling or surveys, community liaisons, and special initiatives with minority and non-English speaking communities). The approaches should specifically address effective methods to involve the full range of stakeholders, including highway users, communities, and other interest groups.
d)      Test and refine improved public involvement efforts (e.g., more active scheduling of public involvement activities, use of new visualization tools, use of community liaisons, etc.) using pilot demonstrations involving at least three transportation agencies. Develop approaches for evaluating the effectiveness of these public involvement efforts and for assessing the implications in terms of time, cost, and customer satisfaction.
e)      Develop guidance for a stronger incorporation of public involvement in
transportation decision making and project construction procedures. Guidance
should create a customer orientation that permeates operational practices in project planning, development, and construction, and generally improves the agency’s ability to incorporate feedback. Guidance should focus on transportation agency staffing, including use of public involvement specialists, training of project managers, implementation of community liaisons during project construction, and project scheduling to account for a more realistic process of public involvement that is intensive and on-going throughout planning, project development, and project construction processes.
f)        Develop guidance that can be used to anticipate probable costs for various
components of a public involvement plan. In addition, research is needed to provide data on the impact of public involvement on project delivery timeframes and ultimate project cost. Information should be presented in a
format useful to agencies as they allocate appropriate resources for public
involvement. The proposed research would involve:
  • Selection of a national sample of projects across all modes categorized by type, project development cost, construction cost, level of controversy, and complexity of design elements.
  • Characterization of the nature and extent of the public involvement process for each project, identifying strengths and weaknesses as appropriate.
  • Determination of the timelines from project conception through project development to commencement of construction.
  • Comparison of the matrix of projects and determination of how the variable of public involvement affects the development duration and overall cost.
g)      Design, organize, and deliver a training program on improved approaches to public involvement to ensure effective use of public involvement by practitioners and other decision-makers.
h)      Develop cases to demonstrate the effectiveness of various public involvement approaches. Case selection should be focused on instances where the public’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with opportunities for input and use of their input by decision makers had a major effect on the project timeline. Matching cases that are very similar on most dimensions except the quality of the public involvement program for a paired analysis would enhance the usefulness of the research findings.

TERI Administrator Note (2007): related Research
NYDOT, Public Involvement Methodologies and Techniques (Research Underway)

Abstract: Planned deliverables include: inventory and assessment of current practices and capabilities; skills and capacity improvements for public involvement and customer relations; recommendations for policy guidance; case studies and practical applications on various projects programs and PRAs to improve capabilities and capacity. Desired Outcomes: This project is intended to improve public involvement and customer relations effectiveness, capabilities and capacity in order to increase customer satisfaction and public trust of the New York State Department of Transportation.

Urgency and Payoff

This research project will develop guidance for stronger incorporation of public involvement in transportation decision making. It will also involve designing and delivering a training program on improved approaches to public involvement.

The benefits of this work will be to provide transportation agencies with greater guidance on how to effectively engage the public in order to build support for projects and expedite project development. If managed effectively, the process of public involvement has the potential to transforms agency culture into a more customer-oriented organization where decision makers interact directly with their constituents. As a result, transportation stakeholders develop a better understanding of agency operations, and agency officials have a better understanding of public thinking. This mutual education broadly improves the agency’s relationship with the public and results in better projects that are developed in a timelier manner.

Suggested By

Interim Planning Activities for a Future Strategic Highway Research Program: Study 4 - Capacity, Transportation Research Board (2003)

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