Research Implementation at IDOT: From Ad Hoc to a Systematic Approach

By Juan David Pava, Illinois Department of Transportation

One of the main goals of the Research Coordination Unit at the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is to ensure that findings and products developed through research are used by the department to improve its practices and to work toward fulfilling its mission. As part of its continual efforts to improve implementation of research findings, IDOT has looked at ways to transition to a systematic approach in its implementation process.

In the past, generally speaking, research projects were evaluated on a case-by-case basis to decide which steps to take to facilitate implementation. This approach was effective in some instances, but it fell short at other times. By using lessons learned from completed and implemented projects, IDOT’s Research Coordination Unit has started building a system that will allow the department to more often replicate the characteristics of successful projects—without reinventing the wheel. As part of this system, implementation language is added to every project work plan.

IDOT has learned that development of consistent and clear definitions is vital to successful implementation. Well-defined terminology allows researchers, practitioners, and administration to have a shared understanding and common objectives when discussing implementation. Therefore, we have developed definitions for implementation and for the implementation status of research projects.

For starters, implementation was defined as the use, adoption, dissemination, or standardization of research findings to modify, create, or support new or current policy, standards, or products for the department. This definition allows us to account for a vast range of research outputs, from tangible deliverables to be introduced in practice to knowledge that validates the current state of practice.

We also learned that understanding the status of implementation for any given project is important for efficacy. With this is mind, the following implementation status categories were established:

  • Implemented: The research findings were deployed through one or many products.
  • Implementation Under Way: Implementable products have been identified, and implementation activities have begun.
  • Implementation Expected: The potential products to be implemented have been identified, but implementation activities are not yet under way.
  • Not implemented: Even though an implementable product was identified from the research findings, it was decided not to implement for a particular reason (political pressure, lack of resources, economics, etc.).
  • Not applicable: The project did not produce an implementable product.

At any given time, every research project can be categorized into one of these five statuses, allowing IDOT to direct its resources to projects more likely to be implemented and to provide assistance for innovation deployment.

The next step in developing a systematic approach to implementation was to identify a way for a research project to navigate the various status categories to achieve implementation. This is done by answering simple questions such as the following:

  • Is a product expected?
  • Is the product being developed?
  • Can or should IDOT implement the product that was developed?

To assist in conducting this step, the Research Coordination Unit created a flowchart that illustrates how a product’s implementation status evolves as the deliverable from the research is identified, developed, and deployed.

implementation_chart2

We observed that projects for which upper- or mid-management support was secured were far more likely to be implemented. The Research Coordination Unit has the tools available to aid in the coordination and planning for management support. This can be done most effectively if the intended implementation process is outlined early enough in the life of the project to allow the Research Coordination Unit to allocate resources and streamline implementation.

For that reason, it is vital that researchers and Technical Review Panel (TRP) chairs develop an implementation plan that identifies the intended product from the research, possible hurdles to implementation, implementation activities, and expected benefits. To aid in the identification of these items, the Research Coordination Unit developed an Implementation Planning Worksheet.

By carefully considering the tasks necessary to achieve implementation and following the outlined process to implementation, we are confident that the Research Coordination Unit will be better able to assist researchers and TRPs in streamlining and securing implementation of innovative solutions to transportation needs in Illinois. This process helps IDOT in achieving its mission to provide safe, cost-effective transportation for Illinois in ways that enhance the quality of life, promote economic prosperity, and demonstrate respect for our environment.


The Research Coordination Unit is always open to input from researchers and practitioners, knowing that by collaboration and open dialogue we will be able to improve the process.

For questions or suggestions about the research implementation process, please contact the Research Coordination Unit at 217-782-7202 or DOT.BMPR.RESEARCH@Illinois.gov