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Partnering and Leveraging

III:Steps in Partnering and Leveraging

While every circumstance is different, four steps generally define the partnering process. These are: cultivate partner relationships, review the need to partner, structure the partnership and manage the process. Each step is discussed here and summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: Steps in Building Partnerships

1. CultivatePartner Relationships 2. Define a Specific Need 3. Structure the Partnership 4. Manage theProcess
Identify networking venues Evaluate tribe’s capabilities and needs Initiate formal partnership Build trust
Network with your counterparts Evaluate potential partner’s capabilities and needs Achieve consensus on objectives Develop professional work environment
Participate in the decisionmaking process Assess legal ramifications Agree on roles and responsibilities Evaluate performance
Discuss projects of mutual interest Seek agreement from tribal leadership Identify the resources each partner will contribute Capture lessons learned

Step 1: Cultivate Partner Relationships.

Positive relations with your transportation counterparts set the ground work for successful partnering.It is a continuous process that is undertaken whether there is an immediate opportunity to partner or not. It involves networking, collaboration and fostering trust with other transportation professionals.

Networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals and groups, specifically for the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.

The State DOT, MPO and the Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP) are often sponsors of these activities.An example is the Michigan Tribal Transportation Safety Summit ( hosted in 2012 by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and co-sponsored by FHWA, the Michigan DOT and the Michigan TTAP.

Four figures have a discussion while sitting at a table.

Federal Laws Requiring Tribal Consultation

Title 23 USC - Highways - for impacts on tribal properties by Federal-aid projects.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – for environmental impacts on tribal properties.
National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) – for impacts on tribal historic, religious and cultural properties.


Federal laws require State and regional transportation agencies to consult with tribal governments on projects and plans that may impact tribal lands and properties. These laws are listed in the text box. The consultation process is an opportunity for you, as the tribe’s representative, to participate in these forums. The consultation, for example, may involve participation in a MPO or statewide transportation advisory group. Use these opportunities as networking venues and to familiarize yourself with State, regional and local transportation personnel; policies and projects; and funding resources. Take the opportunity to communicate your tribe’s transportation policies, projects and needs.

Check with the tribal liaison (or similar personnel) of the State DOT and MPO to determine the committees and events in which tribal participation is invited and encouraged.

TIP #2: Review the Introduction to Planning module and the Tribal Consultation module. They provide information on Federal requirements in tribal transportation planning and consultation. Consider ways to increase your participation.


TIP #3: Review the Financial Planning, Project Prioritization, Developing the Transportation Improvement Program and Developing a Long-Range Transportation Plan modules. These cover the many purposes and uses of the LRTP and TIP.


Step 1
Cultivate Partner Relationships

  • Identify networking venues.
  • Network with your counterparts.
  • Participate in the transportation decisionmaking process.
  • Discuss projects of mutual interest.

Step 2: Define a Specific Need.

If you consider pursuing a partnership, you will need to consider how the tribe will participate, contribute and benefit. This second step is an evaluation for determining the need for a partnership.

A figure sits working at a computer.

Tribe’s Internal Evaluation

Strengths and Needs in Undertaking a Partnership Project

Tribe Strengths (Contributions)

  • Committed funding in IRR and FTA Grants (covering 30% of project cost)
  • Plans and policies that endorse the project (LRTP and TTIP)
  • Labor and manpower for operating the project services
  • Grant writing capability.

Tribe Needs (Deficiencies)

  • Additional funding—60% of project cost
  • Skill in operating the transportation service
  • Technical assistance and training
  • Expertise in managing similar projects

Table 2: Partner Evaluation

Tribe’s Needs for Undertaking the Project Capability and Resources
Potential Partner
#1 #2 #3
Access to project funding to cover tribe’s shortfall  
Skill in designing and operating the service  
Technical assistance and training capability
Expertise in managing similar projects  
Other Critical Factors  
Knowledge of tribal needs and sovereignty  
Past performance in partnering with tribes    
Sound reasoning for partnering on the project
Willingness to commit to long-term relationship  

TIP #4:For more information on tribal sovereignty, review the Statewide, MPO and FHWA Role in Tribal Consultation module.

Step 2
Review the Need to Partner (Internally)

  • Review the tribe’s capabilities and needs.
  • Evaluate potential partner’s capabilities and needs.
  • Assess legal ramifications.
  • Seek agreement from tribal leadership.

If tribal leadership agrees with your proposal, discuss its role. Which leader or leaders should participate in partnership activities - and why? This should be understood before formal action is taken with the outside agency.

Step 3: Structure the Partnership.

A figure carries a clipboard and pen and is looking back over his shoulder.

With a mutual decision to move forward by the tribe and the outside agency, a framework will be needed for the partnership.

An example of the key points to be covered is provided here:

Example Partnership Agreement Key Points

Reason for Partnership: Connect regional and tribal bus lines.

Objective: Identify best operational design for route extensions.

Process: Sign agreement that outlines process and steps for achieving objectives.

Roles: Detail tribe and outside agency responsibilities and resources they will commit.

Funding: List all funding sources to cover project capital and annual operating costs.

Time Frame: Define project phases and expected date of completion.

Expected Outcome: New Regional-Tribal bus links in 2 years.

The Partnership Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is a formal agreement between the agencies that memorializes their roles, responsibilities and commitments in the partnership.

These terms and provisions should be spelled out in the partnership agreement.

Step 3
Structure the Partnership

  • Initiate formal partnership.
  • Achieve consensus on objectives.
  • Agree on roles and responsibilities.
  • Identify the resources each partner will contribute.

Identify the resources each party will contribute. The reason the tribe is engaging in the partnership is to leverage its resources and increase its capacity to successfully complete the project. In this, there should be a clear understanding, beyond the earlier informal discussions, on the resources to be committed by each party.

The tribe may commit, for example, a portion of its IRR allocation and awarded tribal transit grants. The outside agency may commit a portion of its Federal program funds and its capability to perform technical project tasks and train tribal personnel. The partnership may also include a commitment to apply for future Federal grants together. The agreement, signed by each partner, communicates these commitments and how mutual interests will be served.

TIP #5: Appendix B: Review the Partnership Memorandum of Agreement between the Indian Township Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Maine Department of Transportation. It has similar features to those discussed here.


Practice While You Learn!

In reviewing the Spur Roads-SR103 project onpage 3:

  • Who are the potential partners for the tribe?
  • What common project goal and objective do they share?
  • What would be the benefits of partnering with them?
  • What could each contribute to the partnership?

Step 4: Manage the Partnership Process.

This final step focuses on monitoring the partnership to ensure it succeeds in achieving the mutual objectives of the partners.

A figure carries a clipboard and pen and is looking back over his shoulder.

Step 4

Manage the Process

  • Build trust.
  • Develop professional work environment.
  • Evaluate performance.
  • Capture lessons learned.

Practice While You Learn!

How can the four basic steps described here in building partnerships and leveraging resources be applied to the Spur Roads-SR103 project on page 3?

Updated: 10/20/2015
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