New DOT “Promising Practices” Report Aims for Substantive Community Involvement Throughout Transit-Project Rollouts
Picture this: An agency proposing a transit project holds a one-time, in-person event for the community served by the project—promoting the event in limited media outlets. The result? It can effectively cut out those who get their news from different outlets, or for whom in-person events are challenging to attend (i.e., the disabled, those working at the time of the event, etc.).
Such limited outreach efforts are increasingly viewed more as a way to check the “involve-the-community” box rather than considering that community as a bona fide partner in the unfolding of the new project.
Given the rapidly growing importance of incorporating “equity” considerations into a broad range of social, cultural, academic and corporate initiatives, the “check-the-box” mindset, in the eyes of many, falls far short of the ideal.
As such, the U.S. DOT has recently introduced a report entitled, “Promising Practices for Meaningful Public Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making,” with an eye towards “helping DOT funding recipients and partners engage in effective public-involvement practices.”
The initiative is designed as an antidote to the pervasive “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” mindset that often shuts out voices most likely to be impacted by the transit project in question.
“Meaningful Public Involvement” is defined by the DOT as a six-step process:
1) Understand community demographics.
2) Build durable community relationships.
3) Understand community wants and needs.
4) Involve a broad representation of the community.
5) Use community-preferred engagement techniques.
6) Document and share the community’s impact on decisions.
According to the report, the new DOT guidelines are meant to combat the thought process that views public involvement as a one-time event, “…as opposed to an intentional dynamic process that continues throughout all stages of project development.”
The report expands on #5 above, by considering factors such as:
- Determining the priority audience(s)
- Accommodating varying literacy levels and spoken languages (including large print, Braille, and American Sign Language)
- Using adaptive technologies for those with disabilities
- Accommodating those in remote areas
- Making meetings accessible through public transportation, and more.
One of the tools suggested by the report to address such concerns, is Virtual Public Involvement (VPI), where community members can engage with the process online. As the report notes, in addition to boosting transparency as well as accessibility to, and participation in, decision-making activities, “Using VPI tools enhances and broadens the reach of public engagement efforts by making participation more convenient, affordable and enjoyable for greater numbers of people.”
The new guidelines also take aim at historically meager efforts in recording, measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of public involvement activities, underscoring the truth of the adage, “What can’t be measured can’t be managed.”
Transit agencies need to ask community members to rate how effective the agency’s efforts were to engage the community—i.e., did it change perceptions, the project’s actual trajectory, or lead to other local improvements?
When they don’t ask, the agency is missing key performance metrics that could not only optimize the outcome of the project, but also boost the reputation and perception of the transit agency in the eyes of the community it serves.
Passio’s leading-edge, passenger-focused transit technologies can play an important role in this unfolding initiative. By helping transit agencies keep their riders front and center in their planning initiatives, it makes it easier to garner the crucial community buy-in for new projects that can smooth the way towards ideal project outcomes for all involved.
To view the DOT’s report, “Promising Practices for Meaningful Public Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making,” go here: https://bit.ly/DOT-pp-mpi