Understanding Urban Planning Outcomes in the UK: Practitioner Perspectives in Outcome Assessment

Understanding Urban Planning Outcomes in the UK: Practitioner Perspectives in Outcome Assessment

Suvodeep Mazumdar, Jie Qi, Dhavalkumar Thakker, Barry Goodchild
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 40
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.326126
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The planning process in the UK is a highly complex system, developed over many decades, and is in the process of rapid transitions into digital planning. Among these transformations is a desire to move from an outputs-based assessment to an outcomes-based assessment process. This is challenging, and in this paper, the authors explore the variety of factors that make outcomes assessment challenging. The authors first studied the literature to understand how outcomes are complex, ranging across different sectors and practices, identifying 359 indicators related to outcomes. The authors then conducted a knowledge mapping exercise to understand the characteristics of the indicators in multiple themes. The authors also invited practitioners for an interview on their perspectives of outcomes assessment, definitions of outcomes, barriers to outcomes, the benefits of outcomes assessment, and how practitioners envision a world with outcomes assessment. The authors conclude the paper with future directions of research.
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The aim of this article is to assess, from the practitioners’ viewpoint, their understanding and approach towards outcomes-based planning in the UK. In doing so, the authors aim to highlight the challenges of understanding outcomes, the wide range of considerations that are involved in assessing outcomes, and practitioner perspectives on the practicalities of establishing an outcomes-based assessment, which, although highly beneficial and impactful, requires considerable effort. Although there have been efforts in bringing together outcomes for specific aspects of planning such as environmental sustainability (Yigitcanlar & Teriman, 2015), health (Northridge & Sclar, 2003) and so on, to the authors’ knowledge, there are no existing studies that have explored the broader topic of urban planning outcomes.

While multiple definitions exist that aim to capture the variety of nuances in expressing outcomes and outputs, for the purposes of this paper, the authors focus on outcomes and outputs from the perspective of the UK Government's application of Theory of Change within different contexts such as the Department for International Development (Parsons et al., 2013) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS Research Paper Number 2020/016, 2020), where outcomes are the benefits that projects or interventions are designed to deliver while outputs are the tangible and intangible products that result from the activities in the intervention. Therefore, outputs are specific, quantifiable impacts of interventions, while outcomes are more generic, holistic, and wider impacts informed by outputs. Wong et al. (2007) further discussed these perspectives of outputs: “Outcomes should be viewed as the combined effects on socio-economic and environmental changes brought about by the planning system and other forces that seek to achieve sustainable development and sustainable communities”.

With the existing challenges in achieving an outcomes-based assessment framework in the UK, in this paper, the authors seek to answer the following research questions: How do practitioners perceive an outcomes-based planning future, and what practical barriers exist that hinder progress in this direction? The authors seek to answer these questions from three exercises: (i) a literature review to highlight challenges identified in the literature (e.g., terminological differences and practical implications), (ii) a review of the literature on the interconnected nature of outcomes and a knowledge mapping exercise to highlight the range of themes emerging from the literature, and (iii) a set of interviews with practitioners in urban planning to understand their perspectives of challenges and outcomes-assessment.

This article consists of six sections: in Section 2, the authors discuss the issues around conceptualising urban planning outcomes and the different perspectives involved in assessing planning outcomes. The authors use their literature study to conduct a knowledge mapping exercise to present indicators that have been linked to different outcomes. In Section 3, the authors discuss their methodology of conducting a set of interviews with practitioners in urban planning to understand their perspectives in operationalising urban planning outcomes. The authors present key findings, as seen in Section 4, of their interviews. Section 5 presents some discussions around the findings of their interviews, and the authors conclude the paper with Section 6 on some future directions of research.

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