This is the fourth blog in a series of technology alerts that will be shared with the NADTC mailing list. Make sure you check out the first three blog posts: “How Do I Get Started with Technology” , “What are the Keys to Making Technology Implementation Successful?” and “Navigating Funding Opportunities for Technology Planning and Deployment“. Subscribe now to receive these posts in your inbox!
Technology projects can be funded using a variety of sources (those sources were the subject of the most recent technology blog), all of which can have different requirements and time frames. This creates a challenging environment in which agencies may not have all the funding they need to fully implement technology, often causing them to make short-terms decisions. Further, this can cause agencies to “back into” the available funding and not plan for the future when they may receive additional funding. Following are some ideas for coping with this situation.
There is no doubt that technology projects in the transit and paratransit industry are subject to multiple challenges, similar to those identified below:
“Working with multiple funders allows organizations to leverage single funder interests to achieve more comprehensive programs and encourages nimble and responsive decision making. However, it also introduces challenges such as disparate expectations around program priorities, in addition to practical complexities, including unaligned grant cycles, variable timing of funding disbursements, unaligned reporting requirements, and unsynchronized regular and ad hoc financial and program audits.”
How many times have you asked or been asked, “We just got this grant for $X – what can we do for that amount of funding?” Obviously, this is the wrong approach – backing into funding in order to determine what technology can be deployed for that amount. Such short-term thinking does not usually result in a successful project. Further, if you received more than one grant to conduct a technology project, how do you determine the actual scope of the project, ensuring that (1) you meet the goals and objectives established in each grant; (2) successfully deploy something useful; and (3) implement something that can be expanded in the future?
Despite the complexity associated with using multiple funding sources, there are measures you can take to make the most of this situation. “Given the fluid nature of funding, organizations are often tempted to apply for any and all funding opportunities that are identified. However, this haphazard and opportunistic approach may ultimately derail higher organizational strategic priorities. To avoid this, organizations managing multiple funding streams and agendas must continually evaluate their projects and opportunities, not only for performance but also for fit into the broader goals and objectives of the organization.”
First, before you apply for funding, you should have a strategic planning process in place. The resources listed here, which are specific to planning and deploying transit technology, will assist you with strategic planning:
- Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Report 84, Volume 8, “Improving Public Transportation Technology Implementations and Anticipating Emerging Technologies,” available at http://www.tcrponline.org/PDFDocuments/TCRP_RPT_84v8.pdf
- TCRP Report 84, Volume 9, “Transit Enterprise Architecture and Planning Framework” available at http://www.tcrponline.org/PDFDocuments/TCRP_RPT_84v9.pdf
Second, while the strategic planning process should include planning for the future, multiple funding streams require that you deliberately consider the “next steps” beyond the technology for which you have funding. As mentioned earlier, many agencies feel compelled to back into the funding to determine what technology they should deploy. If this is the case, often there is no thought given to how to further develop, expand or enhance that technology. While an agency typically has to apply for technology funding with a specific scope, in the planning process, the agency should always be considering how the technology will be expanded beyond that particular funding. With this “eye toward the future,” an agency will always be thinking about what happens after a specific grant ends. Further, with multiple funding sources, it will be easier to identify specifically what goals and objectives should be achieved with each grant – meaning it will be easier to manage expectations.
Finally, all grants and the work being conducted with the grants must be closely monitored and evaluated. This seems obvious, but is often not done when the focus of technology deployment may be on the deployment itself. Recognizing that each grant has its own requirements (e.g., deliverables, payment milestones, periodic status reports), it is recommended that at the outset of each grant:
- Key indicators about outcomes be developed (if they are not already required by the grant); and
- Periodic time frames when indicators will be reported internally (and to the grantor if required) be identified. This will make it easier to determine if each grant is achieving its goals and objectives, and if each activity within a grant is being achieved as it was expected.
Often, conducting this kind of monitoring and evaluation will inform future technology projects. These activities may require additional data that is not normally collected by an agency, and data analysis that takes staff expertise and time, but will be well worth it in terms of managing multiple grants and proving that the grants had the expected outcomes. Also, given the fact that the projects being conducted with multiple grants can be related (especially if they are technology projects), it is very important to understand the unique and marginal contributions of each project to the outcomes expected from each grant. An example is obtaining one grant to deploy a scheduling system and another grant to implement a computer-aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL). They are related; each will have unique outcomes (e.g., increased productivity from the scheduling system and increased on-time performance from the CAD/AVL system), and there will be a marginal reduction in deadhead miles due to both systems being used together.
Next up: Now that we have covered funding in the prior technology blog and this one, the next blog will cover leveraging technology and sharing resources when deploying technology for human service transportation.
 Charles B. Holmes, MD, MPH, et al, “Managing Multiple Funding Streams and Agendas to Achieve Local and Global Health and Research Objectives: Lessons From the Field,” J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr, Volume 65, Supplement 1, January 1, 2014, Copyright © 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, page S32
 Ibid, page S33
About the Author:
Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting, has over 36 years of experience, and is nationally and internationally recognized in transportation technology consulting. Her wide-ranging and in-depth expertise is in several specialty areas including systems engineering, technology strategies for public agencies, public transit technology, and traveler information strategies and systems. Ms. Schweiger has provided nearly 50 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance, including developing and applying structured processes to procure and implement technology systems; providing detailed procurement and implementation assistance; evaluating technology deployments; conducting research and delivering training.