Ph.D. Spotlight: Metropolitan Planning Organizations: The Usage of Regional Organizations and Coordination

Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs) are a growing field of research within the public administration context. These organizations provide a unique area of governance within their particular boundaries due to their amorphous nature interacting with all branches of government, providing a broad array of planning and policy options. Historical governance literature dictates that the role of the RIGO is to be a mechanism to mitigate issues of fragmentation between actors on an encompassing issue, providing a forum for all actors to properly exchange information and coordinate issues. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are one form of RIGOs, an organization that allows for regional transportation planning and an expansion on other growing regional issues such as future environmental challenges within their regions. As RIGOs can span a broad base of activities, the MPO provides a set of observations as each organization is required to meet standardized federal guidelines (fiscally constrained planning and specific planning documents that focus on short and long-term planning). The research from the following three papers, with a basis on the oberservation of organizational and institutional structure, helps to explain the possible impacts of the MPO towards coordination, planning, and adoption of specific policies.

The first paper examines the influences that the MPO has towards the city-level adoption of low and high risk sustainability policies and planning, as locally elected actors are influential members within most MPO policy governing boards. Understanding these effects should provide insight into how metropolitan actors collaborate with neighboring actors on wicked problems such as effective climate policy or proper transportation planning between neighboring areas. It was found that MPOs and their organizational structure did have an effect on their adopting these policies, creating further interest in researching further scenarios of adoption of high and low-risk activities.

The second paper considers the effects of interregional coordination and collaboration between neighboring MPOs building upon the usage of regional organizations as a mechanism for the local level in solving issues of fragmentation. As regional entities such as MPOs have political or geographic boundary cutoffs with expanding urbanized areas, the possibility of fragmented authority of the MPO may become a problem when using regional organizations. It was found in this research that collaboration risks related to institutional collective action (ICA) framework literature did arise when understanding the region’s scope of the problem, the actors involved, and the influence of state-level entities towards the coordination and collaboration process. This understanding creates a new window of information that expands upon current ICA literature, observing the fragmentation of authority from similar organizations goes beyond the measurement of local level metropolitan cases to larger regional entities.

The last paper presented combines the understanding of collaboration effects at the regional level and adoption risks at the local level through activities beyond transportation planning. This paper expands current research of long-range transportation planning by examining both a larger base of MPOs as well as the organizational and institutional effects towards goal and objective setting. Examining the pressures of the regional and state level towards MPO goal and objective setting may create a better understanding concerning how exactly MPOs decide on planning opportunities. By using a newly added layer of planning (environmental action), the research examines the differences between regional organizations taking active measures in environmental sustainability and planning compared to those doing the bare minimum of their required planning and finds that organizational, regional factors, and existing institutional pressures provide in some cases an effect towards MPO decision-making in goal and objective planning.

All documents are based upon a database that the author has personally compiled. It provides a sample of recorded organizational and institutional variables for all MPOs currently active in the United States. Other research data was collected via various surveys such as USF’s 2016 MPO Survey observing collaborative effects of the region and state, as well as the Integrated City Sustainability Database (ICSD) which is a comprehensive data set of U.S. municipal governments and their sustainability programs. The findings of all three papers should expand upon current knowledge of both RIGO and MPO operations, providing further opportunities for research in both areas.

Dr. Lubin received his Ph.D. in public administration from Florida State University in 2020. This post is based on Dr. Lubin’s dissertation abstract. You can learn more about this project here. You can learn more about Dr. Lubin here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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