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Washington State Department of Transportation, Division of Public Transportation, Community Outreach and Public Engagement for Statewide Human Services Transportation Plan

The Washington State Department of Transportation needed to update their Statewide Human Services Transportation plan, which focuses on initiatives to improve access and enhance mobility for people who are unable to transport themselves due to physical or mental limitations, income or age.  To make sure the plan update is consistent with the needs of the population, WSDOT contracted with The Athena Group to gather information regarding transportation challenges from the perspective of stakeholders, users of community transportation and hard to reach populations in urban and rural areas.

The Athena Group conducted three major tasks:  stakeholder interviews with providers, industry experts, and social service providers; ride-alongs on transit or community provider buses, and four public engagements with a focus on the Spanish speaking populations in Aberdeen, farm worker and Spanish speaking populations in Brewster, homeless and low income populations in Spokane, and dialysis patients in Pierce County.

The final report and sketch notes produced by The Athena Group will inform the priorities and strategies that are reported in the final statewide plan. 

A primary benefit of the public engagements, which was unexpected by the client, was an opening to build and grow an ongoing relationship with communities who need transportation services but whose voice is often overlooked.

We are extremely happy with the work The Athena Group did. They helped us hold some of the most successful government outreach meetings I have ever been part of. By removing barriers to participation, we were able to gain input from groups that have traditionally very difficult for my agency to hear from. As a result, we can feel confident in our ability to communicate perspectives that more closely reflect the diversity of Washington state.
Perhaps more importantly, The Athena Group changed our perspective on what effective community engagement is. They pushed us to challenge administrative and bureaucratic norms that often get in the way of truly meaningful community input. While remaining flexible on the issues we were unable to resolve internally, The Athena Group encouraged us to make positive changes by advocating for an engagement process that is tailored to the needs of the community, not our organization. These changes resulted in a community engagement process that we are extremely satisfied with and excited to share our lessons learned with our partners.