Exchanging Solutions Across The Globe
FHWA collaborated with colleagues in Australia on a successful information exchange primarily focused on freight policy.
The phrase “two heads are better than one” is popular for a reason. Bringing people together to tackle problems facilitates and accelerates effective solutions. When two countries face similar transportation challenges, the government agencies responsible for tackling those challenges can benefit significantly from sharing relevant information with each other. The United States and Australia are doing just that during an information exchange.
As part of its mission to improve mobility on the Nation’s highways through national leadership, innovation, and program delivery, the Federal Highway Administration is responsible for implementing policies that impact interstate highways in the United States and all the vehicles that drive on them. In Australia, the National Transport Commission (NTC) works collaboratively to identify, design, and champion regulatory and operational solutions to national problems affecting land transport users across the country.
During an initial meeting in 2010, FHWA and the NTC realized that their respective countries faced similar policy, regulatory, and technical challenges in the freight transportation sector, such as truck parking, performance-based specifications, and heavy vehicle maintenance and inspection. Moreover, the United States and Australia, although located on opposite sides of the world, have many similarities. Both countries have large capitalism-based economies and are economically well-developed, with similar gross domestic product per capita. Both have Federal systems of government, with powerful States and important transportation bodies at the national levels—including FHWA and the NTC. In addition, each country is geographically large, leading to economies that rely heavily on land-based freight transportation.
After recognizing these similarities, FHWA and the NTC developed an information exchange program consisting primarily of 25 joint webinars to date. Most of the webinars have focused on freight topics. The program has proven to be mutually beneficial, but not without challenges. Participants interviewed for a final report on the program would like to see the exchange continued with an expanded focus.
The Start of a Formal Partnership
In 2009, the NTC reached out to FHWA to arrange an introductory meeting with a representative from FHWA’s Office of Freight Management and Operations during the 2010 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. At that meeting, FHWA and the NTC expressed interest in establishing a professional relationship and an ongoing information-sharing program. “The first meeting was invaluable,” says Stephen Kern, leader of the Global Technology Exchange Team in FHWA’s Office of International Programs. “It opened a gateway to information exchange for both partners.”
In 2010, Nick Dimopoulos, then NTC’s chief executive officer, traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with Jeff Paniati, then FHWA’s executive director, to explore opportunities for mutual collaboration. They agreed the two countries could learn from each other’s Federal transportation programs. The meeting concluded with a commitment by both to explore the possibilities for an ongoing exchange of information.
Following the meeting, FHWA’s Office of International Programs began exploring possibilities for information and personnel exchanges with the NTC, and the two agencies settled on a webinar series. FHWA and the NTC held 25 webinars, 4 or 5 per year, between 2010 and 2015.
Selecting Webinar Topics
FHWA and the NTC collaborated to determine topics for the webinar series on an annual basis. Each agency suggested about half of the topics for the webinars. At each organization, a project representative solicited input from agency personnel. The two representatives then shared the topics with each other and selected those of greatest common interest.
“We chose topics we thought would interest both agencies, or topics in which one party possessed expertise and about which the other party was interested in learning,” says Jerome Carslake, formerly the NTC-FHWA partnership coordinator at the NTC.
As developers planned the series, the two countries discovered many freight-related topics about which they could learn a lot from one another, driving the focus of the exchange. Out of 25 webinars, 21 addressed freight issues, including the environmental and technological impacts of freight. In Australia, operational, planning, investment, and enforcement-related highway issues not related to freight are frequently handled at the State level, so the main areas of activity for the NTC are freight related. In addition, personnel in FHWA’s Office of Freight Management and Operations and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had a strong interest in Australian freight-related topics.
The other four webinars focused on general transportation topics including two on intelligent transportation systems and two on public-private partnerships.
Benefits of the Information Exchange
The webinar series resulted in a range of benefits that made participants in both countries eager to continue the exchange.
Increased knowledge for policy discussions. Participants from both countries said that the webinars gave them a better understanding of the policy implications of each topic.
|Webinar Series Topics|
|Overall Topic||Number of Webinars||Examples of Specific Topics|
|Data Collection and Analysis||2||
|Road Freight Productivity Initiative||3||
|Road User Charging||4||
Enhanced technology transfer. Participants felt better informed about how emerging technologies were being used worldwide. “The interactive nature of the webinars provided participants with a more practical understanding of various technologies than simply reading about them in a periodical would have provided,” says Neil Wong, project director at the NTC.
Formation of key contacts. The information exchanges helped participants establish key contacts in their fields in the other country. This opened the lines of communication for questions or issues that arose outside of the webinar series. For example, Tom Kearney, a senior freight specialist with FHWA’s Resource Center and previously the manager of FHWA’s Freight Operations Program, maintained frequent communication with the NTC as well as Transport Certification Australia, a government agency that provides services for the use of telematics and related intelligent technologies. This communication provided valuable insights for FHWA’s concept of operations for virtual weigh stations.
Exposure to international experts. In several webinars, the presenters from FHWA and the NTC brought in external experts to discuss the topics, familiarizing the participants from the other country with experts from a range of fields and opening opportunities for additional collaboration. For example, organizers brought in U.S. and Australian industry representatives to discuss port coordination efforts, which ultimately resulted in U.S. speaker participation in a series of invitation-only roundtable forums, hosted by the NTC, to promote cohesion across port supply chains and improve productivity and practice.
Proof of policy success. The information exchange series gave participants examples of policy successes in the other country that could be shared with relevant groups in their own country, sometimes leading to progress on difficult policy issues. One Australian participant said that an FHWA presentation helped persuade a reluctant stakeholder group of the value of a proposed policy: “Three sentences from [FHWA] experts were as good as 3 months of persuasion.”
Critique by foreign experts. In some webinars, the open exchange of ideas that occurred after the presentation enabled participants to get feedback from a foreign expert. “Foreign experts were able to review a given situation more objectively than a domestic expert could because the foreign experts were not as close to the problem,” says Kern.
Challenges with the Information Exchange
Despite the successes of the information exchange, organizers did encounter some challenges. Participants sometimes faced difficulties in understanding policy or in determining how to apply lessons learned from one country to the other because of the differences between the two countries, particularly in governance and the structure of nongovernmental organizations.
|Truck Volumes on National Highway
Freight System Routes, 2015
In general, Australian States are more politically powerful than U.S. States, especially regarding transportation. There are few policy levers available to the Australian Federal Government to coordinate State transportation activity. In contrast, the U.S. Highway Trust Fund and the various impacts of the U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause give FHWA a stronger coordinating role among States. Similarly, Australia has several nongovernmental national and State-based organizations that represent the heavy vehicle industry, while in the United States, most interstate trucking interests are represented by the American Trucking Associations. Despite these differences, the organizers and participants felt that the benefits of increased knowledge and new perspectives provided by the webinars outweighed the challenges.
Webinar organizers also faced a challenge in articulating the benefits of a given webinar in advance. Both agencies wanted to understand how they would benefit from each of the webinars before the webinars occurred. However, because webinar participants often learned “unknown unknowns”—facts that they did not realize they did not know—the organizers found it difficult or impossible to articulate all potential benefits of a given webinar in advance.
Finally, logistics posed a challenge. Because of the various time zones, webinars were mostly in the evening in the United States, corresponding to the morning of the following day in Australia. Holding webinars after the normal workday was not ideal for U.S. participants, but this was the best solution to the challenge. In addition, the technology used, such as dial-in lines and other webinar tools, did not always work as expected. Improving telepresence technology should mitigate this issue in the future.
The Future of the Exchange
In preparing a final synthesis report about the exchange, FHWA interviewed organizers and participants. Citing the benefits and minimal cost of the program—typically a small number of person-hours in preparation for each webinar and the cost of the telepresence service—the interviewed participants agreed that the program should be continued. However, many recommended expanding the topics covered to include more webinars on infrastructure for connected and autonomous vehicles, revenue generation, and alternative finance. Additional freight topics that participants would like to see covered include developments in truck parking, vehicle platooning, and electronic logging devices.
Discussions with information exchange participants yielded three general recommendations to improve the information exchange. First, the future webinar series should be planned with benefits to each country in mind. Webinar topics should be determined each year, and for each potential topic, organizers and personnel suggesting the topic should more explicitly articulate the benefits to both countries. To support this, both FHWA and the NTC should list their perceived benefits independently. Once the topics are chosen, the listed benefits for each selected topic should be reviewed and kept in mind during the preparation for each webinar, a step which should help ensure that the benefits are realized.
Second, if topics are selected for inclusion in the webinar series that may be of interest beyond FHWA and the NTC, the organizers should invite additional audiences. Several of the initial 25 webinars included additional agencies and private-sector partners beyond FHWA and the NTC, both as presenters and participants. These webinars were successful, and the organizers should explore the potential for hosting similar multigroup webinars in the future.
Finally, FHWA and the NTC should formalize the webinar selection process. The approach should have a specific written structure. Formalizing the webinar selection process will ensure that input from the broadest range of possible sources is considered, the potential benefits from each webinar are used to select the most beneficial webinar topics, and the greatest number of beneficiary groups are included as participants in the webinars.
In addition to the webinar improvements, discussions with information exchange participants generated one more key suggestion: hold in-person meetings and explore the possibility of personnel exchanges. Holding sessions with several of the primary participants present in person may lead to more effective exchanges of information and create greater trust and understanding among the participants. Supporting brief personnel exchanges, in which a representative from one country travels to the other country and takes on the duties of an employee of the other organization for a short time, could help both participants appreciate the organizational and cultural context of the information shared in the exchange.
Jihan Noizet is a transportation specialist with the FHWA Office of International Programs and oversees the coordination and implementation of cooperative program activities between FHWA and its foreign counterparts. She holds a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of North Texas, and a master’s of business administration from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Matthew Dorfman is a partner at D’Artagnan Consulting, LLP. He leads technical development efforts for an ongoing Road Usage Charge pilot in Washington State, and was project manager for the California Department of Transportation’s Road Charge Pilot Program. He has a master’s degree in technology and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For more information, see https://international.fhwa.dot.gov/pubs/pl18009/fhwapl18009.pdf or contact Jihan Noizet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202–366–1153.