Best Practices for Using Online Tools in Public Involvement Processes

Public involvement processes for transportation planning and project development require active participation to ensure that many points of view are taken into consideration. Although transportation agencies strive to ensure that a wide cross-section of people is included, there are often people who want to participate but are unable to because of schedule conflicts or logistical challenges such as physical disability or transportation inaccessibility. Fortunately, the increasing availability of today’s communication technologies offers an opportunity not only to help those with logistic challenges to participate in public meetings but also to provide an alternative to those who may wish to participate remotely. Moreover, transportation agencies have been adopting many new and innovative communication media to increase public participation, especially from minorities and underserved population groups. However, there are no specific guidelines on adopting these communication media in transportation public involvement. Online public involvement tools have the potential to broaden stakeholder outreach in transportation decision making. Online tools provide opportunities for members of the public to learn about transportation studies or projects and provide input without having to travel to a specific place at a specific time. Online tools provide access to people who may have limitations in time and travel. As online technology rapidly shifts and changes, having a set of guidelines, or best practices, will assist agencies in successfully using these technologies. Although the concept of “online technology” is relatively new and evolving, there exists a set of lasting public involvement principles that can help guide online public involvement. Developing guidelines to streamline the process of incorporating online tools in public involvement would help improve the perception of using online technologies within transportation agencies and among the general public. NCHRP Synthesis 538: Practices for Online Public Involvement, published in 2019, identified the current state of the practice for online public involvement tools used by state departments of transportation (DOTs). The report also identified additional areas of research, including integrating online tools with traditional outreach activities, managing the quality of public online input, and understanding the impact of staffing and other resources on the use and quality of online public involvement activities. However, as discussed in NCHRP Synthesis 538, very little research (if any) was available on the adoption of online communication strategies. The proposed research would compile best practices for selecting, implementing, and addressing public input received using online public involvement tools. The final product may be an actionable best practices guide with specific lessons learned and recommendations for selecting, creating, and using online public involvement tools; integrating online and in-person public involvement; and priorities for online public involvement with specific population segments (including people of different races/ethnicities, household incomes, ages, genders, languages, and disabilities) to potentially address equity issues. Major tasks might include: (1) Formative research with members of the public about their interest in and expectations for effective online public involvement. (2) User experience testing with the public and agencies for different online public involvement tools/approaches from identified pilot applications. (3) Use of the toolkit included in NCHRP Research Report 905: Measuring the Effectiveness of Public Involvement in Transportation Planning and Project Development, published in 2019, to assess the effectiveness of online public involvement for transportation projects. (4) Qualitative research with public involvement professionals, online public involvement creators, and members of the public from specific population segments to help validate and refine the final deliverable. (5) Identifying and assessing equity-related issues of using online tools for public involvement. The research results can be presented in a manual or user guide format (both print and online) with actionable guidelines and best practices for conducting online public involvement integrated with traditional in-person outreach. This guide may provide concise principles, objectives, and best practices for each phase of public involvement. State DOTs will be more readily accepting of leveraging these tools with well-researched guidance about public reception toward these tools and transportation agencies’ effective implementation of them. The proposed research would fill the need for guidance to give transportation agencies direction as to best professional practices to implement a range of online tools for meaningful public involvement. Realizing that tools and technology change over time, the guidance should focus on principles and key considerations to make a range of online tools successful for outreach. Many DOTs are experimenting with online tools, and well-researched guidance would help DOTs avoid pitfalls and improve cost efficiencies and time efficiencies to maximize potential benefits of pairing online tools with in-person outreach.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $500000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 08-142

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Hartell, Ann

  • Start Date: 20200609
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01739638
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 08-142
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: May 18 2020 3:05PM