Chapter 7. Conclusions and Recommendations
The following three primary conclusions emerged from the work in this project:
- The guidelines and recommendations developed in this project have the potential to improve the content and delivery of road weather information.
- The guidelines and recommendations reflect best practices, as well as the best-available information from the research literature.
- Additional activities should be conducted that focus on better tailoring the guidelines to end-users’ preferences and requirements.
These conclusions are described below.
Although there was some uncertainty at the outset of this project regarding the availability and suitability of existing research for developing road weather message design guidelines, the work in Chapter 5 showed that by incorporating information from other related domains, it has been possible to develop design recommendations that apply to road weather messages. In particular, thirty separate guidelines were written covering a range of design topics for different dissemination types including 1) short-text/DMS, 2) open visual formats, and 3) auditory messages.
As noted in the preceding conclusions, there are gaps with regard to how well the available design recommendations cover specific road weather communication situations, and end-user information needs; however, there was sufficient applicable information from other related traveler-information domains to provide guidance grounded in empirical research in many cases. In other instances, such as with web-based content in which existing information was unavailable or insufficient, it was still possible to develop design recommendations based on best-practices and general human factors design principles. In general, there is enough relevant design information contained in the guidelines to assist end-users in improving their communication of road weather in the short term. Moreover, this preliminary set of design guidelines will support the process of obtain feedback from end-users by providing a starting point for discussions, and it also makes information “gaps” easier to identify for future research efforts.
As stated in the previous paragraph, most data sources used to develop the design recommendations are not road weather-specific. While empirical research that directly addressed road weather messages would have likely provided the most relevant and specific information, the topics covered in the design guidelines were framed at a level that was general enough to permit us to use design information from other related domains as a basis for the design recommendations. We were able to cover key design topics in this manner; however, this approach likely missed many situation-specific design considerations and other nuances that are particular to road weather information. Contributing to this is that fact that end-users were not included in the guideline development process, so the guideline topics were not selected to specifically address the information requirements of TMCs or other end users. Although we have tried to make the best use of available information, the lack of road weather-specific information sources and involvement of the end-user community means that there still exists a need for more specific design information that is more closely focused on road weather communication.
Up to this point, end-users have had no involvement in developing the content, format, and organization of the guidelines and recommendations. While the guidelines could be useful for a broad range of transportation professionals, the end-users that will be impacted the most by the organization, format, and content of the guidelines, and the ones that should be consulted most thoroughly for feedback, are the transportation professionals (e.g., TMC personnel and other state DOT staff) that develop or support the development of messages and strategies for communicating road weather information to travelers. Although the preliminary guidelines cover a wide range of general design topics, with a focus on road weather information when it was possible, the guidelines have not been specifically developed with key use cases in mind from the outset. This requires a better understanding of who the end-users are, what design information they require, at what stages in the design process is guidance required, and so forth. This type of information is not difficult to obtain, but it does require a targeted and formal process to obtain information that identifies specific user requirements and that adequately represents how the design information will be used. Additional information about obtaining this key information from end users is provided in the Recommendations section below.
Based on the results and findings from this project, the recommendations are presented as suitable future activities to continue advancing the development and implementation of the road weather message design guidelines. These recommendations include:
- Implement the evaluation plan with a goal of obtaining end-user feedback on the current guidelines.
- Revise the guidelines in accordance with the end-user recommendations.
- Implement the outreach activities in order to attract, engage, and involve the end-user community.
- Target areas for improving the guidelines.
These recommendations are discussed in more detail in the following sections.
The Implementation and Evaluation Plan contained in the Chapter 6 summary outlines several key activities related to preparing for and obtaining end-user feedback on the guidelines. In summary, these include:
- Preparing for the evaluation of the guidelines.
- Conduct evaluation of the guidelines.
- Revise the road weather message guidelines.
Conducting the activities outlined in the evaluation plan (these are also provided above in Chapter 6) will provide important feedback about the overall design, format/layout, and content of the guideline information, which provides sound basis for making key improvements to the road weather message design information.
Although the previous activities resulted in a coherent set of message design guidelines based on the best available information, they have not been developed using a systematic process that incorporates the information and usage requirements of the intended end-user community. Accordingly, in some ways these guidelines represent “raw material” that can be modified to be more consistent with how end-users would use the guideline information for communicating road weather information and that is more focused on the specific information elements that end-users have. The evaluation plan for the guidelines is presented in Chapter 6, and it describes an approach for obtaining key information from end user that can be used to revise and generally improve the current set of guidelines.
The activities listed in the outreach plan are relatively inexpensive, yet in combination provide an overall comprehensive approach for raising awareness about the guidelines. It is also worth noting that one of the most effective ways to attract and engage the end-users is to involve them in the development process. This promotes the view among end users that the document will be of value to them because their concerns, design issues, etc., were specifically taken into account during the guideline development process. Ultimately, this approach gives the end-user community a stake in the success of the guidelines, and encourages active promotion of the document among end-users themselves.
We have identified several key areas in which the guidelines can benefit from additional development and refinement. These areas are discussed below.
Organization: One area that requires validation and possible improvement is how the content is organized. This is a key step for ensuring that the document is accessible/easy to use, presented in a logical manner, and in a manner that supports how road weather message development is conducted. Ensuring that the guideline document has a good organization likely involve developing a functional integration of guidelines, tutorials, the traveler information needs design tool.
The guidelines should support key use cases, and contain the necessary supporting material. This includes introductory chapters that discuss the objective of guidelines and the rational for incorporating the guidance into the road weather communication design process. Other chapters should describe the elements/layout of the guidelines, information about how end-users can find the information they need, in addition to other related sections such as a glossary and index.
Another document organization issue is to determine the best use for the traveler information needs design tool that was described in Chapter 5. Although we think that the tool remains an effective way to define message content that takes into account the travelers information needs, it represents a relatively complex step in the message design process. One concern is that emphasizing a design tool could introduce a barrier if end-users perceived that this is a necessary step to using the design information, rather than a supplemental tool that aids the development of weather message content and presentation. The current organization is a holdover from earlier tasks, when there was greater uncertainty regarding the possibility of providing a broad range of design guidelines. The work in Chapter 5 established that there is sufficient design information to permit the guidelines to stand on their own, which leaves open the option of moving the design tool to a tutorial, or giving it a more optional/supplementary flavor when it is presented. Ultimately, this is an empirical question that is best answered by consulting end users.
In previous guideline efforts, we have found that guidelines that use a consist format are well received and judged to be easy to use. In addition, using a consistent format is also important during the development of design guidelines. In particular, limitations in guideline length and clear definitions of what each section should cover demand discipline from guideline writers, which result in guidelines that are focused, pertinent, and address the key issues in a way that minimizes unnecessary narrative text. Although the current guidelines followed a basic format, the emphasis during their development was on presenting relevant content, rather than adhering to a strict format.
Although we have formats and style guides from other guideline development efforts that can be applied to the road weather message guidelines, it make sense to obtain feedback on the format from end-users to ensure that the guidelines are consistent with the specific ways in which end-users seek out and use design information. It is also important that the information be presented at the required level of detail.
Up to this point, much of the content has been driven by what information is available with an overall objective of covering typical message-design information elements, and information that we perceived to be useful based on our understanding of existing practices. However, several questions remain about the nature of this information, including:
- Have we provided valuable information and answered the right questions?
- What additional information is needed?
- Are there other/better sources of guidance?
These are questions that the end-user community can best answer, and the guidelines should be revised accordingly.
There are some other more general questions that can also benefit from feedback from end users. These include:
- How well do the guidelines fit in with typical operational procedures at a TMC? Or state DOT?
- Is our use of terminology correct?
- Are there better examples that we could use?
- How well do the guidelines support the most common use-cases?
Obtaining answers to these questions and incorporating the feedback into the guideline documents is an important part of making them useful and relevant to end-users, and for ensuring that they will become valuable and widely-used resource that ultimately promotes effective and timely communication of road weather information to travelers.