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74 Communicating in an Uncertain Environment C H A P T E R 9 As the transportation planning industry strives to find ways to antici- pate impacts under highly unstable conditions, planners and modelers are also challenged to communicate this uncertainty to senior decision makers and elected officials without the information appearing useless and without providing projections that appear more solid than they are. Billions of dollars of investments are at stake. How does a responsible planning or modeling professional pres- ent forecasts that are steeped in uncertainty without leaving decision makers in high-risk situations and leaving stakeholders suspicious? Conversely, when decision makers, businesses, or citizens are certain that they know the best options for future investment, how do plan- ning professionals constructively educate them so that they internalize that their certainty is unfounded? Saying âI just donât know, but this is the best I can come up withâ is not useful. Likewise, saying âI do knowâ is highly suspect and potentially unethical. How can transporta- tion professionals effectively communicate in these difficult and changing times? This section explores ways to leverage advances in neuroscience to provide enhanced communication that benefits decisions makers and planners. Decision-Making Continuum In making decisions, executives and leaders have a continuum of options: â¢ No-brainer decisions: These are decisions that have been made many times before. They have a been-there-done-that quality. Because the future is like the past, there is little risk and little new thought is required. â¢ Calculated decisions: These are complicated decisions that can be calculated. Again, the future is like the past, so historical experiences assist in calculating a future state with reason- able certainty. Calibrated models support these kinds of decisions in transportation planning. â¢ Nuanced decisions: These are the decisions for which data alone are not enough. Data and analysis are only two of the inputs into a nuanced decision. Nonquantitative factors must also be considered. Politicians and executives inhabit this world and routinely make decisions with this level of uncertainty and risk. â¢ Decisions in uncertainty: These are decisions made during periods of deep change. Hindsight does not lead to foresight. Data provide minimal assistance. It is an uncertain and unnerving time. This is the world in which transportation professionals live when it comes to AVs and their impacts. Modeling is of limited value, past experience is of little use, and the future is not yet clear. Chapter Highlights â¢ Provides guidance for how transporta- tion planners and modelers can com- municate about the uncertain future. â¢ Distinguishes certainties from uncer- tainties in a CAV future and presents tips for talking about both.
Communicating in an Uncertain Environment 75 Planners, modelers, and leaders work inside this framework. Due to confirmation bias (a shortcut in the brain in which new information tends to be interpreted as confirmation of existing beliefs and habits), they will try to force the changing world into their old framework. For example, planners and modelers historically work with calculated deci- sions. For years, models have used reasonably accurate data to provide realistic predictions of a future state. Past was indeed prologue. During uncertainty, planners and modelers naturally seek more data because doing so fits their mental model. Given their habits, they expect decisions to be calculated and will attempt to use models even when data do not exist to support them. Otherwise, they are likely to feel uncomfortable, which leads to reluctance to communicate with leaders. Leadersâparticularly those with a political backgroundâlive with nuanced decisions. Each day they face decisions in which data are an input but not necessarily the basis for the decision. They understand the role of appearance, positioning, and juggling political risks. Trust is their currency. They must maintain the trust of their constituents and colleagues, whose support they need. They are likely to be comfortable in an uncertain environment because, for them, uncer- tainty is normal. Their confirmation bias will cause them to view the implications of AV impacts from the perspective of risk, perception, and messaging. Today, however, planners, modelers, and leaders are being thrust into decision making in deep uncertainty. Research in the field of neuroscience holds tips that provide a framework for communicating during times of deep uncertainty. Talking About Uncertainty Simply put, the brain can be understood as having two electrical circuits: reward and threat. The threat circuitry (via the amygdala) is more easily activated, is faster, and influences behav- ior and reactivity quickly. With the slightest provocation, the threat circuit is set into motion. There are five ways to activate either the threat or the reward circuits (Rock 2008), two of which are most relevant here: certaintyâuncertainty and controlâlost control. The intent is to present information to leaders in such a way that the reward circuitry is maximized and the threat cir- cuitry is minimized. The goal is to intentionally communicate what is certain while being clear about uncertainty and to emphasize where there is control while being honest about where there is no control. Certainty: What We Know When communicating with leaders, a planner or modeler can discuss that for which there is reasonable certainty. For example, the planner or modeler knows transportation trends, observes investment patterns for AV technology, and can make reasonable estimates of high- and low-risk transportation investments. While being careful not to overstate the surety of transportation trends, planners and modelers generally know there is â¢ Growth of the sharing economy, â¢ Decline of auto ownership among younger adults, and â¢ Preference for mixed-use communities in many urban areas. They can observe that the AV industry â¢ Is motivated by the private sector, â¢ Receives heavy private investment in AV technology from large companies, and Transportation planners and modelers are challenged not only to finds ways to anticipate impacts under highly unstable conditions but also to com- municate the uncertainty to decision makers and policy makers.
76 Updating Regional Transportation Planning and Modeling Tools to Address Impacts of Connected and Automated Vehicles â¢ Has automotive companies positioning for a shifting auto ownership model and the growth of transportation network providers. Additionally, not all transportation investments carry equal risk. Low-risk investments are those that are unlikely to be heavily affected by AV technology over the investmentâs life span. They may include â¢ Resurfacing and rehabilitation of existing roadways and bridges, â¢ Projects within existing right of way, â¢ Updating of traffic signal systems, and â¢ Projects that can be completed quickly and have a short life span. In short, reasonable certainty that AVs are on their way exists, and the planning and modeling communities can provide guidance on the features and project types that are low risk and that can proceed without undue concern. Uncertainty: What We Do Not Know Today, many unknowns about AVs and their impacts exist. To maintain trust with decision makers and policy makers, it is essential to be honest and straightforward about uncertainties. For example, for AVs, there is uncertainty about â¢ The specific time horizon for AV entrance into the market, â¢ The split between fleet and private ownership, â¢ Market acceptance, â¢ The speed of market penetration, and â¢ The impact on travel (more or less VMT). These unknowns create high-risk investments that may be significantly affected by AVs and have high costs and long life cycles. These projects require more deliberation and may lend themselves to an incremental decision-making approach. High-risk investments may include â¢ Extensive right-of-way purchase in an urban area; â¢ Long-term agreements for operation of roadways or parking structures; â¢ Large-scale widening projects, particularly in urban areas; â¢ Large-scale transit projects in urban areas; â¢ Projects that have a project development period; and â¢ Projects that have a long life span. Control: What We Have Control Over Decision makers and policy makers have more control than they may think, and planners and modelers can assist by highlighting these areas when communicating with them. Decision makers control â¢ Which projects to support and when; â¢ The way they move forward, such as â Proceeding with low-risk projects, â Implementing exploratory projects, and â Increasing their options by inserting incremental decision points into high-risk projects; â¢ Which policies to implement and when; and â¢ Development of messaging plans for high-risk investments.
Communicating in an Uncertain Environment 77 Control: Where to Take Control Decision makers and policy makers can create control by adding flexibility to high-risk proj- ects in the form of incremental decision points, thereby reducing the risk. At each decision point in the project development process [programming; start of the environmental process; and start of plan, specification, and estimate (PS&E) development immediately prior to letting], the proj- ect can be reassessed to determine whether revisions are needed on the basis of the evolution of the AV environment. Choose Words Carefully Fundamental to responsible communication during deep uncertainty is plannersâ choice of language. Prior to communicating information on AVs and other related advances, planners must be prudent in considering word choice. Planners and modelers should be cognizant of the differences between fact and conjecture and between certain and probable, so that they avoid predictions and bias toward assuredness. Examples include the following wording: 1. Overly assured: âThe results of the modeling show that AVs will impact. . . .â More accurate: âWe were simply exploring what might be possible, given how the models are calibrated with todayâs data.â 2. Overly assured: âThe information from the survey says that the outcome will be. . . .â More accurate: âAs with all human behavior, choices could change when people actually get accustomed to the technology.â 3. Overly assured: âThe media report that company Xâs AVs will be on the road very soon.â More accurate: âPlease note that, although what is trending in the media is encouraging, there remain many issues to be resolved.â 4. Overly assured: âAs a planner, I am excited about the potential positive changes we can make with this new technology.â More accurate: âGiven what I just presented, we must be aware that the technology is pos- sible, and it is probable that it will develop to maturity, but our expectations of impacts will take much more time to be proven.â Planners and modelers can (and must) be effective communicators to executives and leaders during this time of deep uncertainty. They do so by (a) being aware of the differences in decision- making approaches, (b) consciously framing their comments to leverage certainty versus uncer- tainty and control versus no control in their discussions, and (c) choosing words responsibly and carefully.