[CONFERENCE] Public Involvement Excellence Showcased at 2019 TRB Annual Meeting

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[CONFERENCE] Public Involvement Excellence Showcased at 2019 TRB Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) is always one of the best events of the year for transportation professionals. With over 12,000 attendees, a bewildering array of panel sessions, committee meetings, and social gatherings, DC is the place to be in early January.

Jefferson Grimes, TxDOT at TRB 2019
Jefferson Grimes, Director, Public Engagement, TxDOT, poster session at TRB.

This year, MetroQuest was honored to be showcased at the poster session by Jefferson Grimes, the Director of Public Involvement for the Texas Department of Transportation. Jefferson did a wonderful job highlighting their success using MetroQuest surveys on wide variety of projects at all scales throughout the state of Texas.

With so much going on at the five-day meeting, for those of us focused on community engagement, the TRB Public Involvement Committee (ADA 60) provides a great opportunity to collaborate and learn from peers.

The high level of dialog between committee members and friends, the quality of the sessions, accompanied by the frank and productive exchanges that occur at these conferences serve to remind me that the TRB Public Involvement Committee is a very special gem.

This year marked many significant changes to the leadership of the committee, including Claudia Bilotto, Vice President at WSP USA, who will be stepping aside after years of exceptional service as Committee Chair. We look forward to the new leadership coming online soon and thank all those who have volunteered so many hours to create such a rich and rewarding TRB experience for public involvement professionals.

This year, ADA 60 offered an exciting and informative array of research and best practice sessions including:

  • Panel presentation – “What Crowd-sourcing and Social Media Tell Us About Public Engagement: Recent Research”
  • Innovative competition – “Communicating with John and Jane Q. Public” focusing this year on transportation resiliency and sustainability
  • Co-sponsored panel presentation – “Facilitating Equitable Outcomes: The Intersection Between Public Engagement and Equity in Transportation”
  • Poster session – “Innovations in Public Involvement Research and Practice”

MetroQuest was thrilled to help organize the annual ADA 60 dinner social at the amazing Espita Mezcaleria, just steps from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

A large crowd of public involvement professionals enjoyed delightful conversations and custom designed culinary delights. It was fun to spice things up and chat among friends. Thank you to all the wonderful people who joined us.

I came away from this year’s TRB conference with three insights focused on online engagement.

1) For years the debate was on about online tools vs.  face-to-face engagement. Now online engagement is no longer talked about as an alternative to face-to face-meetings, but as complimentary – a critical way to extend and broaden the outreach.

2) In past years, social media was being explored as an online engagement platform with limited success and sometimes disastrous results. Social media is now being discussed primarily as a way to advertise public involvement opportunities and promote project communications. This seems like a more appropriate use of social media for public involvement for transportation agencies.

3) The definition of traditionally underrepresented populations continues to broaden to include more than low income and minority populations. It now extends to many others including people who are just too busy to attend meetings or individuals with a low level of awareness of the issues. This is causing public involvement professionals to lower the barrier to participation dramatically, using “go to them” strategies and focusing more energy on educating people about choices and trade-offs.

Overall, it was another enlightening TRB Annual Meeting that left me re-energized. Looking forward to working with you in 2019 to help foster great community engagement. 

Dave Biggs

Dave is the Chief Engagement Officer of MetroQuest and an internationally-recognized author and public engagement strategist focusing on the use of software tools to enhance community participation for planning projects.

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