U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
In April 2008, a team of 11 transportation research, asset, and policy management experts from the United States visited Belgium (European Commission), France, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Sweden to review and assess transportation research program administration practices. The scan team members sought policy options and initiatives as well as process improvements to enhance the effectiveness of transportation research administrative activities in the United States. The team identified successful practices with potential for application to U.S. surface transportation research programs, particularly in the public sector. In addition, the team realized its presence in the countries visited would provide avenues for developing research partnerships and collaboration opportunities and that this unique experience would promote information sharing and technology transfer with international counterparts. The team also learned that transportation research, quality of life, and national economic competitiveness are inseparable in all of the countries visited, and it gained a greater appreciation of the necessity for robust links between the creation of knowledge via research and the application of knowledge in society. The scan team met with senior research program administrators from national governments and the European Commission, nongovernment national research consortia, institutes, centers of excellence, research foundations, and universities. This scan is the first solely dedicated to research program management practice. The scan topic originated through discussions among State department of transportation (DOT) research managers committed to improving the effectiveness of research program activities and increasing the stewardship of the resources directed to research. This scan is especially important for the U.S. transportation research community because it addresses program-level activities rather than technical projectbased efforts, and it provides concepts that can significantly enhance research program management in the United States.
The Transportation Research Program Administration Scan was conducted through the International Highway Technology Scanning Program, jointly sponsored by FHWA and AASHTO in cooperation with the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) NCHRP, the private sector, and academia.
The scan team identified four primary themes that describe its areas of interest. Each theme incorporates an aspect of the research administrative process from early stage, determining the research framework, to late stage, getting the research results into widespread practice. The scan team also developed a series of amplifying questions detailing the information it sought on each theme.
In the context of these four themes, the team focused on how the host countries administer their research programs and projects, including the methods, techniques, and tools they use to accomplish the broad spectrum of administrative functions. The scan team also investigated the roles, responsibilities, and working relationships among research entities in the various countries and within their international domains.
The following are the four primary themes:
Scan team findings are organized by the four primary themes of inquiry.
Establishing the Research Framework
Transportation research is directly related to national economic growth and competitiveness. In every country visited, the prevalent belief was "if you aren't doing transportation R&D, then you won't be globally competitive." The international counterparts appreciated their R&D activities in the context of the entire world. Their perspective on transportation research differed greatly from the U.S. public sector model; the host countries see transportation research as an integral piece of their efforts to maintain or create a more robust national economy.
Strategic and policy-driven frameworks for transportation research are the standard. Transportation research frameworks are developed nationally through a strategic process that is closely tied to national policy goals and objectives. These research frameworks are all-encompassing in that they include broad societal issues, not just transportation.
Exemplary research frameworks are accompanied by well-defined processes to create comprehensive transportation research roadmaps. The scan team identified excellent examples of how expertise in developing research frameworks also affects downstream processes, such as fostering comprehensive roadmaps for determining effective research programs.
The countries had an ability to align the transportation research framework with a common vision. In addition to demonstrating a clear and purposeful approach to establishing strategic frameworks, the countries focus on communicating the framework so that all stakeholders own it. This communication is done through effective and efficient planning and collaboration with industry and academia in building the common vision and accomplishing the research activities. The main drivers are societal goals rather than industrial goals, using transportation to improve the quality of life.
Senior-level individuals frequently emerge as visionaries or champions and play an instrumental role in national program focus and support. In a number of host countries, very senior experts are often regarded as highly credible opinion leaders on the national level. The noteworthy aspect of this high regard is the access these individuals have to national policy formulation and decisionmaking. The availability of accurate and expert transportation R&D knowledge to national leaders is a key factor in the country's support of the necessity for and value of R&D efforts.
National research frameworks had common topics in many of the host countries, and these frameworks are being addressed by cross-ministerial R&D activities. The host countries articulated framework items that are also concerns in the United States (e.g., climate change, aging population and mobility, workforce, aging infrastructure, congestion management, safety, and security). Host countries' research programs look to solve these national priorities in a manner that uses a remarkably broad perspective—incorporating extensive cross-ministerial bodies that include land, infrastructure, energy, environment, culture, and sports, for example.
Partnership Models and Joint Research Activities
In the host countries, transportation research partnerships and joint research efforts are essential, ubiquitous, and actively promoted. The role and use of partnerships and the collaboration of multiple players are integral elements of the research activities in the various countries visited. In many countries officials have a strong sense of "we know we can't do all this separately." With that knowledge, for example, the European Union (EU) international collaboration platform recognizes each country's competitive stance. While each country is an EU member and can benefit by being part of a unified economic entity, each country is also an individual economic entity with unique country priorities.
Host countries' transportation R&D collaboration activities begin substantially further upstream than in the United States. Host countries' research programs incorporated academic and industry participation earlier in the research process than those of the United States. In the host countries there is a continuous flow that incorporates collaboration throughout the research process—from problem definition (which may include participation in establishing the research framework) through the conduct of the research and the delivery of research products.
Research institutes are an important vehicle for exercising transportation partnerships and collaboration. Without exception, each host country had some form of research institute that is a primary vehicle to either fund and financially manage or foster, house, and accomplish collaborative research efforts. The formation and structure of the research institutes varied from country to country, but each example brought together government, foundations, academia, industry, and other independent organizations that enabled them to respond to the national strategic framework more effectively in collaboration than each organization could on its own.
Academic partners are integral to transportation research performance. In every host country, academic partners in transportation R&D had a more integral and integrated role in research activities than is seen in comparable U.S. research efforts. Countries included the academic expertise for determining framework priorities, creating knowledge, accomplishing research and evaluation, and creating the future workforce.
International research partnership models in transportation are similar to models used in the United States. The scan team found similarities in the partnership models used by its international counterparts. In fact, it was encouraging to see the operation of partnership models in the various international contexts because these similarities showed potential for future partnership and collaborative activities for U.S.- international research efforts. While some aspects of the international partnerships were familiar, others provided learning opportunities for the team. Partnerships used in the countries visited tended to provide multidisciplinary, international research leadership and contribute to framework development, work sharing, and financing in ways not frequently used in the United States.Conduct of Research: Performance, Quality, and Value
Transportation R&D is accepted as a valuable contribution to the national or societal good. Transportation research programs and their outcomes are seen in the host countries as an important contribution to society. Transportation R&D is especially considered an economic growth generator and an essential element of global competitiveness. The programs reviewed did not have to continually justify expenditures as do most U.S. research programs. In fact, the acceptance of the value of research in the host countries promotes strong research programs, which in turn develops greater value—a virtuous cycle.
International counterparts are funding transportation R&D at significantly high levels. Substantial program funding is committed to transportation research in the host countries. For the most part, the transportation research programs of host countries are significantly more integrated into broad research arenas such as model city, urban regeneration, or climate change impact. R&D funding is generally increasing to match the interest in achieving environmental and economic sustainability and global competitiveness.
Program and project evaluation techniques varied in complexity and effectiveness. For the most part, every research program included some process for evaluating research results. Some programs were more successful than others, and some programs were more risk adverse than others, requiring extensive review to redirect work.
Quantifying the benefits of research results is a continuing challenge for all host countries. As in the United States, the host countries find quantifying benefits of research activities a challenge. The efforts committed to determining the benefits varied, and no country had a completely satisfactory solution. The focus on justifying the program based on the benefits analysis was not a critical concern for any of the countries.
A variety of successful techniques and processes are potential options for consideration in the United States. Some of the items the scan team noted included the role of research institutes in establishing research frameworks, longer term plans with multiyear programming, and closeness of government R&D activities to industry, for example.
Delivery: Getting Research Results Into Widespread Practice
Addressing intellectual property rights is a common practice that facilitates the delivery of transportation research results. The scan team observed decidedlydifferent perspectives than in the United States on the ownership of intellectual property generated from government- funded transportation research. Intellectual property (IP) development is seen as an opportunity to build a business based on the specific IP, generated fees were used as income sources for R&D, and numbers of patents and licensing opportunities were used as performance metrics.
Development of common platforms among U.S. and international R&D organizations will facilitate research results delivery in all countries. The development of common platforms for a variety of research processes will substantially reduce barriers for R&D collaboration, foster international partnerships, and promote more widespread use of research results.
The number of forums for international sharing of research results is increasing. Venues exist to share and enhance the likelihood of dissemination of research results, and for the global transportation research community those tools and opportunities are growing in capability and capacity.
The team identified a number of successful transportation research program administration practices in the host countries that can be applied in the United States. These practices are the basis for the Scan Team Implementation Plan (STIP). The STIP describes the six major implementation plan items, discusses each item, and identifies implementation strategies. The timeframe for implementing the STIP items ranges from the time the team returned to the United States through 2011 and beyond.
In addition, findings and best practices obtained from the scan will be widely disseminated throughout the transportation research community through presentations, workshops, reports, articles, and Web-based activities and discussions. Some of the recommendations and implementation strategies can be implemented within the existing transportation research infrastructure. Others may require policy-level studies and international joint activities to realize the desired outcomes and benefits.
The following summary identifies the six STIP items, presents the scan team's rationale for including each item, and highlights major strategies for accomplishing the implementation.
Item 1: Improving International Relationships
Build international relationships and institutionalize cooperation in transportation research to achieve global goals and leverage knowledge and resources.
While the scanning study focused on research program administration, the team realized its presence in other countries would provide avenues for developing new research relationships and potential collaboration opportunities with its international counterparts, particularly on global issues such as climate change and highway safety. Each of the international host organizations visited expressed a desire for expanded collaborative research efforts with the United States. In addition, officials made repeated references to a need for better information sharing and global technology transfer of innovations.
Efforts are already underway to institutionalize cooperation in transportation research between the European community and the United States, as well as between the United States and South Korean researchers—activities in which TRB has been instrumental. A variety of isolated partnerships also exist between agencies, institutes, or companies abroad and in the United States. To foster more of these beneficial international relationships, the scan team presents the following strategies:
Item 2: Developing a Nationally Coordinated Transportation Research Framework
Promote the development and implementation of a nationally coordinated, multimodal transportation research framework.
To remain globally competitive and continue to improve the quality of life for U.S. citizens, it is critical for the Nation to be an active player in the research community. There must be collaboration throughout the Nation to unleash the brilliance of its researchers and identify a national research framework that unites the various sectors of the country behind common research goals or themes.
With this in mind, the scan team believes that a policy study should be undertaken to analyze the current process of many independently run research programs and evaluate the benefits of a nationally focused program in which more research dollars are spent on a few highly critical areas. If the results of the review point to a coordinated national program, the study would recommend a process to develop a coordinated national framework for U.S. transportation research. This framework would be collaboratively developed and flexible enough to address local and regional as well as national issues, and exhibit a broad-based fusion of top-down and bottom-up needs identification. Examples of effective research platforms are available to assist in this effort, including the European Union framework; the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Technology Basic Plan; and South Korean roadmaps. In addition, models such as that used by the National Institutes of Health would be productive benchmark candidates. The following are implementation strategies for developing a nationally coordinated research framework:
Item 3: Strengthening the Innovation Process
Strengthen the innovation process by examining international research institutes and other models of collaboration to link knowledge creation and knowledge application.
The scan team learned that the host countries use research institutes to bridge the gap between knowledge creation and knowledge application. Institutes often are the venues that bring together the knowledge creation, knowledge management, and knowledge application aspects of R&D and foster transportation partnerships and collaboration that lead to effective innovation.
Without exception, each host country had some form of research institute that is a primary vehicle to either fund and financially manage or foster, house, and accomplish collaborative research efforts. The formation and structure of the research institutes varied from country to country, but each example brought together government, government- funded independent organizations, academia, and industry in a unique manner that enabled them to respond to the national strategic framework more effectively than each organization could on its own. The United States does not have comparable entities to facilitate collaborative research on this level. Some U.S. structures can accomplish portions of the roles of these institutes, but such integration of responsibility in one institutional structure is clearly a non-U.S. model.
The scan team implementation will consist of the following:
Item 4: Exploring Benefits of Intellectual Property Applications in U.S. Transportation Research
Investigate the effects, applications, and potential for intellectual property rights in the United States and abroad.
Among countries visited in the scan, the transportation research community demonstrated a noticeably greater concern for the value and importance of intellectual property than is sometimes evident in the United States. Safeguarding intellectual property was recognized as a critical component of the entire research process to spur innovation, encourage investment in technology development and refinement, and foster commercialization nationally and internationally. Ultimately, intellectual property was seen as a means to bolster national economies by adding companies that hire new employees and sell new products. These perspectives varied from the views and uses of IP in government sector transportation research in the United States.
Differences in intellectual property laws can complicate or frustrate protection and licensing between organizations in different countries. Organizations in nearly every country visited in the scan voiced questions and concerns about international intellectual property rights.
The following are strategies to foster the potential benefits of IP applications in transportation research:
Item 5: Exploring Global Use of Research Information
Integrate and enhance accessible databases, Internet forums, portals, or other platforms to coordinate information and knowledge resources at a global level.
Developing common platforms for a variety of research processes would substantially reduce barriers for R&D collaboration and international partnerships and promote more widespread use of research results. Improved awareness of research frameworks, existing collaborations, and intellectual property issues; sharing of research expertise for peer review activities; and widespread information exchange are just a few of the areas that could benefit from the development of linked databases, common access portals, or other platforms among global R&D collaborators.
The scan team believes that such platforms should build on existing initiatives, such as those sponsored by TRB and AASHTO (e.g., Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS), the Research-in-Progress (RiP) database, various AASHTO transportation knowledge networks efforts, and the TRB Conduct of Research and the AASHTO RAC Task Group on Coordination and Collaboration). In addition, existing international resources including those presented in Sweden and the Netherlands should be integrated. Activities including the U.S. National Science Foundation's model for accepting and cataloging requests for proposals should be benchmarked.
The scan team implementation will consist of the following:
Item 6: Improving the Research Evaluation Process
Promote a systematic and consistent practice for continuous research program evaluation and improvement.
The scan team considers the performance, quality, and value of research programs important factors for sustaining credible research programs. In light of this interest, host countries were asked how program quality and value were determined or measured, and how the results were communicated to sponsors and stakeholders.
In each host country visited, the value of funding and conducting research was considered intrinsic to achieving societal and economic goals. That research is valued is a given. As a result, the scan team did not observe much concern about using performance measures or indicators or providing results to bolster program support. However, a number of the host countries presented extensive evaluation schemes at both the programmatic and individual project levels (e.g., Swedish, South Korean, and Japanese schemes used for process and outcome improvement). Based on these examples, there appear to be models and techniques for both program and project evaluation that should be shared with U.S. transportation research administrators and program managers. The countries expressed substantial interest in the Performance Measurement Toolbox created in NCHRP Project 20-63, "Performance Measurement Tool Box and Reporting System for Research Programs and Projects."
The following are strategies to accomplish this implementation item:
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