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29 Conclusions and Suggested Research Perhaps the greatest disparity that was observed among the array of agency equity analyses is the variation in quality and consistency of agency documentation regarding approaches and findings. A few agencies conduct extensive studies of equity issues and build detailed plans, programs, and analysis methods to address them. At the other extreme, a handful of agencies provide minimal documentation of equity analyses, including virtually no descriptions of outreach, assessments, findings, or strategies. Most agencies fall somewhere in between the two extremes. The typical approach is to create maps of required populations using some type of threshold criteria to separate EJ zones from non-EJ zones; create overlay maps to display the proximity of projects to locations of under- served populations; and determine a finding (typically of few or no disparate impacts or DHAE) based on a visual or tabular reckoning of the amount of investments relative to the locations or proportions of underserved populations within the region. Some agencies discuss the current needs of underserved populations (Step 2), but few connect the Step 2 analyses to the findings of potential future disparities (Step 4), and/or the mitigation strategies (Step 5). A few agencies document extensive efforts to engage underserved popula- tions, but most provide relatively little detail on specific outreach activities and even less on the results of dialogue with equity stakeholders, particularly the ways in which the plan or program addresses their identified needs and concerns. A key challenge for every agency is devoting staff capacity and resources to conduct robust qualitative and quantitative assessments with meaningful engagement and well-documented results. Effective equity analysis and outreach techniques can be relatively simple, but they do require focused efforts, research, expertise, and a willingness to prepare for and engage in sometimes sensitive and difficult dialogue with equity stakeholders. This process can be techni- cally challenging in regions with constantly changing socio-economic conditions, such as shift- ing locations and concentrations of required populations (e.g., ethnic and cultural minorities or low-income persons) due to gentrification, housing affordability, or influxes of migration trends. It can be equally challenging in regions that are not as dynamic, but that have a history of socio-economic disparity and/or a general lack of awareness and political will to adopt and advance equity goals. Implementation of Research Findings and Products The primary product of this project of use to researchers is TCRP Research Report 214, Volume 1 (the guide). The guide provides detailed descriptions of approaches and supporting resources to assist MPO staff and other transportation agency practitioners with implementing the step-by-step equity analysis framework. This research overview (TCRP Research Report 214, C H A P T E R 4
30 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes Volume 2) supplements the guide by providing the final technical report of the research and additional background material such as the literature review and transcripts of agency inter- views. To introduce the guide to a national audience, a TRB webinar has been scheduled to occur later in 2020, following publication of this report. Information about upcoming TRB webinars, including registration information, is available online at https://webinar.mytrb.org/Webinars. After the webinar has been held, a recorded version will be made available. Organizations that may be interested in using or adapting the presentation or materials include the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO); AASHTO; TRB staff and standing commit- tees that focus on relevant topics such as metropolitan policy, planning, and processes, public involvement, environmental justice, and community impact assessment; and the U.S. DOT, par- ticularly FHWA and FTA staff teams that provide guidance and technical assistance on regional planning and programming, stakeholder engagement, and compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related laws, regulations and executive orders. Links to access recorded webinars are provided at http://www.trb.org/ElectronicSessions/RecordedSessions.aspx. Issues that could affect the implementation of the findings and use of the guide, along with possible mitigation strategies, include: â¢ Changes in federal directives, such as rollbacks on E.O. 12898 and E.O. 13166. If one or more of the relevant executive orders is rescinded, TCRP can work with FHWA and partner orga- nizations to ensure agencies understand that compliance with federal planning regulations and laws (e.g., 23 CFR Part 450 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) is still required, and that the methods for conducting EJ/LEP analyses and engaging EJ/LEP populations are robust, useful, and well-documented approaches to support compliance with the broader law, regardless of whether the executive orders are in effect. â¢ Limitations on agency technical resources and staff capacity to conduct analyses and to sup- port robust engagement. This is a perennial issue for MPOs that can affect compliance with many planning and decision-making requirements. TCRP can work with partner organiza- tions to provide educational resources, research support, peer dialogue, and technical assis- tance that helps agencies to conduct highly efficient and effective equity-related analyses and implementation programs. Methods to identify and measure the impacts associated with implementation of the findings/ products could include: â¢ Educational events based on the guide and this report, such as webinars and conference presentations; â¢ Educational events based on indicators of engagement, such as participant questions and discussions, as well as responses to participant evaluation surveys; â¢ Periodic practitioner surveys, peer exchanges, and interviews (coordinated with partner orga- nizations) to measure the state of the practice with respect to each of the steps in the equity analysis framework, from the foundation of public involvement to the development, imple- mentation, and evaluation of Step 5 strategies; and â¢ Periodic discussions with FHWA regarding the state of the practice as evidenced by trends and issues noted in regular Title VI and Environmental Justice program evaluations and agency compliance reviews. Areas for Further Research The research team identified several gaps in practitioner understanding and/or technical capabilities that could affect an agencyâs ability to implement a robust equity analysis frame- work, and for which further research could provide supportive information and resources.
Conclusions and Suggested Research 31 Topics for potential further research relevant to each stage of the equity analysis framework include: Lay a Foundation of Public Involvement â¢ Methods for setting measurable public involvement objectives and evaluating progress; â¢ Indicators and measurement techniques for equity-related engagement variables that can have a profound impact on the success of outreach activities, and which may be difficult to quantify or assess, such as levels of trust with government decision-making processes, or âbuy-inâ regarding proposed plans and programs; â¢ Facilitation and engagement techniques to engage diverse stakeholders in equitable decision- making processes; and â¢ Techniques for, and examples of, documenting the input provided by equity stakeholders and describing how it is being, or has been, addressed in the planning and decision-making process. Step 1: Identify Populations for Analysis â¢ Methods for mapping locations of required populations that do not depend on setting bright-line population concentration thresholds and assigning entire TAZs or other geo- graphic units with a broad, all-or-nothing EJ status; and â¢ Methods for tailoring definitions of terms such as low-income and minority to meet the letter and spirit of equity-related laws, regulations, and directives while also reflecting the unique socio-economic characteristics of a given region. Step 2: Identify Needs and Concerns, and Step 3: Measure Impacts of Proposed Agency Activity â¢ Approaches for developing and selecting indicators of current needs and of potential impacts, relevant to both outputs and outcomes, and applying them together to support a meaningful impact analysis. Step 4: Determine Whether Impacts Are Disparate or Have DHAE â¢ Methods for identifying and documenting existing and potential disparate impacts relevant to a plan or program, which is broader and more complex than a determination of disparate impacts for a single project. This effort would include defining the difference between a difference and a disparity, and documenting ways in which existing or potential disparate impacts were resolved before the adoption of the final plan. Step 5: Develop Strategies to Avoid or Mitigate Inequities â¢ Methods and examples for developing performance-oriented strategies that enable practitioners to estimate the potential positive impacts of a proposed strategy to address equity-related concerns, and to evaluate performance during and after implementation; and â¢ Approaches and examples, including estimated levels of effort and technical resources, for developing and implementing ongoing programs for robust qualitative and quantitative equity assessments that feature meaningful engagement and well documented results.