Implementation of Target Setting Practices: A Guidebook

Status: Candidate    
Potential Funding Sources:    
Timeframe: Short-Term
Research Period: 12 months
Funding Estimate: $200,000
Potential Sponsors:

This research will provide resources focusing on how to set performance targets, including a quick implementation guide regarding MAP-21, Scan Workshop, and step by step guidance.


Performance management is gaining national attention as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) requires agencies to adopt performance management principles to increase accountability and transparency and improve decision-making. A key component of performance management and the MAP-21 requirements is setting performance targets. The majority of transportation agencies have experience with developing performance measures and reporting on condition/performance, but experience is much more limited in setting performance targets and making adjustments based on the achievement (or not) of those targets. As stated in the recently released NCHRP 8-36 Task 113: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century, “Understanding how to establish reasonable targets for transportation measures is in its infancy.

Research Objectives

This research will produce resources that focus on “how to” set performance targets. Three products are sought through this research:
1. Quick Turnaround “How To” Guidance for meeting MAP-21 target setting requirements
2. Scan Workshop focused on bringing together agencies that have successfully conducted target setting
3. A practical step-by-step guide to setting performance targets.

Proposed Research

1. Quick Turnaround “How To” Guidance for meeting MAP-21 target setting requirements (after national performance rules are finalized)
• Create a stand-alone short “how to ” guide for setting targets for each of the national performance measures
• Each guide will address the unique requirement of each measure (e.g., data sources, calculations, etc)
• Tips on how to address challenges (e.g., missing data) will be included
2. Scan Workshop focused on bringing together agencies that have successfully conducted target setting
• Identify candidate agencies to participate in scan
• Draft amplifying questions to guide discussion toward identification of what lead to successful target setting practices
• Conduct workshop and document results
3. A practical step-by-step guide to setting performance targets. Guide will cover the following key target setting elements:
A. Technical Approach
• Assemble baseline data and develop trend lines.
• Identify and assess factors influencing target (e.g., resource constraints, capital project commitments, planned operational activities, and anticipated future economic, environmental and social trends)
• Define purpose: who is end-use of target, what used for?
• Set target parameters (type of target, time horizon, scope)
B. Business process
• Internal business process
• External collaboration
C. Monitoring & Adjustment
• Tracking achievement of target.
• Establishing feedback loop to adjust targets.
D. Reporting & Communicating results
• Internal Reporting and Communication
• External Reporting and Communication

Potential Benefits

With the passage of MAP-21, there is an immediate need for transportation agencies to have access to guidance on how to set targets. In addition, effectively setting targets can
• Provide guidance on the prioritization and allocation of resources
• Establish a connection between actions and results
• Clarify outcomes the agency is trying to achieve
• Expose data issues
• Highlight where more resources are needed
• Manage expectations

Implementation and Follow-on Activities

• Conduct a pilot at several agencies to test the feasibility of implementing the recommendations outlined in the guidebook.
• Update the “short” guidebooks for setting MAP-21 targets as requirements change.

Related Research

The research proposed will be designed to build on the TPM Technical Assistance Program (TPM TAP) sponsored by the FHWA Office of TPM. Relevant products of the TPM TAP include a TPM Capability Maturity Model and a TPM Implementation Guidebook both of which will address target setting.
In addition, a new NHI course is under development: “Steps to Effective Target Setting and Progress Assessment.” The proposed guidebook in this research would serve as a written resource for the new NHI course.
Additional research exists on desirable characteristics of targets (e.g., NCHRP 551 Performance Measures and Targets for Transportation Asset Management and NCHRP 666 Target Setting Methods and Data Management to Support Performance-Based Resource Allocation by Transportation Agencies), but these resources contain limited “how to” guidance.