New Research Suggests Collaborative Approaches Produce Better Plans

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In a previous blog post (see, http://goo.gl/pAjyWE), we discussed how many of the most influential articles in the Journal of Planning Education and Research (and in peer publications, like JAPA) over the last two decades have focused on communicative or collaborative planning. Proponents of these approaches, most notably Judith Innes, Patsy Healey, Larry Susskind, and John Forester, developed the idea that the collaborative and communicative structures that planners use impact the quality, legitimacy, and equity of planning outcomes. In practice, communicative theory has led to participatory initiatives, such as those observed in New Orleans (post-Katrina, http://goo.gl/A5J5wk), Chattanooga (to revitalize its downtown and riverfront, http://goo.gl/zlQfKB), and in many other smaller efforts to foment wider involvement in decision making. Collaboration has also impacted regional governance structures, leading to more consensus based forms of decision making, notably CALFED (SF Bay estuary governance, http://goo.gl/EcXx9Q) and transportation planning with Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).

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Figure 1 FHTA.GOV

Most studies testing the implementation of collaborative planning have been case studies. Previous work by authors such as Innes and Booher, has provided valuable qualitative data about collaboration in planning, but few studies have attempted to empirically test the hypothesis that consensus building and participatory practices lead to better planning outcomes.

Robert Deyle (Florida State) and Ryan Weidenman (Atkins Global) build on previous case study research by surveying officials in involved in developing long-range transportation plans in 88 U.S. MPOs about the process and outcomes of those plans. The study tests the hypothesis that collaborative processes provide better outcomes and enhanced long-term relationships in situations where "many stakeholders with different needs" have "shared interests in common resources or challenges" and where "no actor can meet his/her interests without the cooperation of many others (Innes and Booher 2010, 7; Innes and Gruber 2005, 1985–2186). Current theory posits that consensus-based collaboration requires 1) the presence of all relevant interests, 2) mutual interdependence for goal achievement, and 3) honest and authentic dialog between participants (Innes and Booher 2010, 35–36, Deyle and Weidenman, 2014).

Figure 2 Deyle and Weidenman (2014)

By surveying planning authorities, the authors found that most of the conditions (See Figure 2, above) posited in collaborative planning literature had statistically significant impacts on planning outcomes.These included perceptions of plan quality, participant satisfaction with the plan, as well as intangible outcomes that benefit both the participants and their ongoing collaboration efforts. However, having a planning process in which all or most decisions were made by consensus did not improve outcomes.  

What does this mean for the profession? When promoting collaboration, planners should pay attention to the presence of key conditions for the existence of collaborative space. They should ask whether a planning process is sufficiently staffed, whether all relevant actors are present, whether they are authorized for decision making, and whether the parties involved in the process have stakes in mutually beneficial outcomes. This paper should provide evidence that can be applied when recommending planning processes and requesting resources from elected officials.

Deyle, Robert E., and Ryan E. Wiedenman. "Collaborative Planning by Metropolitan Planning Organizations A Test of Causal Theory." Journal of Planning Education and Research (2014): 0739456X14527621.

To access this article FREE until May 31 click the following links: Online, http://goo.gl/GU9inf, PDF, http://goo.gl/jehAf1.

Other Sources:

Innes, Judith E., and David E. Booher.Planning with complexity: an introduction to collaborative rationality for public policy. Routledge, 2010.

Innes, J. E., and J. Gruber. 2005. “Planning Styles in Conflict: The Metropolitan Transportation Commission.” Journal of the American Planning Association 71 (2): 177–88.

Post by Thomas Douthat with comments from Dr. Robert Deyle.

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