CONTEXTUALIZING PLANNING SUPPORT (SYSTEMS): CO-DESIGNING TO FIT THE DYNAMICS OF SPATIAL STRATEGY MAKING
Carissa Franken-Champlin is a PhD student in the department Construction Management and Engineering. Her supervisors are prof.dr. G.P.M.R. Dewulf from the faculty Engineering Technology and prof.dr. T. Hartmann from the Technology University Berlin.
This dissertation embarks on a search for an appropriate role for computer-based tools and other support methods for spatial planning by examining the context of their intended use. An exploratory study is conducted to gain a sense of the complexity that actors encounter when sorting out their knowledge about an urban area and its complex, interlinked networks. The strategic stages of this communicative process are brought under the loupe using complex systems theory to grasp the dynamics involved in adapting the issues of these planning actors out of their wicked problems state and into the objectives and strategies that guide decisions and plan formation. The argument is then made that for dedicated planning support to be considered useful under these complex conditions, it must be contextualized in ways that fit the dynamics that power strategy making forward. Co-designing methods that intertwine strategy making with model building is subsequently introduced as an approach to engage planning actors and their knowledge in the contextualization of planning support.
The first study examines a range of planning support tools based on their potential to trigger dynamics associated with idea generation and choice making. These dynamics have been referred to within the discourse surrounding planning support systems (PSS) as divergence and convergence. Definitions of PSS appearing in the past decade reflect a need for a systematic introduction of relevant (spatial) information to support dynamic processes of interrelated tasks. Following suit, this study adopts the stance that the aim of planning support during strategy making should be to support dialogue in its handling of planning issues rather than provide dedicated support to a specific planning task. Thus, the adaptation of planning issues during the course of a strategy-making session is mapped into a network of dynamic communicative interactions, revealing the potential influence of various types of planning support on these adaptations irrespective of strategy-making task. Preliminary modelling and sketching on a map were shown to support actors in identifying salient planning issues and communicating about these issues in formalized terms. Findings indicate that the introduction of planning support in visually engaging, flexible and intuitive formats may be useful for triggering divergence while the structuring of dialogue by a facilitator is likely essential to facilitate the convergent dynamics associated with choice making in group settings.
After investigating the potential influence of different types of planning support, a second study reports on the conditions surrounding the use of a PSS software package. Varying degrees of freedom were granted to participants in the choice of assessment indictors and in determining the process structure when working with the PSS, which was displayed on a maptable with some groups and on a tablet device with others. The conclusion is drawn that while dedicated support to group work during convergence remains important, more attention should be paid to the support of individual work, seeing as tablet use was more effective in supporting divergence. Moreover, the study confirms that to contextualize tools to the complex world of planning practice, there appears to be a need for structured ways of applying more adaptive PSS.
The final two studies of the dissertation incorporate a set of design principles derived from the first two studies on planning support use into two game-based methods, one that supports inter-actor communication and another that supports communication between planning actors and planning support experts. Both methods are based on the premise that if strategy making and model building are intertwined, it is more likely that the outcomes of these processes will reinforce one another, resulting in contextualized PSS that are better equipped to perform their supportive role.
The point of departure for the third study is the recognition that salient planning issues can be difficult to identify at the outset of a new project, particularly in wicked problem contexts where these issues seem connected to everything. Therefore, planning actors require structured and visually engaging means of brainstorming and sorting through the ideas they generate to collectively make choices. These means should facilitate, rather than obstruct communication and learning. Through a pragmatic research approach, gamified elements are introduced in a controlled setting with students and in two context-rich studies with strategic area redevelopment projects. Mixed methods are used to evaluate the usefulness of the gamified elements based on a quantitative assessment of idea generation and selection and on a qualitative assessment of participant feedback on perceived usefulness. Results showed that game elements such as zones, levels and token restrictions provide a structured means for participants to engage in silent, individual idea generation and in a structured dialogue when communicating about their issues. These results indicate that the gamification of strategy making conducted in group sessions can provide a structured, visually engaging means of supporting divergence and convergence when formulating planning problems. However, the gamified method falls short of sufficiently supporting actors in the formalization of their knowledge about these issues, a topic that is revisited in the next chapter.
The final study of the thesis introduces a game co-design method for eliciting knowledge about the context of planning support use for building the underlying models of PSS. Requirements for the method design are outlined in Chapter 5 and findings from an initial use case of the game co-design method are reported. The game format of the method is conceived as a visually engaging and intuitive ‘third space’ where experts of a spatial system and support experts can meet halfway between the realms of policy and technology to engage in dialogue. Actors are tasked to critique a set of parameterized assumptions and flexible game rules with the aim of eliciting knowledge about the spatial system in terms of space and its attributes. Findings show that presenting the assumptions in multiple views – a game, a geo-referenced map and a spreadsheet can help actors to formalize their knowledge. Moreover, conducting separate facilitated sessions with individual actor groups can reveal divergent frames, domains, levels of abstraction and uncertainties concerning their context-specific knowledge in addition to unearthing biases in the underlying assumptions of the game. The study concludes by discussing the role that games can play in informing debate by serving as simpler models for simulating the complex dynamics of spatial systems.
The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the main findings from the four studies and provides reflections on key conceptual and methodological aspects of the research. Insight from each of the studies is used in answering the central research question. A central conclusion of the dissertation is that to contextualize planning support to the dynamics of spatial strategy making, planning support in simpler, more flexible formats is needed that are capable of helping planning actors identify the salient issues of their project. The application of more flexible support, however, requires skilled facilitation that structures the group process, with particular attention to supporting individual work. Moreover, working with components of PSS in a preliminary state and co-evolving the support system together with relevant planning actors during strategy making may serve as a gateway for planning actors to enter the technical realm of PSS, while at the same time, familiarizing planning support experts with key issues that may be essential for contextualizing PSS on a project by project basis.