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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2: Methodology." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2: Methodology." National Research Council. 2022. Virtual Public Involvement: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26827.
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2: Methodology." 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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5  C H A P T E R 2 Methodology Literature review/practice scan As a first step in the Phase 1 research, the team conducted an initial scan of literature, industry guidance and peer exchange materials on VPI that have emerged during the COVID-19 period. The research team compiled and reviewed over 30 guidance resources in the form of reports, articles, blogs, webinars, websites and briefing papers from transportation agencies, professional associations, private firms, advocacy groups and the media. The team reviewed these documents for common themes and insights to help shape the development of the survey questions and the discussion guides for the focus groups and interviews. This literature review/practice scan is included in Appendix A. It contains highlights of overarching themes, selected resources that the team found most relevant for Phase 1 and examples of VPI in practice during the pandemic. Appendix B provides an annotated bibliography in tabular form. Online agency survey The research team developed and fielded a detailed online survey questionnaire to capture and analyze data from state DOTs and regional planning organizations, such as MPOs and RPOs, on the topic of virtual engagement during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and in more recent months. The survey intended to gather feedback on relevant topics, including but not limited to VPI tools and approaches utilized; successes and challenges engaging virtually with the public, including with targeted populations such as persons with disabilities; and identification of resources that may assist agencies with virtual engagement efforts moving forward. Detailed survey findings are included in Appendix C. An online survey of 54 questions was designed to take approximately 15 minutes to complete. The survey was easily accessible to respondents through a single web link adaptable to mobile devices, websites, tablets, and desktop computers. The research team vigorously beta-tested the survey before launch to ensure any identified issues were addressed. Most questions were multiple choice, with several open-ended questions to allow participants to add additional or clarifying information. The project team undertook a convenience sampling approach to survey recruitment and participation. The team emailed the survey link to representatives from all 50 state DOTs and a large selection of MPOs, RPOs and other regional planning bodies on February 6, 2022. In addition, the survey was distributed on behalf of the project team by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). To ensure broad participation, the project team conducted extensive follow-up with representatives from these organizations, including emails and phone calls. The survey was open for approximately one month. The team received 196 complete responses, including responses from 41 states and representatives from 38 distinct state DOTs.

6  Focus group discussions The research team conducted six virtual focus groups to facilitate detailed, qualitative discussions with agency representatives and practitioners on their experiences using VPI. The focus group sessions captured a more complete discussion of topics related to VPI practices and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, delving deeper into VPI successes, failures, challenges, and benefits experienced. The sessions also fostered a sense of sharing and learning about VPI practices among participants. The focus group cohorts included:  State DOT Employees: Two focus groups were composed of representatives from state DOTs. The participants in these focus groups were almost exclusively recruited from the online survey participation list. The project team contacted all survey participants about participation in the focus groups. Cohorts were then developed to balance representation by agency size and geographic distribution. States that participated in focus groups included Wisconsin, Louisiana, California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina, and Arizona. In some instances, more than one individual participated from a particular state.  Regional Planning Organization Employees: One focus group was composed of a selection of representatives from MPOs and RPOs. The participants in this cohort were recruited from a combination of survey participants and additional outreach to MPOs and RPOs.  Subject Matter Experts: Three focus groups included a range of public involvement experts, primarily from the private sector. These participants were identified through the practice scan, professional organization contacts and external research to develop a list of potential candidates with diverse experiences from throughout the United States. Candidates were then recruited to participate in these focus groups by invitation and direct outreach. Targeted structured interviews To supplement understanding of how virtual engagement was deployed to vulnerable populations, the research team conducted interviews with organizations that had recent experience using virtual engagement with persons with a disability, older adults, minority and low-income populations and persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). To recruit for these interviews, the project team compiled a list of potential candidates to ensure a diversity of experiences and perspectives among the selected interview subjects, including those who work in fields beyond transportation, such as health, mental health, and human services.

7    The project team interviewed representatives from the following organizations:  The Great Lakes ADA Center in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)  American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) – California field office (Sacramento, California)  La Raza Centro Legal (San Francisco, California)  Adult Education Solutions Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio)  Goodwill Industries International headquarters (Rockville, Maryland)  National Federation of the Blind (Baltimore, Maryland) Each interview was approximately one hour long and was conducted online.    

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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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