Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 67 · No. 4 > Moving Technologies and Innovations Forward-A Master Plan|
Moving Technologies and Innovations Forward-A Master Plan
by Joe Conway
The Federal Highway Administration is strengthening its research and technology program.
Signals. Tunnels. Bridges. Asphalt. Concrete. Pavement markings. Reflective signage. Without these innovations and thousands more cultivated through research and development, would the Nation be at a standstill?
Research seeks better and more efficient tools to understand, improve, and maintain the transportation system-and the safety and mobility of the Nation. End products include new technologies and innovations (T&I) that range from processes and procedures to management, designs, contracting, and funding; new materials and machinery; software; and other knowledgebased products. To make a difference in transportation, T&Is must be deployed, adopted, and used successfully by transportation organizations and agencies.
With limited budgets and many priorities, however, it becomes necessary to focus on those T&Is that promise the highest payoff on a national level in terms of time, cost, mobility, safety, and the environment. Because stakeholders will implement T&Is, their involvement during the process ensures that new products are on target with their needs, making delivery faster, easier, and less costly.
In 2002, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) completed a Restructuring Assessment and discovered an opportunity to significantly improve the performance of its technology research and deployment activities. The assessment and recommendations from two reports provided the guidance for revamping the agency's T&I research and deployment. The reports were the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) Research and Technology Coordinating Committee's (RTCC) The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology (Special Report 261), and the U.S. General Accounting Office's (GAO) Report to Congressional Committees: Highway Research: Systematic Selection and Evaluation Processes Needed for Research Program (GAO-02- 573), published in May 2002.
“We recognized the need to ensure that our research is more visible,” says FHWA's Associate Administrator for Research, Development, and Technology Dennis Judycki, “and that on a corporate [agency-wide] basis, we're effectively communicating what our research and technology program is, and ultimately, to ensure that we work more effectively with our partners and stakeholders to deploy technology and innovations based on multiyear program plans.”
This article introduces the Corporate Master Plan [CMP] for Research and Deployment of Technology & Innovation, which incorporates the recommendations from the assessments. This initiative introduces a new vision that emphasizes FHWA's unique role of conducting “advanced research” in the highway community and stresses the agency's responsibilities to stakeholders. The agency adopted the “raise-the-bar” catchphrase for the CMP, which includes 26 Agency Commitments, framed around 7 Guiding Principles. Some key Agency Commitments from the initiative include looking at a project from beginning to end, involving stakeholders throughout the process, and measuring research and technology performance. (See “Guiding Principles and Agency Commitments,”.)
The RTCC Special Report 261 made a number of recommendations aimed at achieving more stakeholder involvement, developing multiyear plans or “roadmaps,” and using merit reviews. The report also emphasized the importance of the Federal role in conducting advanced research and filling gaps left by other research and technology (R&T) programs. “For example,” says C. Michael Walton, chair of the TRB committee, “the State departments of transportation have very mission-oriented research. It's not likely that they're going to engage in long-term research efforts. The Federal government has that role and responsibility.”
In agreement, the May 2002 GAO report also indicates the need for “using a systematic approach to evaluate ongoing and completed research through such techniques as peer review. FHWA acknowledges that its approach for developing research agendas and involving external stakeholders in determining the direction of the program's research lacks a consistent, transparent, and systematic process.” In addition, the report mentions that FHWA was in an ideal position to act on an opportunity to provide advanced, long-term research.
The recommendations of the FHWA Restructuring Assessment, the RTCC Special Report 261, and the GAO report are reflected in FHWA's CMP. FHWA considers the plan to be a key step for raising the bar on R&T. It also is a key step to fulfill FHWA's responsibility as “innovators for a better future.”
In a speech before the Civil Engineering Research Foundation Executive Program, FHWA Deputy Administrator Richard Capka explained the rationale behind the “innovators” catchphrase. “Today's safe, efficient, and well-built highway infrastructure,” he said, “is founded on yesterday's R&T innovators in the private and public sectors, at the local, State, and national levels. These pioneers took calculated risks and were willing to try and try again as they pushed for improvements. We need to provide an effective environment that permits and encourages highway innovation to flourish.”
Creating the Corporate Master Plan
In drawing up the CMP, the agency formed a Raise-the-Bar Planning Group chaired by Peter Markle, director for Research, Technology, and Innovation Deployment for FHWA. Development of the plan extended over a 9-month period, with significant input from an array of stakeholders. A key part of the planning group's work was a 2-day workshop in October 2002.
“It was a structured opportunity to engage both external and internal stakeholders to get ideas on what should be included in the Corporate Master Plan,” Markle explains. Workshop participants concluded that FHWA needed to involve stakeholders fully in every stage of the process. Also, outcomes of the process must be linked to the agency's mission and goals, and there has to be continuity from one process stage to another. Agency goals for advanced research, moreover, need to be articulated and the visibility of advanced research increased.
Principles and Commitments
Incorporating the recommendations from the FHWA Restructuring Assessment, RTCC reports, workshop participants, and other internal and external stakeholders, the CMP emphasizes three elements considered essential by other well-established Federal research and technology programs. The CMP stresses involving stakeholders throughout the process, employing merit reviews, and evaluating research and deployment on an ongoing basis.
“The guiding principles identified in the master plan are not really new,” says FHWA Associate Administrator for Operations Jeff Paniati. “These principles have helped us historically in our leadership and involvement in national R&T programs. What is new is the agency commitment to make sure that they are applied in a systematic manner across the entire research and technology program.” Although the agency already uses many of the techniques mentioned in the assessment, the GAO report indicated the need to make them systematic and consistent. (See “Guiding Principles and Agency Commitments”.) Paniati adds, “I'm pleased that the plan doesn't try to provide a cookbook solution. It states the intended results. We're going to let the functional areas and the respective offices determine the specifics of how we get there.”
Among other things, the Agency Commitments call for FHWA to identify end users and intended impacts clearly. Information on research and technology should be shared more extensively within the agency and with external stakeholders. Research gaps need to be filled, and stakeholders should be involved in policy decisions. Merit review, agency-level evaluations, and multiyear plans are called for, as is developing a list of priority, market-ready technologies and innovations. (For the marketready technologies, see “Championing Innovations”.)
Taking Action and Measuring Success
With the CMP completed, the next step is execution. “Now that we have a plan, our partners and stakeholders should be aware that we are moving to fulfill the agency commitments,” says Deputy Administrator Capka.
The FHWA R&T Leadership Team, consisting of FHWA associate administrators responsible for R&T, directors of field services, and a representative of the Division Administrators' Council, reflects a unified, corporate approach to R&T and plan implementation. The team met several times to identify measures needed to implement the Agency Commitments and outlined initiatives and activities with target completion dates. In addition, FHWA will ensure internal R&T networking to assist in corporate support functions, including communication, coordination, and collaboration across functional R&T areas and throughout the agency.
An important part of the CMP deals with measuring the success of implementing the Agency Commitments. The Agency Commitments do not lend themselves to the traditional measures of success employed in implementation plans. Rather, they are critical milestones that need to be met as corporate processes are improved. For example, activities such as setting agendas and allocating R&T budgets will apply to the next R&T programming and budgeting cycle.
Among the R&T Leadership Team's priorities are multiyear plans (roadmaps). These roadmaps outline an area's investment challenges and needs over time. A research project, for example, would be added into a roadmap as a future target of opportunity and then be funded as time and resources become available. Multiyear plans for R&T activities include the following:
“The roadmaps essentially lay out where you are going and give you the ability to measure how you're doing,” says FHWA Associate Administrator for Infrastructure King W. Gee. “And if you want to do a better job in communicating the benefits and impact you're having on the transportation business through R&T investments, then you'd better be able to measure the performance of what you're investing in.”
Self-assessments are a key ingredient of the plan. Staff members in each functional area are conducting self-assessments against the Corporate Master Plan to determine what exactly needs to be done to fulfill the Agency Commitments. These selfassessments are considered a baseline for measuring subsequent progress.
The R&T Leadership Team also is focusing its attention on enhancing stakeholder engagement, involving transportation agencies and organizations throughout the R&T process. Naturally, the extent of stakeholder involvement will vary from project to project; however, from agenda setting to merit review and performance evaluation, the agency will be looking to its external stakeholders for the most direct involvement in technology research and in implementation. This is logical because State and local stakeholders ultimately will be responsible for implementation.
“The two things that I think are most significant in the Corporate Master Plan are the emphasis on stakeholder input throughout the process, and the emphasis on implementation,” says FHWA's Associate Administrator for Professional Development Joe Toole. “I think the stakeholder input is particularly critical. My view has always been that we in the highway community only need one research agenda. We need to be a part of that just as our stakeholders need to be as well. Ideally, all of our work should be integrated. And I think the Corporate Master Plan helps create that kind of synergy.”
Providing a field perspective is FHWA Georgia Division Administrator Bob Callan. “One of the things I like about the Corporate Master Plan is that it gives those of us in the field not only an opportunity to provide input into the strategic direction we're going, but also gives us a seat at the table so that we can hear what our program officers are thinking and where they want to take research. It's a two-way advantage.”
As spelled out in the CMP, stakeholder involvement is critical for the successful implementation of the plan. Stakeholders from State and local agencies, academia, and public sector organizations, along with end users, may be involved in setting R&T policies and developing multiyear plans. In addition, these stakeholders may assist in developing research proposals and reviewing or evaluating R&T results. Different stakeholders may participate in different roles. Finally, as the implementers of technology, some stakeholders will be involved more directly in T&I deployment activities.
Advancing the Master Plan
One of the 26 Agency Commitments is the establishment of a list of priority, market-ready technologies and innovations (T&Is), which the agency and external stakeholders believe will have the highest payoff (the largest impact) on the transportation system, in the shortest amount of time. This list will help foster dramatic changes across the system and will focus efforts inside and outside the agency.
An internal FHWA work group consisting of field and headquarters representatives already compiled the initial list, based on agency priorities and strategic goals, user needs, likelihood of implementation, the extent to which the technologies are market- ready, and availability of expertise to support deployment and implementation. The list of 28 technologies and innovations include the 9 technologies approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Technology Implementation Group. (For more on the 28 T&Is, see “Championing Innovations”.)
To enhance communication and awareness, FHWA is developing a Web site that will include updates on the status of the Agency Commitments. Stakeholders will be able to provide input into the Web site. “We plan to put up an externally accessible Web site in order to report on progress,” says Associate Administrator Judycki. “We will also make available information on action items being delivered.”
A National Payoff
Judycki emphasizes that this CMP initiative is part of a national strategy and effort for research and technology delivery. “It's critically important that we are able to focus resources on those areas where there's a high payoff,” he says. “I think you'll find that in the future there will be an increased level of communication on the corporate level. And you'll see a much more visible and accessible program for stakeholders and partners, and multiyear programs for various R&T areas. That will drive the resources dedicated to the agency's goals and objectives.”
For more information on bridge research at FHWA, visit www.tfhrc.gov/structur/.
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