4. Identifying the Tangible Benefits of Collaboration to Your Agency in Six Steps
By definition, collaboration requires an investment among its partners. It requires some investment of staff time and some investment in relationships in order to work effectively within a collaborative partnership. The question for agencies involved in transportation operations is whether the investment in a given collaboration will yield sufficient benefits to them to make it worthwhile.
Most of the individual agencies involved in the collaborations examined for this manual chose to collaborate with neighboring agencies because they intuitively knew they would benefit from the partnership. With a few exceptions (Merced County Transit is one), they did not engage in a formal predictive assessment of the benefits of collaboration. While the agencies in each of the collaborative partnerships examined are unanimous in their conviction that they have benefited, few conducted a formal evaluation to measure benefits of their collaborative partnerships.
Yet, in an era where agencies increasingly desire to undertake performance measurement to baseline and evaluate their operational effectiveness, it is reasonable that agencies may be interested in assessing whether it is worthwhile to pursue a collaborative approach as a means to achieve their goals or whether they are better off working toward them on their own. Further, while collaboration among public agencies in regional transportation operations is on the rise, there are still a number of agencies who may feel uncertain, at best, as to whether it is really in their agency's best interest to collaborate with other agencies and risk diminished control. Finally, agencies may want to evaluate the relative benefits of collaboration to convince their management and key stakeholders to invest in the collaboration.
The following is a step-by-step guide that can be used by agencies to assess whether it is in their best interest to collaborate and to determine what tangible benefits they can anticipate. This approach is designed to be flexible and scalable by agencies—some may choose to apply it for rigorous cost-benefit analysis and others may apply it more loosely to gain a general understanding of the types of benefits they can expect to accrue.
Step 1. Begin With the End in Mind
Begin with clearly defined goals and measurable operations objectives for your agency. If you want to measure the benefits to your agency of collaborating with other agencies, you will first need to have a very clear understanding of what it is your agency wants to accomplish. These should be documented as outcome-oriented goals and associated objectives. Skipping this step won't make it impossible to measure benefits, but it will make it harder to measure anything related to effectiveness.
To meaningfully measure the benefits of collaboration (or the effectiveness of any activity), the objectives the agency would like to achieve through a collaborative partnership should be SMART.
A good objective is SMART:
This may be documented in your agency's strategic plan, or your division's annual plan. They may be specific to one operational area, such as traffic incident management or signal coordination, or they may cross multiple operations areas. These are goals and objectives that pertain to an agency—not regional goals and objectives.
These steps will allow transportation professionals to:
- Realistically project expected benefits of a proposed collaborative initiative.
- Credibly quantify benefits of an existing initiative.
- Maximize benefit return to the initiative and the agency through participation.
In order to be able to measure or evaluate the benefits of collaboration, you must begin with measurable objectives that are tied to meaningful goals. You may want to flag goals or objectives that are not attainable alone—those that require collaboration to accomplish. Many of the agencies interviewed for this report were initially attracted to collaborative approaches because they realized that certain goals were not attainable on their own.
Table 2 provides a snapshot of an example goal, objective, and measure of effectiveness. In this example, this objective cannot be attained by a single agency alone. It requires collaboration with other agencies that are involved in incident management. Ideally, they would all share a common goal of decreasing incident clearance time and so might be open to collaborating to achieve this shared goal. Note that ideally the agency also indicates the sources of data for measuring the effectiveness (and in many cases, this, too, requires collaboration if the objective is one that cannot be done alone).
|Goal||Objective||Measure of Effectiveness (MOE)|
|Improve traffic flow through city.||After non-HAZMAT incidents, clear the roadway of all evidence of an incident within 90 minutes 80% of the time.||Roadway is clear and all responders have left the scene within 90 minutes of an incident in 80% of cases.|
Step 2. Know What You Need
Identify the activities and resources needed to achieve your goals and objectives within the necessary timeline. Next, you will want to have a sense for what is involved in accomplishing those goals and objectives—either generally or more specifically. Needed resources may include agreements, or information in a timely manner as well as specialized equipment or expertise.
You likely would go through this step, regardless of whether you choose to pursue a collaborative strategy to achieve your goals and objectives. It is helpful in measuring benefits, because this is where you define tangible resources that are needed to accomplish specific goals and objectives. In many cases, these resources may only be available through partnering, or resources may be able to go farther because of partnering.
|Improve traffic flow through city.||After non-HAZMAT incidents, clear the roadway of all evidence of an incident within 90 minutes 80% of the time.||Roadway is clear and all responders have left the scene within 90 minutes of an incident in 80% of non-HAZMAT cases.||Agreements with law enforcement to notify us of an incident.|
|Agreements with medical examiner to communicate status including once they've left the scene.|
|CAD data sharing agreements with law enforcement.|
|Real-time information exchange capability with law enforcement and TMC, including T1 lines.|
|Traffic counts before, during, and after incidents.|
Step 3. Know Your Options
After you've identified what you need, you'll want to examine your options for accomplishing your goals and objectives. If, like in our example, you require a collaborative arrangement in order to achieve the goals and objectives, you'll want to examine whether there is an existing forum that could be leveraged for this purpose, or whether a new collaborative forum may be needed. You will want to identify potential collaborative partners who possess shared interests and who may possess needed or complementary expertise or resources. This will help to provide a roadmap for engaging in dialogue with these partners and to clarify what support you believe you need in order to accomplish the goals and objectives (bear in mind you are likely on their list as well!). In some cases, this may be a collaborative partnership or forum in which your agency is already a member.
|Improve traffic flow through city.||After non-HAZMAT incidents, clear the roadway of all evidence of an incident within 90 minutes 80% of the time.||Roadway is clear and all responders have left the scene within 90 minutes of an incident in 80% of non-HAZMAT cases.||Agreements with law enforcement to notify us of an incident.||This is being done for special events through…. We could leverage this through our TIM Coalition.|
|Agreements with medical examiner to communicate status including once they've left the scene.|
|CAD data sharing agreements with law enforcement.||IT Division of State police maintains their CAD system and has offered to make it available to us.|
|Real-time information exchange capability with law enforcement and TMC.||This would require a new agreement. State police are planning to upgrade their CAD system. If we talk to them now we could maybe persuade them to build this into the requirements.|
|Traffic counts before, during, and after incidents.||We need to put more sensors out on the roads in key incident areas.|
Step 4. Estimate Your Options
To actually estimate and ultimately measure the benefits of collaboration requires an understanding of the relative cost of the alternatives—in this case collaborating with partner agencies or going it alone.
An easy way to do this is to simply review the needs identified in Step 2, the resources identified in Step 3, and estimate how you would expect to achieve the various required activities or obtain the various needed resources under both scenarios. Estimate the requirements and the expected operational gains for accomplishing those activities within the necessary timeline.
Nearly all of the agencies interviewed in the collaborative initiatives examined in this report spoke in terms of the perceived benefits of collaboration relative to the alternative of what they could have accomplished alone. As mentioned above, in many cases, these agencies simply could not have accomplished certain objectives alone—such as implementation of seamless multi-jurisdictional traveler information achieved by the High Plans Coalition or the improvements in traffic incident response achieved in the State of Maryland through the Maryland National Capital Region's ROC Committee.
In our example below, this agency will require collaboration to obtain at least four resource inputs that are needed to achieve the objective. This agency will need to either leverage an existing collaborative forum or create a new partnership among agencies that share this common goal. In this case, the agency may choose to address this goal through its existing TIM coalition in which it is already active.
|Goal||Objective||MOE||Needed Resources||Collaborative Option||Alone Option|
|Improve traffic flow through city.||Roadway is clear and all responders have left the scene within 90 minutes of an incident in 80% of non-HAZMAT cases.||Agreements with law enforcement to notify us of an incident.||This is being done for special events through our TIM Coalition.||Can't do alone.|
|Agreements with medical examiner to communicate status including once they've left the scene.||Law enforcement has one; maybe we could get them to extend it to include us.||Can't do alone.|
|CAD data sharing agreements with law enforcement.||IT Division of State police maintains its CAD system and has offered to make it available to us.||Can't do alone.|
|Real-time information exchange capability with law enforcement and TMC.||This would require a new agreement. State police are planning to upgrade their CAD system. If we talk to them now we could maybe persuade them to build this into the requirements.||Can't do alone.|
|Traffic counts before, during, and after incidents. We need to put more sensors out on the roads in key incident areas.||We'd need to provide.||
Would require 10 more sensors at an estimated cost of $100K/sensor.
0.5 staff person to monitor and maintain the equipment at an estimated cost of $35K/annually.
Step 5: Track Your Strategies
As you meet with your collaborative partners and begin to work towards your goals and objectives, you may want to keep track of some of the strategies you are employing in order to accomplish your objectives, and track the various resources that the strategies are helping to fulfill. Note also the resources your agency is contributing to the collaboration for the various goals and objectives. This represents the link between your agency's contributions to the collaborative endeavor and the benefits it enjoys from the partnership (i.e.,resources it is contributing and resources it is accessing to accomplish its goals and objectives). Table 6 depicts a sample of how this might be tracked.
|Goal||Objective||MOE||Needed Resources||Collaborative Strategies|
|Improve traffic flow through city.||Agreements with law enforcement to notify us of an incident.||On the Same Page—Creating common procedures, plans, and standards.|
|Agreements with medical examiner to communicate status, including once they've left the scene.||On the Same Page—Creating common procedures, plans, and standards.|
|CAD data sharing agreements with law enforcement.|
|Real-time information exchange capability with law enforcement and TMC.||All Together Now—Conducting joint operations.|
|Traffic counts before, during, and after incidents|
Step 6: Develop an Annual Report
Finally, to actually assess the benefits of collaboration, your agency will want to look back to its goals and objectives, and the measures of effectiveness that it defined for itself at the start (or in the last update cycle). This provides the objective baseline from which to evaluate the benefits of collaboration. For each goal and objective, the agency will evaluate whether the goals and objectives were achieved and how effectively they were achieved.
The agency can review the specific aspects of the goals or objectives as a direct result of the collaboration, as in the case of Denver's TSSIP partners who have acknowledged their traffic signal goals could not have been achieved without this partnership.
This review will also illuminate elements of the agency's goals or objectives that were enhanced as a result of the collaboration, such as gains in operational efficiency or effectiveness that would not have been possible at that level had the agency pursued that activity on its own. An example of this would be Merced County, which was providing services to its residents long before the joint transit operation was established, but was able to increase services as a direct result of its collaboration.
An annual report will help to clearly identify tangible resources your agency was able to procure or access through the collaboration—including specialized equipment, facilities, or additional staff or expertise—that came at a reduced cost or at no cost. It may help to provide a baseline for estimating time savings of staff members who accomplished the same objectives previously without the collaboration in place.
This kind of review is ideal some time after the collaboration has begun, and ideally annually after it has been underway long enough to bear fruit. An annual report can be an excellent way to not only evaluate the benefits of collaboration towards specific agency objectives and priorities, but also document those benefits to make it easier to obtain the needed support for future collaborative endeavors.
Together, this documentation provides a standard baseline from which the benefits of collaboration to public agencies can be objectively measured and evaluated.
|Goal||Objective||MOE||Needed Resources||Collaborative Strategies||Results|
|Improve traffic flow through city.||
After non-HAZMAT incidents, clear the roadway of all evidence of an incident within 90 minutes 80% of the time.
|Agreements with law enforcement to notify us of an incident.||On the Same Page—Creating common procedures, plans, and standards.||By co-locating in a shared TMC, DOT is instantly aware of all incidents.|
|Agreements with medical examiner to communicate status, including once they've left the scene.||On the Same Page—Creating common procedures, plans, and standards.||By co-locating in a shared TMC, DOT is instantly aware of all incidents.|
|CAD data sharing agreements with law enforcement.||We expanded existing agreements to include DOT and are now notified when law enforcement is notified.|
|Real-time information exchange capability with law enforcement and TMC.||All Together Now – Conducting joint operations.||Data sharing requirements have been included in specs for next CAD version. In the meantime, co-location provides close to real-time information through shared video and dispatch.|
|Traffic counts before, during, and after incidents||The money we saved not having to pay for a separate interface into the CAD system is being used to purchase additional sensors.|