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Research Implementation Toolbox: Best Practices

The best practices on this page are adapted from the 2020 report for NCHRP Project 20-44(21), which identified the top strategies that support implementation of transportation research based on a survey of state DOT research program managers and a review of peer exchange reports and other resources.

Process-Level Strategies

  • Evaluate proposed projects for implementation potential. Examples:
  • Encourage incremental changes that do not require lengthy, costly projects. Innovations can be expedited when the value is apparent and implementation is easy and/or low-cost.
  • Encourage or mandate deliverables that ease implementation.
    • A research project’s primary deliverable could be a specification or product rather than a formal report.
  • Address implementation throughout all phases of the research process (scoping, kickoff, and through completion); set clear goals for putting research into practice.
  • Implement relevant research results from other agencies, including research discussed at the TRB Annual Meeting and other conferences.
  • Detail implementation in the program’s research manual and process documents. Examples:
    • Georgia DOT’s Research & Development Manual (Section 5.0, pages 26-29) spells out participant responsibilities for implementation and outlines post-project implementation actions and activities. (2013)
    • Ohio DOT’s manual outlines how implementation is addressed at each stage of the research project: during project development, in the research proposal, during the conduct of the project, and as formally planned as a post-project implementation effort. (2013)
    • The project management checklist from Utah DOT calls out the completion of an implementation plan/worksheet as part of midproject planning and review among the technical advisory committee and PI. The completed plan is later handed off to the Utah DOT champion during the closeout phase. (2021)
  • Develop “tactical tools” to accelerate implementation (policies, contracts and agreements, reference guides, and evaluation procedures).
  • Include a demonstration or pilot in the research project contract. Use the pilot’s success to encourage broader implementation.
  • If appropriate, begin deployment with a demonstration project or pilot project. 
    • Engage with external partners when possible.
    • Consider launching a pilot when buy-in is lacking for an immediate broader implementation.
  • Learn from other agencies’ successful and unsuccessful implementation efforts. Request supplemental information (internal documents, recommendations) from contacts at other agencies.
    • Avoid the typical barriers described in a 2014 NCHRP report (see pages 61-64) that can limit the success of a demonstration project, including:
      • No champion to lead the demonstration effort.
      • Decision makers not engaged or supportive.
      • Poor or insufficient marketing to end users.
      • Innovation not adequately tested.
      • Benefits of innovation not readily apparent or communicated.
      • High cost of demonstration efforts (also a resource barrier).
      • Insufficient personnel resources to organize logistics.
      • Insufficient technical resources to answer questions.
      • Poor or insufficient demonstration opportunities.

High-Level Strategies

  • Seek buy-in early from agency leaders.   
  • Use successful implementation efforts to demonstrate the value of the research program and build support. Align research with innovation, and use benefit–cost and return-on-investment calculations.
  • Develop a comprehensive set of strategies to advance implementation within the agency. This can be challenging because implementation may be in the purview of technical areas of the DOT, industry or others, not the research program.
  • Formalize and document the implementation process (roles, steps, options). Clearly define implementation roles early in project proposal development; define and document a step-by-step approach to implementation decisions.
  • Identify barriers to implementation and opportunities to address them. Begin discussing possible barriers early in project development; document and understand failed implementation.
  • Involve other business and technical areas within the agency that may be affected by implementation activities. Involve staff responsible for implementation early; make them “the driving force behind the research.”
  • Include external stakeholders and secure early buy-in. Use this engagement to identify roadblocks to implementation, gain support for the project and identify other needs.
  • Involve senior management and decision-makers in implementation. Strong support from senior management can foster innovation and eliminate barriers to implementation.
  • Define the roles and responsibilities of key players—research staff, project panels, those implementing the research. Encourage cross-functional engagement; select project champions with a degree of authority who can take the lead on implementation.
  • Keep the project panel together after the project has ended to track and facilitate implementation. Use a form or other tracking mechanism to help panel chairs and research project managers track implementation after a project concludes.
  • Designate a dedicated implementation coordinator or manager. Limited staffing levels and resources make it difficult for some agencies to employ this strategy.
  • Allocate dedicated funding for implementation activities (funded as discrete projects or included as tasks in the original research project contract).
    • Funds should be accompanied by leadership/institutional support and clear goals.
    • Write implementation products into research contracts when possible. Interpretations vary on rules governing what may be covered through federal State Planning and Research, Part II funds. Carefully define and scope implementation components of a research project.
  • Seek alternative funding sources for implementation activities. Suggested channels include state DOT technical areas, NCHRP, federal State Transportation Innovation Council funding, and national pooled funds. 

► See Funding Sources for more information.

Technology Transfer and Marketing

  • Present research results directly to relevant DOT staff and local agencies. Use webinars, videos, research briefs/summaries, conference presentations, conference posters, newsletters, email notifications, and/or annual reports.
    • Require researchers to prepare a webinar, conference poster, and/or two-page brief as a final deliverable.

Resource: Technology Transfer example documents, Research Program and Project Management (RPPM) Database, AASHTO and TRB, 2021.

  • Communicate research results and showcase implementation successes to communicate the value of implementation. Use an organized and strategic program rather than an ad hoc approach. 
    • Assign research program staff to contribute to a periodic agency e-newsletter, or develop email notifications that highlight opportunities for implementation.
    • Annual poster sessions and showcases to highlight research program results can be effective ways to communicate the value of implementation. Examples:

Additional resources:

Guide to Accelerating New Technology Adoption through Directed Technology Transfer, NCHRP Report 768, 2014. 

Building a Foundation for Effective Technology Transfer through Integration with the Research Process: A Primer, U.S. DOT, 2016.

(Adapted from State DOT Research Implementation Strategies: Best Practices Guide)

Low-Cost, High-Impact Tactics

NETC poster ► Aim to “integrate implementation into everything.” Write implementation products into research contracts when possible.

► Include a demonstration or pilot in the research project contract. Use the pilot’s success to encourage broader implementation.

► Require researchers to prepare a webinar, conference poster and/or two-page brief as a final deliverable.

 

Transferable Tools

► Work with academic and industry stakeholders to develop demonstration projects after projects conclude.

► Schedule exit surveys near completion of a research project to learn about implementation potential and timing. Discuss and calculate benefit-cost potential of implementation.

► Highlight implementation opportunities through agencywide e-newsletters.

► Have staff who attend the TRB Annual Meeting report back on technology with promising potential for implementation.

► Explore alternative funding sources for implementation activities.

 

Advanced Recommendations

► For each project, establish a committee of subject matter experts from inside and outside the agency, including internal stakeholders impacted by the research, to oversee implementation of project findings.

► Create an implementation plan for each project and update it frequently. (Montana DOT's implementation planning and documentation form is updated throughout the project's life cycle; North Carolina DOT has an implementation plan for kickoff, intermediate and closeout meetings.)