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Building Partnerships with Stakeholders

Best Practice Category

Complete Neighborhoods Street and Network Connectivity Site Layout, Parking Layout, and Building Design


The design of an inclusive public participation process incorporates four key principles:

  • 1 - inclusive participation,
  • 2 - collaborative planning, facilitated group problem-solving, agreement/consensus on next steps,
  • 3 - process transparency (how decisions will be made and by whom), and
  • 4 - communication strategies.

Planning for transit-supportive communities is a multidisciplinary effort that requires the collaboration and coordination of multiple public agencies, departments, and political leaders.  Building partnerships with stakeholders is a key component in creating successful transit-supportive communities.  The process for building these partnerships is grounded in the following elements.

Begin with Internal Support

Internal support means that all agency policies are aligned to promote the success of transit-supportive projects.  Interdepartmental support begins with a comprehensive discussion among department heads or management-level staff addressing project objectives and evaluating how policies can support or hinder project outcome. In addition to transportation, planning and community development staff, other departments such as public works, public safety, parks and recreation representatives should be considered internal stakeholders who should be involved in the process.

External Technical Stakeholders

Staff should identify and consult with stakeholders at other agencies early in the process, including those at the highest level possible. Consulting with these external stakeholders should continue throughout the planning process as key milestones become imminent, particularly if cooperation, permitting, or approval is needed for the project to progress.

Ad hoc committees are frequently formed to provide a structure to organize both public input and technical input. Ad hoc means that the committees are formed for a specific purpose - in this case to guide a specific project. Types of ad hoc committees include the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which can also be called the Community Advisory Group (CAG).

These Committees act in an advisory capacity only and as a “sounding boards” for decision makers.  Project decisions remain the responsibility of the lead agency, project sponsors, and ultimately the appropriate of elected officials. It is critical that roles and responsibilities, including advisory versus decision-making, be clearly defined and reinforced as committees are developed and become active.

Advisory Committees

The purpose of an Advisory Committee is to provide the project team with a credible source of local insight that only residents or interested public agency stakeholders could provide, while recognizing that the ultimate authority rests with the elected officials and/or their appointed representatives. The involvement of an Advisory Committee during the formation of draft goals, objectives, and policies helps to develop a meaningful and informative planning document. An Advisory Committee can also encourage a collaborative process that would support buy-in for the final product, and produce a plan that stakeholders really believe in and will strive to implement.

The two types of advisory committees are described in more detail below:

Technical Advisory Committee (TAC): One of the most efficient ways to engage both internal and external technical stakeholders is to form a TAC, an ad hoc committee formed solely for a specific project. A TAC is typically comprised of technically oriented representatives from stakeholder agencies or from departments from inside the agency. The City Manager (in the case of internal stakeholders) or Agency Executive Director (for external agencies) can be responsible for appointing a qualified staff member or representative to the TAC. Members will serve in the capacity of peer advisors who provide feedback and advice to lead agencies’ staff and the project team.

It is essential that TAC members have the technical expertise and experience to review the work of the multi-disciplinary consultant team of environmental analysts, economists, transportation engineers, and planners. They must be able to provide critical input to the PDT on the implications of the Project in terms of environmental issues, challenges/opportunities, transportation, and financing strategies/solutions. Each TAC member will also be responsible for reporting to his/her respective agency the implications of the technical information and analysis being discussed or developed.

Community Advisory Committee (CAC): A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) is comprised of community members that represent a wide range of interests. A good rule of thumb is to include community members whose interests range from social service (e.g. community-based organizations), environmental (e.g. Active Transportation, Environmental Justice), economic (e.g. Chamber of Commerce), technical (educational institutions), and political (opinion leaders who are respected by elected officials) interests. Ideally, the CAC will gain project knowledge and build mutual understanding between groups with diverse interests as well as share information with their respective constituencies.

Project sponsors will be responsible for providing support and technical analyses to the CAC as well as to deliver experienced facilitators who will structure the dialogue so that meaningful exchanges will occur. Final decision-making will remain the responsibility of the lead agencies’ staff and/or board of directors. Two underlying principles must be understood and accepted in order for the CACs to operate effectively. The first is that CACs are not intended to be group decision-makers who reach consensus; rather they are a forum to deepen understanding of the issues and to grasp the context and implications of choices; and secondly, that the value of technical knowledge must be recognized and respected in the process.

Advisory Committee Role

The following provides information regarding the Advisory Committees’ role, including a discussion of the composition of the Committee, how the Committee will operate, how they could be appointed, and their general responsibilities.

  • What is the Advisory Committee? The Advisory Committee meets throughout the course of the process to discuss and resolve any issues of public process and outreach. They also act as a sounding board for the values, visions, choices, and strategic directions that arise from the process. The focus is on process not policy and the policy decisions will be made by the elected officials or their appointed representatives. Therefore, the Advisory Committee is very important to the planning process, and the leadership should welcome its active and thoughtful contribution.
  • How will the Advisory Committee work? A proper committee may consist of 15 to 25 people. Although the appointment process varies from community to community, an application process with members appointed from all sectors of the community is recommended. It will bring a diversity of viewpoints to the Advisory Committee’s discussions.
  • What qualifications should Advisory Committee members have? Advisory Committee members should be able to meet the following requirements: (a) they must be a resident or work within the project area; and (b) they should be willing to commit the time to attend the Advisory Committee meetings. What really matters is that they care about the future of the project area and, that they have some ideas and goals to make the project area an even better place to live and work in the years to come.
  • How much time will serving on the Advisory Committee require? The Advisory Committee should meet approximately once a month throughout the entire process. In addition to the meetings, members of the Advisory Committee are strongly encouraged to attend other public events related to the planning process, such as community meetings.


  • West Carson and West Athens-Westmont TOD Specific Plans : The County of Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning has initiated two transit oriented development (TOD) specific plans, one located in the unincorporated area of West Carson and the other in West Athens-Westmont. The goal of the specific plans is to improve provide a transit-supportive policy framework guiding development in these areas. The plans focus on improving access to transit, introducing more mixed use development, and improving the areas’ multimodal network.
  • As a part of the plan development process, outreach to key stakeholders was key. The Department of Regional Planning assembled a task force Technical Advisory Committee to provide guidance and feedback throughout the planning process. The TAC includes staff from various County departments such as the Department of Public Health, Department of Public Works, Department of Parks and Recreation, Metro, local transit agencies, and private stakeholders such as the UCLA-Harbor Medical Center.  TAC meetings are conducted on a quarterly basis to solicit feedback from the various interest groups as part of the plan development process.
  • SCAG Norwalk Green Line Extension : The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has initiated a transportation planning study to improve transit connectivity between Orange County (OC) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Specifically, the purpose of this study is to investigate the feasibility of an extension of the Metro Green Line from its existing eastern terminus at the I-605 freeway in Norwalk to the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink Station. This 2.8 mile Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension would complete a critical link in the regional rail transit network and provide an important inter-modal connection between the Metro Rail system and the Metrolink commuter rail system.
  • An important part of the project is effectively involving the key public agency stakeholders throughout the decision making process and achieving consensus on key decisions.  For this study. SCAG assembled a TAC consisting of key staff from various local public agency departments such as the Community Development Department and Economic Development Department from the Cities of Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs, Metro, Metrolink, and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments.  The objective of the TAC is to achieve effective involvement of each participating agency and facilitate consensus building with the agencies throughout the decision-making process.
  • Walnut Creek West Downtown Specific Plan : The City of Walnut Creek assembled a 13-member CAC to help provide input towards the development of this Specific Plan document and to ensure that the plan incorporated the community’s vision for the project area.  Ten CAC meetings were conducted to supplement the community outreach effort, which included traditional community meetings and open houses.