Virtual Public Involvement: CDOT Innovators Use Technology to Engage the Public

#EveryDayCounts #ContinuousImprovement #PublicEngagement#YourTransportationPlan #FHWA #ContinuousImprovement #Planning

By: Kailyn Haskovec, , Process Improvement Intern

March 31, 2020

Two people engaging in Virtual Public Involvement boothResidents take the online survey at the Durango Farmers Market

We know that public engagement is necessary, but reaching everybody is not always an easy task. In the age of technology, the public sector is embracing innovative ways to involve the community in planning initiatives. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is optimizing public input by utilizing both virtual and traditional engagement methods regarding the statewide transportation plan.

What is Virtual Public Involvement?

The Every Day Counts (EDC) program is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and identifies underutilized innovations. These proven ideas create greater efficiency and help to save government agencies time and money. CDOT is proud to embrace this program and has implemented innovations throughout the state such as Virtual Public Involvement. Virtual involvement is the use of digital technology to engage individuals or to visualize projects and plans (FHWA). This particular innovation aligns well with CDOT’s values of commitment to excellence and ensuring high quality customer service and respect. Public involvement is a critical aspect in any transportation planning effort, and the traveling public is the best resource for identifying needed system improvement, because they use the transportation system every day.

However, with barriers such as hectic schedules, language and cultural barriers, and lack of diverse viewpoints among participants, reaching all individuals proves difficult. The increase in social media usage and information sharing offer a unique opportunity to communicate more effectively with the residents of Colorado. Some of the ways that CDOT is embracing this idea include online surveys, telephone town halls, and online mapping.

Outreach Opportunities

an example of the mobile device version of Your Transportation Plan surveyAn example of the mobile device version of Your Transportation Plan survey

This summer, CDOT employees traveled to all 64 Colorado counties searching for feedback on the updated statewide transportation plan, “Your Transportation Plan.” With over 9,000 survey responses, over 100 meetings and more than 1.2 million views on social media, Aaron Willis, Transportation Planner, reports that this outreach was successful. Over the 15 years he's been at CDOT, Aaron mentions that public engagement has continued to improve. This outreach success can be compared to efforts from the development of the 2040 Statewide Transportation Plan where CDOT reached only 2,500 people via surveying, had approximately 41,700 website views and a very limited social media strategy.

Continuing Forward

However, it is important to not rely solely on virtual public engagement and to utilize different strategies to ensure balanced participation. Aaron states, “I think virtual techniques are very appealing to the younger generation, while older generations are perhaps more accustomed to personalized interactions.”

Residents engaging in Virtual Public Involvement boothResidents engaging in Virtual Public Involvement booth

As the initial engagement efforts for Your Transportation Plan has concluded, CDOT will reach out to the public for feedback during the public review and comment period for the plan. The planning team will proactively involve the public using a variety of strategies as they did this past summer. CDOT staff will provide the same opportunities for those who aren't comfortable or don't have access to the web and technology as those who do. Aaron explains, “It's important for us to make sure that those with limited English proficiency and with income constraints can participate equally in the same capacity, to ensure everyone has a voice in transportation decision-making.” This commitment to inclusion, customer service, and respect is just one aspect that helps CDOT continue to achieve its goal of becoming the best department of transportation in the country.