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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - July/August 2017

July/August 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 81 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Hot Topic

Ten Keys to Innovation Deployment

by Thomas Harman

Cultivating organizations that embrace innovation can be challenging. That’s why, in fall 2016, the Federal Highway Administration sponsored regional summits to launch the latest round of innovations in the Every Day Counts (EDC) program. The summits enabled leaders from the State Transportation Innovation Councils (STICs) to share strategies for building cultures that support innovation to meet the demands for a safe, efficient, and cost-effective highway system. 


At Every Day Counts summits like this one in Baltimore, MD, transportation leaders discuss strategies for deploying innovations.


The national STIC network, which includes all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and FHWA’s Office of Federal Lands Highway, brings together stakeholders to identify and deploy innovations quickly. The seven EDC summits in 2016 featured townhall sessions at which STIC leaders discussed how they make innovation part of the everyday operations of their organizations. Their insights can be distilled into the following 10 keys to innovation deployment.

  1. Users—like customers—are always right. Listen to those involved in deploying innovations and understand their needs. 

  2. Communicate the reasons why deploying an innovation is essential. Starting with the “why” helps pave the way to acceptance and support. “Encouraging people to ask why is a great thing, as is supporting them when they have a different idea,” says Dallas Hammit, State engineer and deputy director for transportation at the Arizona Department of Transportation. 

  3. Expect resistance. Change is disruptive, but showing how an innovation can produce a significant improvement is crucial for buy-in. Says Chief Engineer Garrett Moore at the Virginia DOT: “In a limited-resource environment, innovation can be the difference between success and failure.”

  4. Foster innovation champions and encourage peer-to-peer communication. Peers who share similar experiences and challenges are likely to trust each other. “It takes a champion and success stories from other States to give the deployment team a degree of comfort that something is worth trying,” says Mike Holder, chief engineer with the North Carolina DOT.

  5. Strive for simplicity. Explain innovations in clear terms that audiences can understand easily. “You want to make your STIC relatable to your elected officials and the traveling public,” says Jan Huzvar, deputy communications director with the Pennsylvania DOT. 

  6. Establish, build, and leverage an innovation network. As STICs mature, many expand their membership to a wider variety of public and private stakeholders, even creating regional networks. “Bringing interdisciplinary groups together makes innovation much more widespread,” says Chief Engineer Rob McCleary at the Delaware DOT. 

  7. Reinforce the “how” and develop resources that address individual learning needs. It takes a variety of approaches and tools to train transportation practitioners in different age groups to deploy an innovation. In general, people retain more of what they see and hear than what they read. “When people are invested in a technology and empowered to think long term, we see a lot more success,” says Laura Girard, a hydraulic engineer with FHWA’s Office of Federal Lands Highway.

  8. Tell a compelling story that conveys the impact of an innovation. Using data that quantify success can make the story more powerful, whether the result is shortening project delivery, improving safety, enhancing the environment, or reducing congestion or costs. 

  9. Manage change. Determine how to focus efforts to create a culture of innovation, and balance the addition of new technologies with the subtraction of outdated strategies or processes. “Look for ways to work to the strengths of the existing culture,” says Ben Huot, a Utah DOT preconstruction engineer. 

  10. Celebrate and learn from mistakes. Leaders who support staff members even when an innovation proves unsuccessful create an environment in which people are willing to take risks. David Kuhn, New Jersey DOT assistant commissioner, says, “If you’re not going to encourage risk-taking, you’re not going to move that culture of innovation. It’s okay to take risks.”

To learn more about the STIC network, visit

Thomas Harman is director of FHWA’s Center for Accelerating Innovation.