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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1: Background." National Research Council. 2022. Virtual Public Involvement: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26827.

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4  C H A P T E R 1 Background NCHRP Project 08-142, “Virtual Public Involvement: A Manual for Effective, Equitable, and Efficient Public Involvement” will address a major gap in the public involvement guidance currently available to transportation agencies seeking to use virtual tools and techniques to facilitate two-way communication with the public. State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), rural planning organizations (RPOs) and other transportation agencies will benefit from the development of structured, research-based guidance on how to choose and employ virtual public involvement (VPI) tools effectively, efficiently and – perhaps most important – equitably. This timely effort will capture unique insights from the COVID-19 pandemic period as well as prior knowledge about VPI and, hopefully, emerging insights from the initial post-pandemic period. The research will generate important new information to help guide agencies of any size or with any level of experience with VPI. Moreover, the research process, which includes significant dialogue with agencies and practitioners, provides a chance for sustained discussion in our industry about what the “new normal” in public involvement should look like – and how this guide can support beneficial and equitable VPI in the transportation sector. This technical document summarizes Phase 1 of the research study, focused exclusively on the recent experience of undertaking and transitioning to VPI during the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase 1 research included a literature review/practice scan, an online agency survey, facilitated focus group discussions, and targeted structured interviews. Subsequent phases of the project will include the development of a guide for transportation agencies on virtual public involvement.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation agencies' most used public-engagement tools were virtual public meetings, social media, dedicated project websites or webpages, email blasts, and electronic surveys. As the pandemic subsides, virtual and hybrid models continue to provide opportunities and challenges.

The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program's NCHRP Web-Only Document 349: Virtual Public Involvement: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic discusses gaps that need to be addressed so that transportation agencies can better use virtual tools and techniques to facilitate two-way communication with the public.

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