Omnibus: Becoming a Good Sustainability Planning Practitioner

4th October 2010

Session 3: 3.20 - 4.05

Introduction to Planning Models - Substantive Methods


Planners use many different methods in planning, continuously developing their own and incorporating those developed in other fields, disciplines and professions. Knowledge and experience of the methods used by the generalist and by the specialist in selected areas is fundamental to the competency of planners. In the previous two sessions we focused on procedural methods. Now we examine other major types of methods. This is a large and complex topic. We will approach it initially in a pragmatic way by identifying differing sets of methods used by planners and examining examples of their use and identifying how SCARP courses can provide you with an understanding of them.

In preparation for the class please read the outline of topics below and go to the web links provided to amplify them. Where they occur, go to the SCARP course pages to find out more about the specific topics that are covered by them. Our agenda for this session will involve me leading you through a discussion of each of the topics listed below. Please bring your questions to the class. In addition, make a list of the methods relevant to planning in which you have a significant degree of literacy already. Which are the methods that you would put on your priorized list for developing literacy? Which are on the much shorter list of those that you aspire to develop to a significant degree of competency before finishing your degree? After the class revise your lists and ideas for inclusion in your Individual Assignment.

Literacy vs Expertise in Methods

It is unrealistic to expect to become expert in all the methods that are employed by planners in a two-year masters program. It is, however reasonable to aim to develop literacy in many of the key methods and a measure of competence in a relatively small number. The foundation provided by your previous education and experience has a great deal of influence on what are feasible goals for you. The goal of literacy involves developing sufficient understanding to be a critical reader of studies or to be able to commission studies that involve use of the method. Literacy therefore implies being able to talk about methods in an informed way and understanding the potential sources of strength and weakness in use of a method. This usually means having an appreciation of the theory(ies) and assumptions upon which the method is based so as to be able to judge its appropriateness for application to a specific situation. It also requires you to be able to ask revealing questions about the empirical methods that will be used in collecting data and the analytical methods that will be employed in using the data to draw conclusions and make recommendations.

Research Methods

Each of you will develop at least basic literacy and some measure of competency in quantitative and qualitative research methods by taking Mark Steven's PLAN 511, Stephanie Chang's PLAN 514 and PLAN 515. This will build your understanding of research design; approaches involving methods such as statistics, interviewing, focus groups and participant observation; and the use of computers in conducting research and analysis.

Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

Overall you should be developing a critical appreciation of when to use quantitative and when to use qualitative methods of various kinds in all aspects of planning (i.e. not just for research). In many instances they can be advantageously combined in ways that exploit the relative strengths of each to reduce the weaknesses of the other (i.e. what are referred to as "mixed methods". More..

Modeling Methods

A model is an abstraction or simplificaton of reality or a system. Planners use many different types of models (e.g. maps, physical models of a building or an area, and computer models of systems behaviour) and various methods are developed for building and using these models. Models are used to represent spatial and temporal characteristics. Computer models can be used to represent data (e.g. GIS), simulate system behaviour (e.g. traffic flows) and optimize systems (e.g. least cost plans for improving air quality). In one or more ways each SCARP class explores models and modeling. More on models and modelling

Participatory Methods

Increasingly it has been recognized that participatory processes can greatly enhance the use of methods in planning. This has resulted in the development of specific participatory versions of methods (e.g. Participatory Action Research (PAR), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), etc) Nora Angeles in PLAN 548O introduces you to many of these with examples of how they are widely used. There is really no method that can not be developed in a participatory form. Participatory GIS is an example of what was originally a highly technical, computer-based method, becoming developed in participatory modes.

Impact Assessment Methods

A wide diversity of methods have been developed for assessing economic, environmental, social and fiscal impacts. Eric Vance's PLAN 513 reviews economic and other associated methods with an emphasis on quantitative methods. Other courses address other sub-sets of impact methods, including Bill Rees's PLAN 504 for environmental impacts, Will Trousdale's PLAN 503 for local economic development, Larry Frank PLAN 580 for transportation impacts, Jay Wollenberg PLAN 561 for financial impacts of urban development, myself PLAN 597 for all kinds of impacts of water resources development.

Evaluation Methods for Projects, Plans and Programs

Various methods have been developed for evaluating the mix of impacts from projects, plans and programs and presenting the results. They include goals/achievement matrices, cost-benefit analyses, cost-effectiveness analyses, and multiple accounts. These methods are examined in Eric Vance's PLAN 513 and Tim McDaniels PLAN 599 (next fall) and PLAN 548T (this fall). There are specific methods for program evaluation, which some students employ in their project and thesis research. In recent years the Canadian Federal Government has developed methods that it uses for evaluating its projects, plans and programs. The School has been required to use the so-called "results-based management approach" in developing proposals for and reporting on its CIDA funded projects (read pp. 1-8 and skim the Table of Contents for the governments policy document).

Design Methods

Planners are increasingly expected to be knowledgeable about design methods. The courses taught by Maged Senbel 587A and 587B introduce methods appropriate to both indirect and direct design.