Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

1. Introduction

1.1 What's In It for Us?

Is "collaboration" just the latest buzzword in management, or could it be that there are actually benefits to be gained by an agency when working with other agencies toward a common goal? Agencies faced with diminishing resources, "doing more with less," organizational streamlining, and expectations for increased efficiency…are now asked to "work well with others"! But many agencies contend that they are doing the best they can with what they have. Why should they spend time going to meetings, developing plans, and expending valuable resources when they struggle to do their jobs as best they can with what they have? Won't they be expected to give up autonomy and resources to help others get what they want? They want to know "What's in it for us?"

In order to answer that question, agencies need to be able to identify the tangible benefits to collaboration. Public agencies tend to assess their activities in terms of how they benefit the public. When examining opportunities for collaboration, an agency can have difficulty determining whether participation makes good business sense for it and how collaboration can be pursued in a way that brings benefit to the agency. With knowledge of potential benefits, agencies have a more complete understanding of whether or not to pursue collaborative endeavors.

The potential benefits to collaboration increase as the challenges faced by local, regional, and State transportation and public safety agencies grow in terms of both demand—more people driving more vehicles—and expectations for safe, secure, and reliable transportation, including on-time deliveries, less traveler delay, more accurate and timely information, and fewer crashes. Many of the ways for satisfying both growing demand and rising expectations require well-coordinated regional responses which no single agency or jurisdiction can fully accomplish alone. For example, traffic incident management, traveler information, freeway and arterial management, area-wide traffic signal coordination, and seamless regional public transportation services can rarely be implemented without the cooperation and participation of multiple agencies and jurisdictions. Even actions typically viewed as being within the purview of a single agency or jurisdiction (e.g., winter roadway maintenance, right-of-way maintenance) can benefit from collaboration when the collaborative effort is directed toward improving resource use or agency efficiency.

Illustrative Tangible Benefits of Collaboration

Increases the quantity or quality of resources available

  • access to funding
  • joint training
  • shared expertise
  • group purchasing
  • technology standards
  • shared infrastructure
  • better technology

Improvements in agency operations and productivity

  • expanded service area
  • increased operating hours
  • routine information sharing
  • standard protocols and procedures
  • improved responsiveness
  • greater efficiency

Better outcomes that help agencies achieve goals

  • fewer crashes
  • improved air quality
  • lower fuel consumption
  • shorter travel times
  • better travel decisions

1.2 Discovering the Benefits

The benefits and collaborative strategies highlighted in this manual represent the combined input of over 50 transportation and public safety professionals across the U.S. Nine collaborative efforts were selected for this manual to illustrate tangible benefits gained through participating in multi-agency operations activities ranging from incident management to transit operations. Operations and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) managers, supervisors, engineers, planners, and public safety officials from Federal, State, regional, city, and county agencies who participated in the nine efforts were interviewed about the tangible benefits their agencies received as a result of the collaboration. During the research benefits were quantified whenever possible, however when data was unavailable, qualitative descriptions of benefits were documented. Some of the top benefits to agencies participating in collaborative efforts are highlighted in the text box at right. Some more specific examples of benefits discovered through this research include:

  • Operating agencies increase access to funding by participating in joint funding applications.
  • Agencies undertake larger, more technologically advanced projects by leveraging their expertise and resources with other agencies.
  • Regional partners effectively utilize their resources during emergencies through joint incident response plans that expand access to emergency resources and equipment, and provide primary contact information.
  • Participating agencies help meet regional goals to reduce delay, fuel consumption, and emissions through coordinated initiatives, such as signal timing programs.
  • Operating agencies share data and information that enables better system management and early warnings to travelers about road conditions in neighboring jurisdictions.
  • Partner agencies improve public safety and decrease incident response time by sharing traffic camera feeds with local 911 dispatch centers that provide direction to first responders.
  • Partners share communications assets to save money and raise their collective ability to manage traffic on a regional level.
  • Agencies coordinate services such as transit to eliminate duplication of overhead costs and reduce operating expenses while responding to growing demand and offering increased service levels.
  • Administrative and overtime costs are reduced during special events through coordinated event management that reduces the time to clear parking lots while traffic volumes escalate.
  • Multi-agency collaboration has enabled the creation of joint dispatching that has resulted in decreased response time to requests for field assistance from partnering agencies.

These benefits and others are described more fully in this reference guide. Read on to discover how your agency can garner benefits through regional transportation operations collaboration and coordination!

1.3 Purpose of the Manual

The Collaborative Advantage: Realizing the Tangible Benefits of Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration—A Reference Manual is designed to help managers and decision makers within local, regional, and State agencies who participate in transportation operations and planning to understand the range of benefits that can be gained from participating in multi-agency collaborative efforts. It illustrates how agencies can benefit by collaborating with other agencies to address transportation problems of regional significance and what common collaborative strategies are used to take advantage of opportunities for improving regional transportation systems performance. This guide aims to help agency managers and other transportation operators and decision makers identify opportunities for effective collaboration, anticipate tangible benefits to their agencies and jurisdictions, and make the case for collaboration with other agencies.

1.4 Overview of the Manual

This guide lays the foundation for agencies involved in transportation operations to understand how they can benefit in tangible ways from engaging in collaborative activities with other agencies.

  • Section 2 offers a framework for describing the benefits of collaboration. It explains how benefits to an agency are based on what the agency wants to accomplish—its goals and objectives. It describes a simple way to classify benefits and offers a sample of benefits measures.
  • In Section 3, tangible benefits realized through key collaborative strategies and actions are described more fully along with examples of current collaborative arrangements that employ these strategies and the tangible benefits realized by the participating agencies.
  • Section 4 gives a six-step process for agencies interested in getting a firm grasp on the tangible benefits they may realize from participating in a collaborative effort.
  • Section 5 summarizes the benefits gained from examining current collaborative arrangements that others may find helpful in anticipating the tangible benefits of collaboration.
  • Appendix A provides brief descriptions of the collaborative efforts and partnerships used to illustrate strategies and benefits in Section 3.
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