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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-048
Date: June 2010
State Planning and Research Guide For Peer Exchanges
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3. The Use of Peer Exchanges to Strategically Improve Research Programs
The use of peer exchanges was established to provide State DOT RD&T programs with the opportunity to examine and evaluate their own programs through a collaborative team of peers, experts, and persons involved in the process, where the exchange of vision, ideas, and best practices could be fostered to benefit their program and the program of the participants. A peer exchange is a focused collaboration among transportation research colleagues through which a host State may find the means to restructure or merely fine tune research program processes. With periodic peer exchanges, a State DOT can help ensure that its research program remains viable, vibrant, and productive.
What is the best peer exchange focus for your State?
State DOTs have been conducting peer exchanges of their research programs since the mid or late 1990s; many have conducted several peer exchanges. A new research director or a State that has had significant changes in its research program would be best served by conducting a full evaluation of its research management plan in his/her first peer exchange.
When a research director has experience with hosting and conducting a peer exchange, he/she may repeat a full evaluation of the management plan or may extend beyond this and conduct an exchange on a specific focused topic in the management plan. Future peer exchanges might extend further to convene around an agenda that will help the host State explore emerging opportunities for program improvements.
What is the best peer exchange format for your State?
Onsite at Host State
The traditional peer exchange is onsite at the host State's location and lasts for 2 to 3 days. Participants include representatives from the host State, other State research programs, FHWA headquarters office and/or FHWA division office, universities, and/or others. An onsite location affords access to other host State research staff, program offices, and senior management. It also permits easy access to the host State's facilities, such as laboratories. These benefits most likely would provide the most intense peer exchange format for a State research program. Gaining access to senior management to present the results of the peer exchange is a key step in ensuring a communication flow between research staff and senior- level decisionmakers in a State DOT.
Multistate Peer Exchange
A multistate format may be feasible in some situations, particularly if several States have a need to examine a single focus. It is unlikely that a peer exchange trying to focus on several States' full research programs could be successful because it would dilute the discussion too much to provide enough useful information to the several States in the exchange. In no case should the number of States undergoing a peer exchange of their programs exceed three in this format. Selection of a multistate format should be made with care to ensure that the intended benefits of a peer exchange be attained by all participants.
Participants at a multistate peer exchange should include panelists beyond the representative peer exchange States. There should be an equal or greater number of representatives other than those of the peer exchange States. Representatives from FHWA; universities; public and/or private laboratories, and institutes may augment the panel. A multistate format does not give the same access to facilities and senior management staff as the onsite format for a single State. That notwithstanding, facilities for all peer exchange States should enter the discussions as much as possible and each peer exchange State should brief their senior management upon their return home.
To minimize logistics for the States involved, a mutually convenient, central location should be selected.. Because a multistate peer exchange would involve States with common issues, it is likely they also would be from the same region of the country. While this may not always be the case or include all of the non-peer exchange States on the panel, keeping the logistics as simple as possible would help to keep costs down.
The length of a multistate peer exchange should typically be longer than a single State peer exchange to ensure that all of the States receive adequate attention; the agenda for the peer exchange should be structured appropriately.
Virtual Peer Exchange
A virtual peer exchange may be feasible in rare instances, but should not be used as an easy way to fulfill the regulatory requirement. While technology continues to improve to have electronic exchanges, such as in a webinar or video conference, the technologies have not progressed to a point that gives the same advantages as a face-to-face exchange, particularly when an agenda would extend to the desirable length of a single or multistate peer exchange. Participants should include the same array of representatives as for other formats; that is, host State, other State research programs, FHWA, universities, or others. In no instance should back-to-back virtual peer exchanges be held by a State to fulfill the regulatory requirement.