This is one of five ideas we’re sharing for feedback as part of Kittelson’s Equity Challenge, an initiative to develop practical ways to advance equity in transportation. Learn more about the challenge and read the other ideas here.

Equity Challenge: Lack of Relationships = Ineffective Community Engagement

Relationships with marginalized communities and their resource networks leads to meaningful engagement and inclusion throughout the planning and conceptual design processes.

However, public distrust, based on a history of negatively impacting communities of colors and further marginalizing communities through planning and engineering, has created a lack of diverse voices and perspectives at the table in the planning and design process. This lack of perspectives brings about blind spots as we cannot embrace the full richness of our cultures and much potential is left on the table rather than applied in our engagement practices and work.

As consultants, we often enter our project work without historic knowledge and understanding of community history, dynamics, and trauma, or the methods available to efficiently learn about these aspects of a place; likewise, our clients may also face the same issues. The ways we think about impact and influence are limited by scopes, budgets, politics, biases, and blind spots. For these reasons, we may miss opportunities to truly consult and collaborate.

Idea: Develop Strategies and Training to Turn Encounters into Partnerships

We believe more knowledge and training is needed to convert encounters into relationships, and where possible, into meaningful partnerships/collaborations. Community relationships should be more formally leveraged in projects through scoping, budgeting, contracting, and ultimately doing the work. As part of this, we see a need to investigate ways to compensate community members who serve in key roles, whether through community liaison contractor positions hired by the client or as subconsultants within our scope and budget.

How This Will Benefit Our Clients & Communities

In our established markets, forming and nurturing community relationships will:

  • Strengthen our methods to bring in traditionally marginalized voices and perspectives, making for better outcomes all around in addition to better managing budgets and schedules.
  • Begin to restore trust between communities historically impacted by transportation decisions and public agencies and their consultants.
  • Advance the legitimization of community organizations’/networks’ knowledge, input, and expertise as valued project team members.
  • Provide a channel for a complex set of community needs, desires, and concerns to shape planning and design processes and project decisions more focused on justice than often allowed by traditional planning and design processes.
  • Shed light on and facilitate an understanding of the array of interests among different subgroups in communities and develop packages of approaches/outcomes that strike a balance between involved parties’ interests to equitably meet historically disinvested communities’ needs.

Whaddya Think?

We’d love to collaborate! Post your thoughts on this idea, or another idea for advancing equity in transportation, to social media with the hashtag #TransportationEquityChallenge.

We’d also welcome a conversation with you. Get in touch with us at,, and

View the other ideas that came out of the Transportation Equity Challenge here.