Partnering for Performance New Hampshire
Strafford Regional Planning Commission
- 13 months, 13 meetings
- Phases 2–5 completed in this timeframe
- 9 transportation agencies working collaboratively
- 50 organizations contacted and engaged in initial stakeholder engagement process
- 652 potential performance measures
- 1 Colloquium
- 3 Partner Assessments
- 2 Stakeholder Assessments
- 1 public roundtable
- 12 presentations
- 4 organizations continuing to work together after the project
- 24 measures in the System Performance Report
- 11 completed methodologies
- 7 "supplemental" measures ready to implement as of October 2017
The Partnering for Performance New Hampshire (PFPNH) project is a collaborative effort of the four New Hampshire Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT), New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), FHWA, FTA, and a non–metropolitan planning commission. The group worked together to create performance measures that address the shift toward performance–based planning emphasized by MAP–21 and the FAST Act. The funding and resources available through PlanWorks allowed the MPOs to collaborate productively with State and Federal partners, maximizing efficiency and capacity in the face of current funding constraints. Through this project, the workgroup developed a long–term framework for collaboration that the MPOs will continue to use.
The MPOs in NH are small and coterminous with regional planning commissions. Each agency has limited resources—especially time, money, and expertise—for implementing performance–based planning. Federal performance measures focus largely on the national highway system and large urbanized areas. The MPOs have only a collective 540 miles of NHS, 454 bridges on the NHS, and 48 miles of road in large Urbanized Areas. The MPOs determined that Federal measures were too high–level to generate a meaningful picture of transportation needs in their regions. Therefore, the MPOs and NHDOT used PlanWorks to collaborate with various partners and stakeholders in developing a framework for identifying additional context–driven performance measures.
A major outcome of this project is the strong long–term collaborative framework for the four MPOs. During this project, other partners were involved at varying levels, but the MPOs met together in person every month and worked together online between meetings. Prior to this project, they worked together when necessary or only in pairs; all four MPOs seldom worked together. Now they are actively pursuing opportunities to work together to simplify common processes. Great examples are the development of an MPO best practices manual and continuing efforts to streamline project selection and management.
The challenges that New Hampshire MPOs faced prior to this project were threefold: a need for better institutional decision–making practices, a lack of consistent funding, and struggles with earlier collaborations.
Improving Institutional Decision Making
Before this project, the established lines of communication in transportation planning worked mainly in one direction. The process for top–down communication from NHDOT to the nine regional planning commissions was well established, but bottom–up communication was less formal. This situation meant that agencies were working individually to complete shared transportation planning tasks, in essence duplicating work for all parties involved. Staffers from multiple regional agencies would contact different NHDOT personnel about the same issues, and there could be up to nine simultaneous discussions of the same topic. This communication issue also meant that the planning commissions had trouble communicating local–level needs to state–level decision makers. As performance–based funding decisions become the norm, comprehensive and effective communication will be crucial for facilitating that collaboration to ensure MPOs can meet regional targets and NHDOT can achieve state targets.
A lack of consistent funding for the process was another obstacle Strafford MPO faced prior to implementing PlanWorks. The project involved several agencies, and each agency had its own budget and regional priorities. This made it difficult for members to collaborate effectively because each had different amounts of time to dedicate to the project. Varying budgets from agency to agency limited potentially shared resources. Hours of research and data collection, as well as time and travel expenses for workgroup meetings, varied between members, making it hard to establish a long–term collaborative group.
Previous Collaboration Challenges
The experience of unsuccessful long–term collaborations in previous projects presented a major challenge when starting this new collaboration. In past projects, it was difficult for partners to work toward one shared goal because they chose to focus instead on the needs of their individual agencies. This led to "scope creep" as the project focus was widened to meet individual agencies' needs in addition to the needs that were shared by all. The lack of buy–in from members also hindered progress toward achieving individual and shared goals. In previous efforts with shared funding through similar grants, the group collaboration did not outlast the grant. Once the shared funding source was gone, so was the collaborative spirit. In this project, the group sought to strengthen the collaborative relationships between agencies so that the group would endure long term.
Strafford MPO applied for SHRP2 PlanWorks Implementation Assistance Program funds to ensure that the MPOs had a common funding source while developing a long–term collaborative framework. The framework focused on the performance–based planning requirements of MAP–21 to ensure that the MPOs and NHDOT would work together not only because of requirements, but because they saw value in cooperating.
The project's two PlanWorks' products with the greatest impact on this project were the Library and the Assessments.
Two documents in the PlanWorks library helped the group frame this project: the Performance Measurement Framework for Highway Capacity Decision Making (C02) and Eco–Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects (C06).
The Performance Measurement Framework for Highway Capacity Decision Making had a major impact on this project. In developing a system for integrating performance–based planning, the core components of program development, project delivery and system monitoring and reporting helped the group to shape this project. They used the report to plan the project scope, timeline, and deliverables. The report's emphasis on Transportation Planning Process "non–traditional" transportation themes and stakeholders inspired the workgroup. The stakeholder engagement and context assessment in Phase I was modeled after the interviews described in the report. The outcomes of the engagement were comparable. The PlanWorks Performance Measure Application, derived from this report, guided the workgroup in its development of a list of performance measures.
The workgroup was originally formed around the Piscataqua – Salmon Falls watershed. The workgroup consisted of Strafford MPO, Rockingham MPO, and the Kittery Area Comprehensive Transportation System (KACTS), the MPO representing southern Maine. This formation and structure was affected greatly by Eco–Logical. In 2016, the two remaining NH MPOs joined the workgroup, and KACTS opted to be a stakeholder. Although these developments shifted the geographic area away from the watershed, the structure and objectives of the successor group remained very similar to those of the original watershed group. The reconstituted NH MPO workgroup implemented the eight–step framework for integrated planning as a model for this project.
The Partnering for Performance NH Workgroup took the FHWA PlanWorks Partner Assessment in July 2016, December 2016, and May 2017. Each time, seven partners responded. The PlanWorks Partner Assessment helped the workgroup identify strengths and weaknesses in the collaborative efforts of this project. This analysis also helped the workgroup develop strategies to improve on these weaknesses throughout the project.
To administer the PlanWorks Stakeholder Assessment, the MPOs first identified and contacted 370 regional and statewide stakeholders and MPO committee members in the fall of 2016. Of the 370 individuals contacted, 43 provided feedback on the performance measures developed by the workgroup. This feedback came in one of the following forms: an email response summarizing the individual's thoughts on the measures; a spreadsheet with comments; or a follow–up interview consisting of seven questions. Two stakeholders provided feedback via email, 41 sent in lists, and 23 of those 43 stakeholders participated in interviews. Staff invited the 41 stakeholders who provided feedback on the measures via a list or in an interview to participate in the assessment process and they received 20 responses.
Decision Guide: Long Range Transportation Planning Phase
Assessments: The core workgroup took the Partner Assessment three times, and Stakeholders were asked to take the Stakeholder Assessment two times.
Applications: Performance Measures and Stakeholder Collaboration
Library: The structure of this project was largely framed based on the two reports in the PlanWorks Library, Performance Measure Framework for Highway Capacity Decision Making and Eco–Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects.">
One problem they encountered with the Stakeholder Assessments was the inability of the stakeholders to take the assessment anonymously. Anonymity helps ensure honest feedback. If stakeholders have to submit their assessments by email, their identity is known and they may be less likely to submit negative feedback. The group addressed this problem by creating a Google Form replica of the assessment, which enabled them to obtain results anonymously and in a ready–to–analyze format. They did, however, ask assessment respondents to identify the agency they worked for in order to help them determine the distribution of stakeholders taking the assessment.
Strafford MPO staff also had difficulty gathering the Partner Assessment results in a way that allowed quick and easy analysis. After the partners took the Partner Assessment, they had to download the results as either a PDF or a Word document then email the results to Strafford MPO for analysis. Not only was this an inconvenience for workgroup members, it opened the analysis to data entry errors. The MPO recommended that it would be beneficial to have the option of sending the results as either an Excel spreadsheet or a file in CSV format directly from the Assessment webpage to a project manager.
Figure 1: Strategies developed by the workgroup at the July 2016 Kick–Off meeting to address issues with data and information based on the Partner Assessment
The Partner Assessments asked a large number of questions, and the analysis of the responses revealed five broad areas needing improvement: data and information; decision–making authority; participant stability; practitioner communication; and role clarity. At the project Kick–Off meeting in July 2016 (see Figure 1), the workgroup developed an action plan through an activity where small groups developed strategies to address these topics and improve collaborative health. After developing 34 strategies, the whole group voted to prioritize these strategies and pick 25 to implement.
Since then, each time they have taken the assessment, the group revisits the action plan to add or modify strategies. They have seen great improvements in five areas of weakness since July 2016. Some of the highly successful strategies that the MPO had implemented are the use of a universal portal for communication and project files, the formation of a data subgroup, and documentation of the decision–making process and end results.
The MPO's analysis of the Stakeholder Assessments was more focused. They were able to identify specific weaknesses and develop an action plan for improving in these areas. Issues that arose included the following:
- A lack of consistency in stakeholder involvement
- A lack of connection or access to other stakeholders involved in the project and a lack of networking opportunities
- A lack of strong communication, especially about how stakeholders' input has been incorporated
- Lack of a clear and timely information loop
The strategies they developed to deal with these weaknesses include holding a stakeholder roundtable event, enhancing their web presence through Strafford MPO's blog and social media, shifting the focus of the end of project colloquium, and establishing a project website. The roundtable enabled the MPO to check in with stakeholders and directly involve them, through an engagement activity, in the process the workgroup had gone through in the prior six months. This activity showed the stakeholders how much their original input had influenced the project. Four of the seven final supplemental measures were high priorities for stakeholders early on.
In this project, Strafford MPO used the Performance Measures Application and the Stakeholder Collaboration Application. They used the performance measures application to develop an initial list of 652 potential performance measures. The arrangement of the themes in the list was similar to the performance measure application as well. They used the stakeholder collaboration application and associated decision guides to help frame stakeholder engagement throughout the project, and they relied on the guides for best practices in using stakeholder feedback.
Strafford MPO used the Decision Guide on several occasions when they were dealing with buy–in issues with one of its partners. The PlanWorks Partner Roles section in the Partner Portal helped to clarify the roles of the workgroup partners through the Long Range Transportation Planning (LRP) section of the Decision Guide. The MPO used this section of the Decision Guide since it is the most similar to the agency's project. In the Partner Roles section, State DOTs are listed as either advisors or observers at different stages of the LRP process. This has traditionally been the case for NHDOT in the State's transportation planning processes. However, for this project, NHDOT was a decision making partner. It was especially challenging to manage expectations regarding this role for Strafford MPO as the lead adopter.
Great efforts were made within NHDOT to participate in this project, and those efforts were evident at the December workgroup meeting. The workgroup discussed concerns with NHDOT's role in the project and, through this dialogue, came to understand that NHDOT is like a big ship: changing course takes time and preparation. A collaborative approach to transportation decision making is relatively new to NHDOT decision makers, and requires organizational changes for most workgroup participants. Organizational change takes time. The workgroup needs to be patient and give everyone the opportunity and time needed for successful implementation and change.
Throughout this project, Strafford MPO worked with a wide variety of traditional and non–traditional transportation stakeholders from over 50 organizations. The traditional stakeholders included other state agencies, rural regional planning commissions, transit agencies, freight companies, advocacy groups, and conservation organizations. Non–traditional stakeholders included the Conservation Law Foundation, public health agencies, port and airport operators, the Associated Grocers of New England, the Business and Industry Association, medical centers, hospitals, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters.
At the outset, MPO staff held 25 stakeholder interviews involving over 86 individuals. Verbatim transcripts of the interviews were analyzed using qualitative analysis software. The results produced 121 potential performance measures, as well as a ranking of measures that best reflected the needs and interests of stakeholders. Stakeholders were invited to provide feedback from September to November 2016 on the work being conducted by the workgroup. The purpose of this round of engagement was to determine the relevance of the workgroup's supplemental performance measures and to investigate whether stakeholders collected data or knew of data sources for the measures. Stakeholders participated in several different ways, including in–person interviews, conference calls, and email submissions of feedback. Stakeholders who participated in this round of engagement were invited to take the PlanWorks Stakeholder Assessment.
After a gap between two phases of the project, the workgroup organized a colloquium to re–engage stakeholders into the process. The end–of–project colloquium, held in June 2017, focused on the stakeholders' impact on the group's decision process. The workgroup did not want those who had given their time, help, and expertise to feel as though their input had gone to waste. Four out of the seven supplemental measures that were ready to implement were priorities from the stakeholder interviews.
As a result of implementing PlanWorks, Partnering for Performance NH observed the following outcomes:
Creation of a Partner Action Plan. At the July 2016 Kick–Off meeting, the workgroup used the results of the PlanWorks Partner Assessment to develop an action plan focused on the collaborative health of the workgroup. This action plan contains strategies developed by the workgroup based on the five categories of the Partner Assessment that received the fewest positive responses. One of the most successful strategies that came out of this exercise was the use of a project management application for project communication and file sharing. There was strong buy–in for this system, and it has been beneficial for keeping everything related to the project in one place.
- Framework for continued collaboration by NH MPOs, NH DOT, and other partners . The MPOs found that working together works for them. They have common areas of work that they each approach differently, and they want to find best practices to streamline our processes. Among these topics are project selection and prioritization, TIP revision procedures, congestion management, UPWP coordination, and development of an MPO best practices manual.
- Improved relationships with Federal partners. Support from Federal staff throughout this project was instrumental. Both Federal representation at monthly meetings and PlanWorks staff assistance strengthened the process.
- Use of PlanWorks for non–transportation projects. Through this project, they saw the value of self–assessment at work. Strafford's economic development planner who frequently collaborates with other agencies is restructuring processes to use the assessment for his group.
- Enhanced understanding of group dynamics that directly affect healthy collaboration. The MPO was able to identify and gain further clarity on how to directly respond to weaknesses and challenges to progress as a result of various partners' needs.
- Engagement with traditional stakeholders . The MPO found throughout this project that the agency's traditional stakeholders were very engaged and involved. Transit agencies and advocacy groups were willing to participate surveys, meetings, and presentations. Furthermore, these stakeholders were active in these events, asking questions, providing input, and discussing their needs and values.
- Engagement with non–traditional stakeholders . In this project, the MPO worked with stakeholders that they normally do not engage with, and who, in the past, may have been excluded from the transportation decision–making process. Among these stakeholders are the Conservation Law Foundation, Easter Seals, the Department of Health and Human Services, HEAL NH, the Associated Grocers of New England, the Business and Industry Association, medical centers, hospitals, soup kitchens, and shelters. The non–traditional stakeholders were interested in learning more about the project, but were unsure what their contribution would be.
- Great enthusiasm from early stakeholders . Early on, stakeholders were involved and excited to be brought to the table. One commented, "I applaud you for what you are doing because you're bringing all these groups together. We're typically left out of the picture, and it's not working." 
- Enhanced understanding of stakeholder relationships. Due to the time lapse between the first and second round of stakeholder engagement, a notable attrition occurred. When the MPO reached out to stakeholders with an overly time sensitive request, some were no longer as enthusiastic about the project. Assessment results showed a lack of understanding of the project and the role played by stakeholders. One stakeholder who participated noted, "My comments are influenced in large part by the significant time lag between the first time I met with members of the project team, and our meeting a few weeks ago, as well as lack of communication during that time period." MPO staff members reconsidered their approach to engagement and adapted it to be more consistent and inclusive. Without the assessment they would not have had this opportunity to understand and analyze the stakeholders' feelings.
This project was a constant learning experience for the MPO and its partners.
It is an understatement to say that collaboration was vital in accomplishing this project. Working together made a substantial workload manageable and a superior product resulted.
The MPO found that making sure roles, responsibilities and expectations are clearly understood and agreed upon at the beginning of the project, and reinforced throughout, is a crucial component of successful collaboration.
The MPO found that having a dedicated project lead to facilitate collaboration is vital. Strafford MPO handled all of the administrative work, organized the group, assigned and managed tasks, set deadlines, and reduced the overall work for the other agencies.
The MPO reported that self–assessment was instrumental in understanding group dynamics and gave the workgroup the ability to address weaknesses. Checking in with each other monthly, in an honest fashion, allowed the workgroup to tweak its plans and work more effectively.
The MPO also indicated that project management with dedicated software was incredibly valuable. All project files and communications were housed in one place that everyone could access, which made collaboration from nine separate offices possible. It also served as an effective tool for documenting the process, since all of the conversations and decisions made along the way were documented in one place.
The group members provided feedback after they took the final PlanWorks partner assessment. The following observations were made about the partner assessments:
Some of the questions didn't pertain to this project, so they were difficult to answer.
Sometimes it would have been beneficial to be able to add comments.
Some of the language in the assessment was unclear.
The Likert scale wasn't the best scoring mechanism for all of the questions.
Some of the questions asked about the entire group would have been easier to answer if they had been asked about individual agencies instead—and would have helped each agency understand how it was being perceived by the others.
The group discussed whether the partner survey would be useful to use again if Strafford MPO were to modify it. Members agreed the survey is useful for making sure they stay on track. The first round of this assessment in July 2016 was tough to respond to because the project hadn't started and there were many unknowns. It might have been better if they had taken the first assessment a few weeks into the project.
The MPOs will meet monthly to continue work on performance measures and to begin streamlining MPO processes. This smaller group will continue to self–assess, but will most likely adapt the PlanWorks questions to a Google form allowing for some open–ended responses. This approach will help the group gain more insights into the responses. Another open–ended field could collect strategies to consider for improving in weaker areas.
The MPO group will work on improving relationships with stakeholders based on the responses received on the stakeholder assessment. They will use the assessment to continue to identify areas in need of improvement and to identify and implement strategies to improve these relationships.
The MPO group will work on improving relationships with NHDOT and other state agencies so that collaborative efforts become integrated in every day processes.
The group will refer to the PlanWorks library when looking for guidance on decision making and collaboration.
For More Information
Strafford Regional Planning Commission
firstname.lastname@example.org Nancy O'Connor
Program Content Coordinator
Strafford Regional Planning Commission
email@example.com Reena Mathews
FHWA Office of Planning
 Strafford Regional Planning Commission. The Collaborative MPO Approach to Performance Based Planning in New Hampshire. (Rochester: Strafford Regional Planning Commission. 2016) http://www.strafford.org/cmsAdmin/uploads/synthesis-report_final.pdf