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How better handling of data can drive innovation in planning

Filing cabinet

Nissa Shahid explains how technology to store data in the planning profession is lagging behind.

Every day, cities process phenomenal amounts of data. Its volume and variety is fuelling a technology revolution across sectors and industries that have managed to incorporate digital data into their daily business.

Yet, despite the planning process itself generating vast amounts of data (directly and indirectly), technological innovation in the profession continues to lag behind.

This lag might be because of the long legacy of planning’s approach to filing, holding, and sharing its knowledge. Planning’s greatest obstacle to digital innovation with data is just how much information is hard to access within a painfully analogue system.

Future Cities Catapult’s Digital Planning programme shows how new technologies that have revolutionised finance, medicine and education industries might also benefit planning.

Take decision notices: Richly detailed, the information these documents hold – critical pieces of data that are relevant for the lifespan of developments – is too frequently lost to non-machine readable PDF filing.

“One of the underlying hurdles to innovation lies in how new datasets created by planning decisions are stored”

Decision notices should be, and still are, the go-to source for information when subsequently trying to assess the potential for further development, and understand the planning history of a place. But the means by which they’ve been filed leaves planners wading through historical decision notices, hoping to illuminate the context of existing developments and how future development might be impacted. Imagine if we could extract just the relevant data needed – like simply the planning conditions on restrictions of use that may need to be removed or amended.

When we created PlantraQ, a prototype showing how technology and innovation could solve issues in the post-permission stage, we realised how this affected any solution we tried to come up with. One of the underlying hurdles to innovation lies in how new data sets created by planning decisions, and those gathered from previous ones, are collected and stored. Solve data quality and storage, and you could innovate faster and better. 

So suppose every decision notice were geo-located and the conditions documented as associated ‘metadata’. This would make the data easy to access and process, facilitating quicker and more reliable analysis – not just of historical conditions associated with developments, but also of overarching conditions for larger developments. This would also allow us to store this data for later use. Fixing the issues with how we handle and store data is key to innovation in the planning system. 

Nissa Shahid MRTPI is urbanist at Future Cities Catapult

Photo | iStock


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