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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
|Publication Number: Date: Jan/Feb 1998|
Issue No: Vol. 62 No. 4
Date: Jan/Feb 1998
The U.S. Department of Transportation, like other agencies of the federal government, is mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act to develop and implement a strategic plan. This article describes how one modest-sized Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) program that is administered through 57 different organizations in the United States and Puerto Rico is succeeding in implementing its strategic plan. The multifaceted approach suggests a number of creative ways that others may want to consider in putting their strategic plans into action.
The Local Technical Assistance Program
The Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) has provided training, technical assistance, and technology transfer products to local transportation agencies for the past 15 years. The program is sponsored by FHWA's Office of Technology Applications, in partnership with state departments of transportation (DOTs) and, in some states, with local governments and universities.
LTAP is modeled on the agricultural extension system. Technology transfer (T2) centers, located at state DOTs or universities, link technical innovations in transportation at the federal and state levels to local agencies. The LTAP T2 centers provide low-cost or free training; publish newsletters; circulate publications, videotapes, and software; and offer technical assistance on transportation topics for local agency personnel. There are now 57 LTAP T2 centers, one in every state, one in Puerto Rico, and six Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP) centers serving Native American tribal governments.
|Participants in this LTAP T2 training center gain hands-on experience in proper work-zone layout.|
Developing the Strategic Plan
Facing complex challenges created by rapidly changing technology and shrinking resources, LTAP began in 1996 to develop a strategic plan. The plan needed to provide a framework of coordination and guidance for the overall program while incorporating the LTAP T2 centers' flexibility to act locally.
|Joe Toole, director of FHWA's Office of Technology Applications moderates the panels in which results of small group discussions were shared.|
The plan was produced in a bottom-up process with wide participation from LTAP's partners. Cheri Trenda, director of the Minnesota Technology Transfer Program, headed the committee that developed the national LTAP Strategic Plan. Other committee members represented the American Public Works Association (APWA), the National Association of County Engineers (NACE), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Intertribal Transportation Association (ITA), the LTAP and TTAP T2 centers, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and FHWA.
The mission of LTAP, as developed in the strategic planning process, is "to foster a safe, efficient, environmentally sound transportation system by improving skills and knowledge of local transportation providers through training, technical assistance, and technology transfer." The strategic plan provides a vision for the future and identifies goals and strategies that involve international, national, tribal, state, and local interests.
|Photo Courtesy of T2 MN, Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota|
The strategic plan was finalized and distributed to LTAP's partners - T2 centers; national associations; federal, state, tribal, and local governments - in spring 1997. At the same time, a new committee was created to guide implementation of the plan. That committee includes representatives of the LTAP T2 centers from each of the nine FHWA regions, the TTAP centers, APWA, NACE, AASHTO, and ITA.
|LTAP centers demonstrate and loan new technologies and safety equipment, such as this stop/slow paddle with flashing lights, to local agencies. The paddle, which gets the attention of drivers, was developed through the Strategic Highway Research Program.|
The implementation committee began its work by identifying actions the LTAP T2 centers could take to implement the national plan:
None of these activities is mandated. The T2 centers join in the implementation effort on a voluntary basis.
Encouraging Centers to Plan
The LTAP and TTAP T2 centers are encouraged to get involved to share in accomplishing the goals of the national plan:
To help the centers do their own strategic planning, the implementation committee directed preparation of an LTAP Strategic Planning Workbook. The workbook presents a simple, 12-step approach to strategic planning, designed to take advantage of the effort that LTAP partners put into developing the national plan.
The workbook encourages each T2 center to use the strategic planning process to reach out to its current and potential stakeholders and to seek their agreement on the center's goals and strategies for the next five years. It recommends streamlining the strategic planning process by using appropriate elements of the national plan (selected from the statements of vision, mission, goals, strategies, and actions) as first drafts for the center's strategic planning committee to review and, where needed, tailor to meet the specific circumstances of their center. Sample strategic planning documents from five centers - Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Texas - are included in the workbook.
Strategic Planning at the Annual Conference
Strategic planning was a major focus of the 1997 Annual LTAP Conference, which was held in Duluth, Minn., in July. The conference theme, "Partners for Change," came directly from the strategic plan. On the opening morning, attendees participated in small group discussions on how adopting plan elements - such as its mission, goals, strategies, and performance measures - might redirect activities at their individual centers in the coming five years. Joe Toole, director of FHWA's Office of Technology Applications, moderated the concluding panels where results of the small group discussions were shared.
The LTAP Strategic Planning Workbook was first presented to the centers in a conference session on "How to Develop a Strategic Plan for Your LTAP Center." In another session, participants heard about "Developing Measures to Evaluate the National LTAP Strategic Plan."
Center Strategic Planning
Following publication of the national plan, several centers - including Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, and the Northwest Tribal Center - started their own strategic planning processes. Since the annual conference, others, including South Dakota and West Virginia, have also begun to develop their own strategic plans.
Recognizing that some centers may want help in following the steps outlined in the workbook, the implementation committee recruited a cadre of peer consultants in T2 center strategic planning. The peer consultants had experience both in managing LTAP or TTAP T2 centers and in strategic planning. A training session in the 12-step process detailed in the LTAP Strategic Planning Workbook was held for the peer consultants following the 1997 annual conference. The peer consultants are now available to provide assistance via e-mail, fax, telephone, and, if needed, visits to centers.
One of the plan's nine strategies is to expand and strengthen partnerships. At their regional meetings in spring 1997, LTAP and TTAP center staff brainstormed about associations with which they might want to form partnerships. Many good ideas for partnerships at the local level came out of those sessions.
Local chapters of national associations, such as APWA, and state associations of county engineers figured prominently on many centers' lists of potential partners. As a result, the National Association of Transportation Technology Transfer Centers has begun working with both APWA and NACE to develop partnering agreements at the national level and to encourage the development of agreements between individual T2 centers and their local APWA chapters and state associations of county engineers. The national-level agreements will suggest, but not mandate, a range of activities for individual T2 centers and local chapters of the associations to consider in negotiating their own agreements.
The LTAP Strategic Plan calls for measuring, evaluating, and documenting progress in the following five areas:
The results and lessons learned are to be applied to improve the program.
The implementation committee created a Measurement Task Force, composed of five of its members, who represent AASHTO, NACE, and three T2 centers, to:
The Measurement Task Force recommended changes to the annual profiles in which the centers report their activities. With these changes, the profiles will provide the needed data on improvements in the quality and utility of LTAP products and services and in the quality of their delivery, without significantly increasing the centers' reporting burden. The proposed revisions to the profiles were circulated to all the T2 centers and approved at the 1997 Annual LTAP Conference. The revised profiles have been used to collect data since Jan. 1, 1998.
Paralleling the approach taken to encourage center strategic planning, the Measurement Task Forces recommended the development of products to enable centers to measure their performance in five key areas: training, needs assessment, market reach and communication, cost-benefit analysis, and partnering. The LTAP Strategic Planning Workbook will be expanded to provide guidance to the centers on measuring performance in these areas. Many centers have already developed effective instruments for evaluating training and for assessing customer needs. Samples of these will be included in the expanded workbook.
The Measurement Task Force also recommended that center staff be offered training in the methods of performance measurement, as described in the workbook, especially in the area of cost-benefit analysis.
Another recommendation of the task force was to create a new, permanent committee on benchmarking that would look at and learn from what other organizations are doing in technology transfer.
In the months following its publication, the national LTAP Strategic Plan has been a catalyst for change in the program. Centers are forming new alliances with their existing partners and looking for new partners to help them accomplish their mission. They are taking a fresh look at the activities through which they serve their customers, fine-tuning what is working well and trying new approaches to reach out even more effectively. The experience to date in implementing the LTAP Strategic Plan bodes well for accomplishing its goals by 2002.
Copies of the LTAP Strategic Plan: Partners for Change may be obtained from the FHWA Report Center; fax your request to (301) 577-1421. Copies of the LTAP Strategic Planning Workbook may be obtained from the APWA T2 Clearinghouse; fax your request to (202) 737-9153. For more information about implementation of the LTAP strategic plan, contact Anna Bennett at FHWA Region 9, (415) 744-2616.
Dr. Anna K. Bennett is on temporary assignment with FHWA to work on implementation of the national LTAP Strategic Plan by LTAP partners and T2 centers. She is on loan from the University of California, where she directed the California LTAP. Before joining the University of California in 1989, she directed the T2 center at Arizona State University.
12 Basic Steps to Strategic Planning
These 12 steps are a suggested map for LTAP/TTAP T2 centers' strategic planning:
Preparing to Plan
Step 1: Scope the process.
Step 2: Identify your stakeholders.
Step 3: Draft a suggested mission statement for your center.
Step 4: Prepare for your strategic planning committee meeting(s).
Planning Committee Meeting: Module I (with input from your partners and customers)
Step 5: Analyze your environment: stakeholders; strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Identify critical issues.
Step 6: Review and modify mission statement.
Planning Committee Meeting: Module II (with input from your partners and customers)
Step 7: Define goals.
Step 8: Develop strategies to support each goal.
Finalizing and Implementing Your Plan (with input from your partners and customers)
Step 9: Draft your plan and seek comments on it.
Step 10: Revise and have your plan adopted and endorsed.
Step 11: Develop and implement action plans.
Step 12: Make strategic planning an ongoing process.