Public Involvement Techniques

There are many techniques for engaging stakeholders and the public. Techniques need to be tailored to specific circumstances.

"In increasing numbers, public agencies are beginning to reach out to communities in order to work collaboratively on programs for improvement. In other instances, it is the community that starts the process, inviting government participation. In either case, the following procedures can help further a community's involvement in understanding and addressing issue of concern, planning for improvements, and working with public agencies to ensure their implementation."

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Selecting Public Involvement Techniques
  "No two projects are exactly alike, and public involvement tools and techniques should be tailored to reflect the particular character of each project - its group of stakeholders, its geographic location, the successes and failures of previous public outreach programs, the level of complexity and controversy, and so on." "Experience on many projects has shown that... project team participation in community- and stakeholder-sponsored activities may yield much more satisfactory results. In many cases, taking the project to the stakeholders, rather than the reverse, increases the likelihood of successful information exchange."
- NCHRP Report 480

Learn how to decide which public involvement technique is right for the particular point you are at in a given project.
Citizen Initiated Processes
  This section proposes a number of steps for communities to take in responding to a specific transportation project.
Visualization Techniques (Visioning)
  "Visioning is used to create a statement of goals or to begin to develop a long range plan. Typically, it consists of a series of meetings focused on long-range issues. With a 20- or 30-year horizon, visioning also sets a strategy for achieving the goals. Visioning has been used to set a long-range statewide transportation plan in Ohio, a statewide comprehensive plan in New Jersey, and a regional land-use and transportation plan in the Seattle, Washington, region. The Governor of Georgia, acting as "Chief Planner," used it to create long-range goals for the State. Central Oklahoma 2020 is a visioning project for a regional plan. Visioning can also be used to develop short term plans as well, with implementation phases of 10 years or less."
- FHWA, Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision Making

Read more about Why it is useful, who participates, who leads, how the agency uses the information, etc.
Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats
  "Conferences, workshops, and retreats are special meetings to inform people and solicit input on specific policy issues, plans, or projects. In size and importance, they range from a subset of a larger meeting to a large multi-day event.
- FHWA, Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision-making

Read more about why and when they are useful, who participates, how the agency uses the feed back and what the drawbacks are.
Citizen Advisory Committees
  A civic advisory committee is a representative group of stakeholders that meets regularly to discuss issues of common concern. While these groups are often called citizens' advisory committees, the term civic is sometimes used, since citizenship is not a requirement for participation. Civic advisory committees (CACs) have been used for many years and are not in themselves innovative, yet they can be used very creatively. For example, a CAC was used in Louisiana to find consensus on environmental issues for input to public agencies. In Florida a CAC advised on designs for deployment of a traffic information system. Read more about Why are they useful? Who participates? and how? How do agencies use the output? What are the basic features? Who leads it? How is it organized? Contact these Transportation Authorities for information about their CACs.
Media Strategies
  Media strategies are used to inform the public about projects and programs through newspapers, radio, television and videos, billboards, posters and variable message signs, mass mailings of brochures or newsletters, and distribution of fliers.
Community Impact Assessment
  The Florida DOT defines CIA as: "the process to evaluate the effects of a transportation action on communities and their quality of life - the human environment. Its focus is on the early and continuous gathering of information from the community and other sources. This information is used as input into transportation decision making throughout the planning, project development, design, mitigation, and construction of a project."
- Florida State DOT, Community Impact Assessment
Website Icon Website Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision-Making (opens in a new window)
For the transportation community, involving the public in planning and project development poses a major challenge. Many people are skeptical about whether they can truly influence the outcome of a transportation project, whether highway or transit. Others feel that transportation plans, whether at the statewide or metropolitan level, are too abstract and long-term to warrant attention. Often the public finds both metropolitan and statewide transportation improvement programs incomprehensible.

How, then, does a transportation agency grab and hold people’s interest in a project or plan, convince them that active involvement is worthwhile, and provide the means for them to have direct and meaningful impact on its decisions? This report gives agencies access to a wide variety of tools to involve the public in developing specific plans, programs, or projects through their public involvement processes.
--  Federal Highway Administration
Article Icon Public Involvement Techniques: Systematic Development of Informed Consent
"Systematic Development of Informed Consent(SDIC) seeks to 1) establish the public agency's legitimate role by casting its program as one aimed at problemsolving and, 2) to communicate to the public the serious nature of the problem the agency is attempting to address ... The premise of the SDIC process is that accomplishing these two objectives, in combination with a thorough public involvement process, will allow an agency to achieve informed consent..."
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Structured Public Involvement: Problems and Prospects for Improvement
Public involvement in transportation planning and design has a problematic history. This situation has arisen both because professionals lack access to a coherent, organized method for communicating with the public, and because some important principles of public involvement, known to community design professionals, are still being discovered by transportation professionals. This paper proposes a protocol named Structured Public Involvement (SPI), which is designed to ensure that public involvement is meaningful to the professional and the public. This paper sets forth principles of SPI and a details series of steps useful in engaging the general public in a complex design or planning problem.

SPI aims to be transparent, accountable, democratic, and efficient. SPI situates the use of technology within a public involvement framework built on community design experience. While technology, in the form of visualization tools, decision modeling, and computer-aided facilitation, can be useful, it must be placed in social context. That is, various technologies are employed for their ability to address problems in the public involvement process, such as lack of access to information, inconvenient and time-consuming meetings, confusing terms and graphics, and one-way communication. Highlights and examples are drawn from practical experience, where SPI protocols have been designed and used to solve problems of route planning, highway design and transit-oriented development. While each problem set called for a different mix of technical tools, the protocol within which those tools were used was the same, with similar encouraging results. Using SPI, public participation is less contentious and more informed and the professional has much higher quality information with which to begin the design process.
--  Kentucky Transportation Center
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report State of the Practice: White Paper on Public Involvement
Public involvement is the process of two-way communication between citizen and government by which transportation agencies and other officials give notice and information to the public and use public input as a factor in decision making. In the past decade a radical transformation has occurred in the way transportation decisions are made. A new decision model has emerged and continues to be refined. The model assumes that public input into the assessment of transportation needs and solutions is a key factor in most transportation decision making.

Several factors have contributed to this change. Since the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), there has been a federally mandated emphasis on early, proactive, and sustained citizen input into transportation decision making - with special outreach efforts targeted at traditionally underserved populations. ISTEA's directive was reinforced by the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) near the end of the decade. States and localities have developed protocols and guidelines to interpret these mandates. In widely varying ways, they have transformed their transportation agencies and blended these mandates with local customs and expectations.
--  Transportation Research Board (TRB)
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Getting it Right in the Right of Way: Citizen Participation in Context-Sensitive Highway Design
Getting It Right In the Right-of-Way is an action guide for people who want roads that preserve the beauty of their communities, as well as roads that are safe, durable, and economical to maintain.
--  Scenic America

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