National survey of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) reveals real challenges gaining public involvement

Contact: Hunter Gardner FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


National survey of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) reveals real challenges gaining public involvement

Results also found discrepancies in perceptions between Executives and Communicators

RALEIGH, NC – June 11, 2019 – A nationwide survey of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) serving metropolitan areas of 200,000 or more citizens offers new insights into how challenging it is to gain public input for important public works projects. One of the most revealing aspects of the survey was the differences in perception of the public involvement process and shared hurdles across MPOs among Communicators (Communication Directors, Public Information Officers) and Executives (Executive Directors, Senior Planners).

Participants responded to a set of questions ranging from familiarity with common public mandates, reaching communities of interest (Limited English Proficiency – LEP, Environmental Justice – EJ, rural communities), and the importance of public involvement practices commonly laid out in public participations plans.

Comments from MPO professionals raised concerns about “reaching the public that is too busy or don’t think they care about our projects,” as well as comment tracking, aggregation, and in-depth analysis of this public feedback, along with the ability to reach key demographics, capture meaningful input, a lack of engagement performance metrics, and the need for building “sustained relationships”.

While both Executives and Communicators felt their MPO was doing a “Good” or “Excellent” job of reaching potentially impacted communities (Executives, 76%; Communicators, 73%), Executives were much more likely to consider these efforts “Excellent” at 29% compared to 8% of Communicators. A nearly identical sentiment was found with rural communities, with 61% of Executives and 58% Communicators reporting “Good” or “Excellent”; however, 22% of Executives responded with “Excellent” compared to just 8% of Communicators.

Both groups agreed that reaching LEP communities was their single biggest hurdle, with 73% of Communicators stating a “None”, “Low” or “Moderate” ability, and Executives reporting similarly at 61%. Environmental Justice groups were also troublesome with 49% of all survey participants reporting that their ability to efficiently identify and engage EJ communities was “Low” or “Moderate”.

The public involvement practices requiring the most effort, regardless of position, were:

  • Providing equitable participation in multiple languages
  • Informing & educating affected communities about proposed projects
  • Managing a public participation database
  • Telling the story of projects in high visual ways

However, Communicators reported “Informing & educating affected communities about proposed projects” required a much higher level of effort than their Executive counterparts (64% reporting “Difficult” compared to 35% of Executives).

All findings were recently published in Integrated Public Involvement: The MPO Guide To Best Practices Across Traditional and Virtual Methods. Available for free download here.

About is a public involvement and communications software company founded in 2014 by engineers and planners. We believe that when public involvement is less costly, less painful, and more representative of community needs, it becomes a powerful tool for creating better policy. This starts with a better community engagement process.


Related Blogs