In July, 1999, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) issued a comprehensive public involvement guide for their planners and project managers, Hear Every Voice: a Guide to Public Involvement at Mn/DOT (Hear Every Voice). Part of the background for Hear Every Voice came from Mn/DOT's informational handbook for planning and project managers, Methods and Approaches to Enhance Involvement in Non-Traditional Transportation Stakeholder Communities and Neighborhoods (Handbook) in April 1997. The Handbook and Hear Every Voice were created to guide state transportation practitioners toward effective practices to enhance and incorporate public involvement into decision-making processes.
The need for the Handbook emerged as a product of Mn/DOT's Non-Traditional Transportation Stakeholder Dialogue Project conducted in 1995 and 1996. The Dialogue Project included 18 dialogue meetings throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area to hear community issues and perspectives regarding transportation and the public involvement process. Proactive outreach sessions were held with four racial and ethnic groups: African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and Asian Americans. The Native American group was comprised of three tribal organizations. Each outreach session was held in settings within the targeted community - not city hall or a state office building - and due sensitivity was given to understanding each group's leadership and cultural perspectives. For instance, outreach activities to American Indian tribes were coordinated with tribal councils.
These meetings were productive and led to 21 recommendations. A Mn/DOT Response Team then determined which recommendations were most feasible to implement over various time frames and which members of the agency would be given implementation responsibilities. The development of Hear Every Voice was a result of one of these recommendations. Its adoption as Mn/DOT's official guide for public involvement effectively integrated many of the recommendations into agency practice and encouraged planners and project managers to use the full array of methods and techniques identified in the Dialogue Project.
Hear Every Voice recommends several measures for meaningful involvement of non-traditional participants in the transportation decision-making process:
For the Agencies: Proactive public involvement initiatives can create higher degrees of trust among low-income and minority population groups, leading to more effective discussions and greater potential to build productive bridges between communities and transportation agencies.
For the Community: When residents are invited to the table to participate in planning and project design processes "early and often", resulting projects are more likely to reflect the community's own plans and fit more harmoniously into the community.
The Handbook promotes several valuable lessons:
On Reaching/Recruiting Members of the Community: Go where the people are - attend fairs, community events and district council meetings. Sponsor a transportation fair. Arrange one-on-one visits with community residents and other non-threatening formats to encourage idea exchange.
On Conducting Group Dialogues: Allow for individual differences to be acknowledged and respected. Help create a culture of cooperation and shared leadership. Encourage collaboration, partnerships and inclusion.
On Conflict Management: Define group maintenance issues such as establishing ground rules. Attend to conflict at once or it will escalate. Clarify issues and look for areas of common ground rather than "work through" opposing issues.
Minnesota Department of Transportation
Mn/DOT Information Center
395 John Ireland Boulevard
St. Paul, MN 55155-1899
Phone: (651) 281-3775
The handbook, Methods and Approaches to Enhance Involvement in Non-Traditional Transportation Stakeholder Communities and Neighborhoods can be found on the Mn/DOT website.