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12 Why Is Public Engagement Important? Meaningful public engagement is an essential component to equity analyses. Federal planning regulations and equity-related directives require the engage- ment of underserved populations in transportation decision making. Public participation plans (PPPs) and language assistance plans are vital to public engagement; MPOs are required to report them to FTA as part of their over- all Title VI plans. In addition to complying with requirements, however, agencies can use public engagement techniques to gain critical insights that are difficult or impossible to discern from quantitative analyses, and to effec- tively address unique concerns and values. Develop an Inclusive Public Engagement Plan The meaningful engagement of underserved persons is a core compo- nent of equitable transportation decision making. Inclusion is the bridge between diversity and equity. For engagement to be meaningful, it is not enough simply to inform a diverse array of individuals and communities about a transportation planning or decision-making process. It is impor- tant that MPOs actively foster inclusive engagement that is designed to invite underserved per- sons to express their needs, concerns, and ideas, andâperhaps most importantlyâto trust that their input will be considered. Some underserved persons may live in communities that have a history of being effectively shut out of transportation investment decisions that generated sig- nificant impacts on their neighborhoods, such as bisection, isolation, or widespread demolition. Others may be part of immigrant groups that are wary of engaging in public discourse due to prior experiences in their countries of origin or because they are afraid of deportation. MPOs are advised to consider the potential for these kinds of barriers to participation in a region and employ sensitive, tailored communication techniques to make sure all voices are heard. Meaningful engagement requires one to acknowledge the diversity that exists within a region and uses tailored engagement strategies designed to help everyone feel comfortable in conveying their needs and desires for consideration in the transportation decision-making process. MPOs will do this by (1) connecting with underserved persons to encourage them to participate; (2) educating all stakeholders about transportation decision making so they can be well-informed, effective participants; and (3) sustaining equitable participation through long-lasting relationships and partnerships. C H A P T E R 2 Lay the Foundation with Public Engagement
Lay the Foundation with Public Engagement 13 Connect For inclusive public engagement, it is critical to identify and understand underserved persons in the region, from the languages they speak to the places they live, work, and play. An analysis to identify underserved persons (Step 1) will help gather this information by combining quantita- tive mapping and data-gathering with personal engagement with individuals and organizations that represent or work with underserved persons (sometimes called âequity stakeholdersâ). Connection involves working to develop collaborative, long-term relationships with community-based organizations and leaders that are widely trusted within underserved com- munities. These partners can help serve as ambassadors or liaisons between the MPO and a variety of underserved persons, helping to facilitate diversity and inclusion in the public engage- ment process. Community engagement starts with awareness, being transparent about the MPOâs goals, and realizing the barriers hindering participation. Identifying community demographics helps ensure the engagement strategies are specifically tailored for underserved persons and create a comfortable space where their input and perspectives are welcomed, recognized, and valuedâ a message that helps address the disengagement and disenfranchisement these communities experienced in the past. Organizations that represent or work with underserved persons can play a critical role in an inclusive public engagement process by helping with engagement or serving as stakeholders to provide the perspective of their constituents. Such organizations may include community-based groups, schools or youth groups, faith-based institutions, businesses, universities, and so forth. In summary, MPOs can use the Step 1 analysis to (1) identify high-priority areas for reaching and engaging underserved persons and (2) conduct targeted engagement within those areas to identify preferred communication methods and meeting locations. Understanding these characteristics and needs will help the agency develop a range of effective outreach strategies such as social media campaigns, traditional mailing lists, bilingual flyers, and radio announce- ments, as well as engagement techniques, such as focus groups, interviews, and hands-on gaming exercises. When planning public engagement activities, it is important to make sure to identify the needs and preferences of underserved groups about where and when to con- duct face-to-face meetings. Many low-income people work multiple jobs or shifts and/or are raising children alone, which makes it hard to attend traditional evening events. A trip to a downtown city hall may take much longer on public transit than by private car, posing an engagement barrier to people who cannot drive. Educate When a community feels confident about understanding the transportation decision-making process, the people of that community may be more inclined to participate effectively and to take ownership of their role in the process. A sense of ownership can foster sustained participation and can inspire participants to strive for, and serve in, community leadership roles. Agencies that effectively educate stakeholders, including people from traditionally underserved com- munities, play an important part in equipping those stakeholders to make meaningful con- tributions to civic decisions, whether they participate as individuals, speak on behalf of local organizations, or represent constituents as elected officials. Education is a two-way street when it comes to equitable engagement. Agency staff must be prepared to hear and convey insights from community representatives about issues and needs
14 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes the agency may not have considered before, ranging from new perspectives on local concerns to considerations of equitable representation on agency boards. It is critical to clearly communicate the decision-making process to all stakeholders, to dem- onstrate accountability, and to manage expectations. Few things can erode trust faster than the disappointment and confusion caused by inflated expectations or unclear communications. For example, a critical element of working with a liaison or advisory group is the clear definition of participantsâ roles within the decision-making process. Make the role of the advisory group clear in relation to the decision-making authority of the MPO policy board. If some of the advisorsâ recommendations are changed or dropped in the final version of a policy or plan, make sure the advisory group has every opportunity to weigh in, and that they understand how and why the changes were made. Educate the MPO board, as well, about the importance of ongoing self- evaluation to make sure the interests of all stakeholders are fairly represented in the decision- making process and in the membership of the board and its committees. Examples in Practice: Educating the Community In Tennessee, the Memphis Urban Area MPO developed a series of videos to educate the public about transportation decision making in the region. The videos cover topics such as livability and mobility, and the process for developing the TIP. The videos feature mayors from jurisdictions around the region and include subtitles in Spanishâappealing to a diverse audience. The videos are played at public meetings and are also available on the MPOâs YouTube channel (Memphis Urban Area MPO 2016). At the time of the writing of this report, the YouTube Channel is available at the following address: https://www.youtube.com/ user/memphismpo. In Colorado, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) PPP states that partnerships are a critical strategy to engaging underserved persons. From 1998â2017, Transit Alliance, a local non-profit, was particularly effective in encouraging members of the public, including underserved persons, to partici- pate in the transportation decision-making process. With the closure of Transit Alliance, DRCOG has committed to take on its Citizens Academy, a seven-week program that equips participants to become involved in regional transporta- tion issues, with a focus on multimodal transportation, mobility, infrastructure investments, and community development. At the conclusion of the program, participants are encouraged to develop a personal action plan to address a trans- portation need or issue in their communities. Over the years, approximately one- third of the program graduates have later served in the region in a volunteer or elected capacity, including the DRCOG board (DRCOG 2010). Sustain Public engagement is an ongoing process. Inclusive public engagement aims to continually assess and refine the approach to engaging underserved persons. MPOs can create an environment that encourages residents to provide feedback, offer comments, and provide input through a variety of outlets, including simple in-person, paper, or online surveys. MPOs also can provide access to information about events, upcoming projects, and meetings to the public. For example, a website or an automated phone line would offer 24/7 access to information.
Lay the Foundation with Public Engagement 15 Partner with community organizations or establish advisory committees to build trust between the agency and the communities in need of engagement. Partnerships encourage MPO staff and decision makers to deepen their sensitivity toward the needs and concerns of under- served persons and to pursue creative joint initiatives. Effective partnerships can be formed with a broad range of organizations, and are not necessarily limited to partners within a region. The key to success is identifying organizations whose missions are in sync with the goals the agency is trying to achieve. An MPO can benefit greatly from developing relationships with local residents who are well regarded and trusted by members of the communities with which they want to engage. Informal community leaders can advise on how best to approach community advocates, to help recruit local âambassadorsâ for a planning process, and to educate residents on trans- portation issues and decision-making processes. They can help to anticipate and address controversies, and to develop and share conflict resolution strategies. Examples in Practice: Partnering with Community-Based Organizations In Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) entered into a formal partnership with the Partnership for Southern Equity (a local social justice organization and trusted community voice) to host a four-part âBuilding Opportunityâ workshop series that gathered input from community leaders and equity groups on policy areas including transportation access, community development, economic opportunity, and livability. The Partnership for Southern Equity developed content for the workshop and managed engage- ment throughout the development of Atlantaâs Regional Plan (ARC 2018). Effective partnership can be formed with a broad range of organizations, and MPOs are not necessarily limited to working with partners in their own regions. When identifying potential partners, seek organizations with similar values (e.g., equity) but otherwise be open to both traditional and unconven- tional partners. In Washington State, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) leveraged its partnerships with community-based organizations by participating in the organizationsâ existing meetings and/or events to broaden its engagement efforts. The PSRC made presentations, distributed questionnaires, and used âdot exercisesâ to let participants prioritize topics on large posters using dot stickers. The dot exercise was specifically used for engagement with special needs groups to understand their needs, gaps, and prioritized strategies for the Coordinated Transit-Human Services Transportation Plan (PSRC 2018). Commit Resources Tailored engagement strategies require staff time and financial resources. MPOs should be prepared to spend time researching the media outlets and communication preferences that are effective with different communities and populations. Some populations may prefer face-to- face interactions, but others may prefer virtual ones (e.g., online meetings or telephone town halls). It may be important to schedule public events during the evening or on weekends in some areas. Follow-up also is needed to document, share, and post the input collected at public events so that people in each community know their voices are being heard.
16 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes Meeting activities that involve direct expenses can range from renting a venue, purchasing refreshments, and printing materials (perhaps in multiple languages), to arranging free transit passes and/or rides, providing translators, and hiring professional child-care providers. Large projects might require establishing a satellite office in the community. Agencies also can allocate public involvement funds (from ongoing Unified Planning Work Program monies or from special studies such as regional planning grants and project environ- mental impact assessments) directly to community groups or liaisons in order to foster meaning- ful, hands-on engagement. In Minnesota during the early 2000s, the Metropolitan Council of MinneapolisâSaint Paul (Met Council) initiated a community engagement team outreach grant program for the councilâs âCorridors of Opportunityâ planning process (Met Council 2015). The grant program was funded by a federal Sustainable Communities Planning grant, and the council maintained the program for several years after the original corridors plan was completed, issuing grants to local nonprofits and civic organizations to help boost participa- tion in transit planning studies among people of color, low-income communities, and people with disabilities. Evaluate Progress A fundamental way to ensure long-term commitment to inclusive engagement is to build in ongoing measurement and evaluation of a process. An MPO already evaluates transpor- tation system performance toward goals such as mobility and accessibility. Using a similar approach, the MPO can set goals and objectives, choose performance metrics, identify and implement strategies, collect relevant data, evaluate progress, and update plans for public engagement. Set goals and objectives that convey a tangible commitment to an equitable, inclusive engage- ment approach that encourages all stakeholders to contribute to transportation planning and decision making. Collect data and evaluate progress to better understand how engagement methods resonate with different populations and how to improve or restructure methods to engage underserved persons, including low-income persons, minority persons, and those with LEP. Quick surveys or polls conducted at meetings or online, for example, can provide basic data about the numbers and demographics of participants. Answers from open-ended questions posed on paper or in person can help an MPO to discern why individuals participated, what they thought of the outreach materials or the venue, and ways in which the engagement process could be improved. To determine the level of performance or achievement that occurred because of the public engagement activities or services, it is important to measure not only the outputs (e.g., num- bers of meetings conducted, numbers of surveys distributed), but also the outcomes (e.g., socio-economic diversity of participants, level of response to surveys) of outreach efforts. One important outcome to measure is whether the engagement effort has reached the intended recipients. To address this question, data collected about outputs could include the number of emails sent, number of email recipients, number of news releases, locations of public com- ment materials, number and locations of flyer distributions, and the numbers of attendees at specific events. By also collecting data from respondents and participants, such as home zip codes and household demographics, agencies can determine whether the groups of respon- dents and participantsâthe people being reached through the agencyâs effortsâare represen- tative of the general population. The outcomes of public involvement efforts are measured by collecting and comparing data that is gathered both before and after the activities or services provided by the agency.
Lay the Foundation with Public Engagement 17 Resources ARC (Atlanta Regional Commission). 2018. The Atlanta Regionâs Plan. Retrieved from: http://atlantaregionsplan. com/regional-transportation-plan/. DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments). 2010. Public Involvement in Regional Transportation Plan- ning. Retrieved from: https://drcog.org/sites/default/files/resources/FINAL%20DRCOG%20Public%20 Involvement%20in%20Regional%20Transportation%20Planning%20Adopted%20April%202010.pdf. FHWA. 2013. Performance-Based Planning and Programming Guidebook. Available at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ planning/performance_based_planning/pbpp_guidebook/ (accessed 3/6/2020). FTA. 2014. Enhanced Mobility Of Seniors And Individuals With Disabilities Program Guidance And Applica- tion Instructions. FTA C 9070.1G. Retrieved from: https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/ C9070_1G_FINAL_circular_4-20-15%281%29.pdf. FTA. 2012. Environmental Justice Policy Guidance for Federal Transit Administration Recipients. FTA C 4703.1 Retrieved from: https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/FTA_EJ_Circular_7.14-12_FINAL.pdf. FTA. 2012. Title VI Requirements and Guidelines for Federal Transit Administration Recipients. FTA C 4702.1B. Retrieved from: https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/FTA_Title_VI_FINAL.pdf. Memphis Urban Area MPO. 2016. 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. Retrieved from: http://memphismpo.org/ sites/default/files/public/livability-2040-all-chapters.pdf. Met Council (Metropolitan Council of MinneapolisâSaint Paul). 2015. Southwest LRT Project Communi- cations and Public Involvement Plan, 2015. Retrieved from: https://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/ Projects/Light-Rail-Projects/Southwest-LRT/Publications-And-Resources/Environmental-Documents/ FEIS/FEIS-Tech-Memos/C-11_Council-2015a_Communications-and-Public-Invol.aspx. Oregon Metro. 2016. Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Retrieved from: https:// www.oregonmetro.gov/strategic-plan-advance-racial-equity-diversity-and-inclusion. PSRC (Puget Sound Regional Council). 2018. Public Participation Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.psrc.org/ sites/default/files/public-participation-plan.pdf.