Collaboration breeds success for State Transportation Innovation Councils
Sharing expertise through the national State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) network and other peer venues is integral to successful innovation, says Federal Highway Administration Executive Director Thomas Everett.
“Many innovations STICs deploy come from programs such as Every Day Counts (EDC), but others come from collaborating with peers about challenges and new ideas,” Everett told participants in a national STIC webcast in October 2019. “It’s well known that peers learn best from peers and DOTs listen to other DOTs. Peer exchanges, demonstrations of tools and techniques, and communities of practice are effective ways of sharing information.”
Everett cited a Local Innovation Implementation Summit the Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program organized with the help of STIC Incentive funds. The summit featured hands-on demonstrations and promoted an equipment loan program to support innovation deployment, such as traffic counters for data-driven safety analysis. “Now more local agencies are using this loan program to deploy innovations,” said Everett.
Colorado’s program echoes FHWA Mobile Asphalt Technology Center and Mobile Concrete Technology Center trailers that travel to States to provide equipment loans, demonstrations, and training on pavement technologies. “We’ve found that this is an effective way to help agencies apply new tools and techniques,” Everett said.
What do transportation agencies say they need to expedite innovation?
“A common theme is that we need to continue to look at removing government hurdles to innovation,” said Everett, such as a Federal rule repealing restrictions on the use of patented or proprietary technology on Federal-aid highway projects. The rule empowers States to choose the materials, tools, and products that best meet their needs.
Sharing information on research is also important, said Thomas Harman, director of FHWA’s Center for Accelerating Innovation (CAI). “We need to manage research as a valuable asset,” he said. “One thing we can do better is tell the research story. That’s the pipeline to innovation.”
How can agencies sustain a culture of innovation?
“It starts at the top. You need leadership support to succeed,” said Everett. “You also have to show a willingness to accept risk and even failure. We will never sacrifice safety, but we need to convey that it is okay to try things that might not work out.”
Many innovators are just trying to solve the problem in front of them. “People don’t necessarily label themselves as innovators, but often what they think is not an innovation is visionary,” Harman said. “Again, communication is key.”
What are successful ways to deploy research?
“You first need to communicate the research results,” said Everett. “You then need to demonstrate application of the innovation and communicate the results of that demonstration. You also need an innovation champion to keep momentum going.”
Another good practice is engaging potential adopters early. “A key to successful research is having end users involved to help guide it,” Harman said.
How can I determine if the Accelerating Market Research (AMR) program is right for my innovation?
The AMR program offers up to $3 million a year to fund demonstrations and evaluations to move transformative innovations from prototype to practice faster. “We’re looking for technologies and processes that have cleared the research hurdles and are ready for evaluation in a real-world setting,” said Jeffrey Zaharewicz, CAI senior advisor.
A good frame of reference is an innovation’s Technology Readiness Level, an assessment of maturity on a one-to-nine scale from research to implementation. “A potential candidate would be at the five or six level on the scale that with AMR resources might achieve a market-ready level,” said Zaharewicz. FHWA plans to solicit a new round of AMR proposals in 2020.
How can I learn how other States use STIC Incentive funds?
The STIC network website provides guidance on the STIC Incentive program to support the cost of standardizing innovative practices and State details on projects. “You can also talk to your State EDC coordinator,” said Sara Lowry, CAI program coordinator.
Lowry encourages STICs to look for inspiration on websites created by fellow STICs, such as those in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
What are “graduated” innovations?
Some innovations from past EDC cycles, such as warm-mix asphalt and accelerated bridge construction, have advanced to mainstream use and graduated from consideration for the Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) Demonstration program, which awards funding up to $1 million for projects that use proven innovations.
Some graduated innovations, such as e-Construction and intelligent compaction, remain eligible for AID Demonstration funding on local and tribal projects. “We recognize it can take longer for innovations to penetrate to the local level,” Harman said. The innovation eligibility change is included in the revised AID Demonstration Notice of Funding Opportunity.