Citizen conferences, each composed of 8-10 New Mexico adult citizens and lasting one day, were spearheaded by the New Mexico Department of Transportation to gather public input, so that the Department can best meet the transportation needs of its citizens.
Problems and Purpose
The New Mexico Department of Transportation is committed to its citizens and local government. With New Mexico being a very rural state, the public relies heavily on highways, transits, aviation, bicycle, and pedestrian modes of transportation. Due to the economic decline of the United States, the NMDOT is facing revenue cuts. Despite the hard economic times, the department still stays committed to improving and maintaining every mode of transportation in the state. So, The Department of Transportation decided to create a citizen conference to gather information from its citizens.
Background History and Context
Know what events lead up to this initiative? Help us complete this section!
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
US Congress authorizes budgets for transportation. Unfortunately in 2005, Congress has cut the budget. These are the few ways the New Mexico Department of Transportation get their budget regulated:
- Regulatory: federal and state guidelines determine the NMDOT appropriates funds
- Political: politicians, interest group, and citizens influence how the funds are distributed; the NMDOT has to balance all the wants and needs of these diverse interest groups. That is why the citizen conferences are so important because they allow the NMDOT to hear from the citizens firsthand and can balance their views with the views of politicians and other interest groups.
Currently the projected 20 year transportation budget is 16 billion. The main focus of this budget is rehabilitation projects, which include hazardous road repair, and modifying highways to reduce traffic congestion. Since 22% of the state is highways, repairing those highways is very important to citizen safety.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Citizen conferences are made up of 8-10 adult citizens that come from diverse demographics that represent different areas of New Mexico. The citizens are selected at random in order to ensure the diversity of the panel. Department of Transportation employs Citizen Advisors that participate in the panel and inform the panel of budgets, projects, and planning. These advisors receive an honorarium for their time.
Methods and Tools Used
This case used citizen conferences, which allow randomly-selected citizens to deliberate on policy in order to provide collectively agreed-upon recommendations to government. Then, the "government entity can then use these recommendations to better meet the needs of its citizens." 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The conference is set up for one day. First the citizens are informed about the background of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. Then they are informed of what the NMDOT takes into account when making key decisions about the transportation system. The citizen advisors are facilitate this process by asking the department of transportation expert panel questions about budgets, planning, and projects. Then the panel deliberates on how to best serve the transportation needs of the public. The citizen advisors are responsible to summarize the key points to the department of transportation's panel of experts. Below is a typical schedule of one of this conferences and shows the process to which they deliberate.
- Registration & Continental Breakfast 8:30 – 9:00
- Introductions 9:00 – 9:30
- Conference overview 9:30 - 10:00
- Citizen Advisors question expert panelists 10:00 - 12:00
- Lunch 12:00 - 1:00
- Deliberation among Citizen Advisors 1:00 - 4:00
- Presentation of recommendations 4:00 - 4:30
- Informal discussion 4:30 - 5:00
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Know what influence and effects this initiative had? Help us complete this section!
Analysis and Lessons Learned
When contacting the NMDOT they said they thought the citizen conferences were an excellent way to hear the public's input. However it is a costly method and they are currently looking for a less costly method to gather the public's information. They still stay very committed to the input and voices of their citizens and continue with their mission "to plan, build, and maintain a quality state-wide transportation network which will serve the social and economic interests of our citizens in a productive, cost-effective and innovative manner." Transportation is very essential to the everyday lives of the citizens and the NMDOT showed they are committed to improving the lives of their citizens by hearing the citizen's voices on issues of transportation. The NMDOT took it upon themselves to employ a method of gathering the public's opinion and made it deliberative.
Author's note: Most of this information was obtained from the citizens conference brochure and summaries of the conferences.