Training topics in CSS.

The Context Sensitive Solutions approach is here to stay. But implementing such an extensive culture change requires new tools for highway engineers and project managers, and most of those new tools are not technical ones. True, new (or revived!) flexible design skills are needed, but transportation professionals also need training in: how to define problems more broadly; communications and consensus-building skills; and conflict-management skills. CSS training programs that address these needs are gaining in importance and spreading rapidly. But it’s a big job: one transportation leader estimates that it takes at least five years to change the culture of a an agency as large as most DOTs, even with total commitment by upper management.

One agency that has made an excellent start is the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which has contracted with Project for Public Spaces to develop and implement a five-day training program, which is the most comprehensive that has been offered to date.

The program has now been given to over 600 people in New Jersey — most of them state highway engineers, but also including a number of consultants to DOT, employees of New Jersey Transit, local elected and appointed officials, municipal and county engineers, and numerous representatives of community, citizens and advocacy organizations. The diversity in the body of trainees is regarded by New Jersey as integral to the training, as it models the process and partnerships required for context sensitive solutions to work. Representatives of the external stakeholder groups are invited to participate on a tuition-free basis up to a certain number, and are encouraged to recruit one or two other people with whom they work regularly on transportation projects in their community. The training sessions are designed as a single package; therefore participants are required to register for the entire program, since none of the sessions is intended to stand alone.