Public Involvement 101

  • ?What is Public Involvement?

    The following is originally from the FHWA
    Public participation is more than just a hearing, or one meeting near the end of the project development process. Public involvement needs to be an early and continuing part of the transportation and project development process. It is essential that the project sponsor knows the community's values in order to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts, as well as to narrow the field of alternatives (for planning) and alignments (for projects). The community also needs to understand the constraints and tradeoffs of the transportation planning and project development process and to "buy-in" to the transportation needs and purpose.
    Public participation allows the State, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, public transportation providers and resource agencies to know the impacts to the community from the transportation project as viewed by the community. Early and continuing public involvement allows the project sponsor to be aware of the problems and impacts and to deal with these issues early. In that way, attempts can be made so that the impacts can be avoided, minimized or otherwise designed in a manner acceptable to all parties involved. If involved early, the public can provide insight (directly or indirectly) into what their community would find acceptable in the way of mitigation. Often, there are designs or enhancements that will allow the project to fit more harmoniously into the existing community.
    If the demographics, values, impacts, and desires of a community are made known early and on a continuing basis through an effective public involvement process in both the transportation planning and the project development processes, the project sponsor can better incorporate them into the design of the project. Design options can often also add enhancements into the project.
  • ?Why should I care about public involvement?

    ​​​​Public involvement is a fundamental component of effective transportation planning, project development, and implementation. Interested persons need to have the opportunity for a voice in how our transportation system is developed.
  • ?How does public involvement benefit my project or plan?

    Public input provides critical information to more fully understand and assess potential impacts from possible transportation projects and plans as viewed by the community. Early and continuing public involvement allows transportation and resource organizations to be aware of potential issues, problems and impacts, to discuss them more comprehensively, and to determine how to address such concerns.
  • ?How do I get started?

    ​Six key elements have been identified to help create effective public involvement:
    • Create a clearly-defined purpose and objectives for initiating a public dialogue on transportation plans, programs, and projects
    • Identify who the affected public and other stakeholder groups are with respect to the plan(s), program(s), and project(s) under development
    • Identify techniques for engaging the public in the process;
    • Design notification procedures which effectively target affected groups
    • Provide education and assistance techniques which result in an accurate and full public understanding of the transportation problem, potential solutions, and obstacles and opportunities within various solutions to the problem
    • Demonstrate that decision makers have seriously considered public input
  • ?What are the key things I need to consider?

    Public involvement needs to be an early and continuing part of the transportation and project development process. The public must receive assurance that its input is valued and considered in decisionmaking so that it feels that the time and energy expended in getting involved is meaningful and worthwhile. Federal transportation agencies define the public broadly as including all individuals or groups who are potentially affected by transportation decisions. This includes anyone who resides in, has interest in, or does business in a given area which may be affected by transportation decisions. The public includes both individuals and organized groups. In addition, it is important to provide similar opportunities for the participation of all private and public providers of transportation services. Finally, those persons traditionally underserved by existing transportation systems such as low income or minority households and the elderly should be explicitly encouraged to participate in the public involvement process. An effective public involvement process is one that results in a well-informed public which feels it has opportunities to contribute input into transportation decisionmaking processes through a broad array of involvement opportunities at all stages of decisionmaking. In contrast, an ineffective process is one that relies on one or two public meetings or hearings to obtain input immediately prior to decisionmaking on developed draft plans and programs.
  • ?How do I evaluate my public involvement process?

    ​It is important to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of public participation activities for the transportation planning process. By doing so, it is possible to discontinue activities that are ineffective and to improve or add new public participation activities. In order to determine the effectiveness of public participation tools, they must be evaluated and compared to established performance measures and goals.
    Some agencies will ask their own staff about what techniques worked and what didn’t. By soliciting this input on what works and what doesn’t transportation agencies have been able to provide guidance to staff on how to be more responsive to the needs of the public through the provision of training and resource materials.
    Another key way to measure effectiveness of public participation tools are through surveys and quantitative statistical analysis. Surveys typically consist of short, specific questions regarding public involvement tools that are on-going or that were used on a specific project. Surveys can be conducted in person, by phone, mail or e-mail. Statistical analysis can be used to determine the "return on the investment" of producing public participation tools. For example, the number of persons attending an activity can be compared to the number of persons that were notified of the activity. This type of evaluation can be an indicator of whether or not the tools used for public involvement are actually reaching the intended audience, or which tools had a greater response rate. Statistical analysis is used to evaluate survey responses and the results of the analysis are compared to the evaluation measures to determine the rate of success of public participation tools.
  • ?How do I ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate?

    ​Public involvement needs to encompass the full range of community interests, yet people underserved by transportation often do not participate. Not only are they frequently unaware of transportation proposals that could affect their daily lives, but they also may have no means to get to a public meeting or have long work hours that preclude them from attending. Many citizens do not participate in public involvement activities, even though they have important, unspoken issues that should be heard. Some may have a deep mistrust for public officials and government offices, while others may discouraged from participating due to cultural values.
    Interacting with community members yields insight into the reasons why they agree or disagree with proposed plans or projects. The perspective of traditionally underserved people can inform the goals and outcomes of planning and project development. Such individuals can suggest fresh approaches to transportation issues that otherwise would not be raised. However, input from underserved people is not "separate" from other input or given more weight; rather, to be most useful, it is integrated with and balanced by the needs and concerns of all interests.
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