National Cooperative Highway Research Program publishes new communications guide for state DOTs


A new research study concludes that now, more than ever, public agencies and departments of transportation (DOTs) should communicate under an integrated structure using strategic communications planning, in order to effectively engage with stakeholders, customers and the general public.

Conducted on behalf of the USA’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and sponsored by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the two-year research study was led by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff (WSP-PB), with the results condensed in a Communications Guide for State Departments of Transportation publication that is available for free through both AASHTO and from WSP-PB websites. The new guide is one of a number of projects overseen by the NCHRP, which addresses issues integral to the state DOTs and transportation professionals at all levels of government and the private sector. Administered by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and sponsored by AASHTO’s member DOTs, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the NCHRP acts as a forum for coordinated and collaborative research and provides practical, ready-to-implement solutions to pressing problems facing the industry.

The WSP-PB-led research project involved a series of surveys; personal interviews with communicators, outside experts, public agency CEOs, and other leaders in state departments of transportation; as well as a review of effective communications practices in the public and private sector. The guide includes resources such as templates, graphics and other tools to illustrate the strategies and practices that have been or may be used successfully by communications teams. The guidelines also include the role, purpose, and importance of communications functions, and how these functions should be organizationally structured, coordinated, and aligned with agency leadership and goals.

“This guide can be an important tool for any transportation agency looking to align its public outreach with its organizational goals and priorities,” explained Lloyd Brown, AASHTO’s director of communication. “By capturing best practices and sharing success stories, this guide provides an in-depth look at strategies for both the organizational leader and the practitioner that can streamline and improve communications programs.”

The communications and public involvement practice at WSP-PB includes 25 professionals who are applying in-practice expertise to national research studies, such as the new AASHTO guide, and to hundreds of infrastructure projects across the USA. With diverse experience in all areas of communications and public involvement, the company’s team is adept at using emerging technologies with traditional techniques to engage the public and develop strategic communication plans for projects and public agencies.

Darrel W Cole, principal investigator for the NCHRP study and manager of WSP-PB’s communications and public involvement practice, commented, “Public agencies, including state transportation departments, are continually looking for ways to embrace more effective practices. For all communicators, how they did their job 10 years ago is vastly different than how they must do their jobs today. This guide provides some of the resources to agencies that want to enhance specific areas of their communication functions.”

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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).