Login | Register
23/10/2015

Why the best in planning research deserves more recognition

Trudi Elliott presents the award to Matthew Carmona

The RTPI's deputy head or policy and research, Michael Harris, reflects on the significance of this year's RTPI Awards for Research Excellence

October's issue of The Planner we feature the winners of this year’s RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. You can find more information about the winners and commended entries on the RTPI website.

Why are the Awards important to the institute – and why should they be important to planners? We know there’s good research out there with critical lessons for practice. The challenge is how to get it to practitioners. The RTPI Awards for Research Excellence is just one of the ways in which that the institute is trying to promote the importance of planning research to wider audiences.

Most planners don’t have enough time to go looking for the evidence that might help to improve their practice. Even if they did, much research is buried away in journals, and is often expressed in academic language meant for academic audiences. This isn’t to criticise the research community. Career progression in academia nowadays is primarily determined by getting published in the most prestigious journals, as well as who can generate research income for their universities. But this does mean that many practitioners might never hear about research that could help them to do their jobs and serve their communities better.

Certainly some planning practitioners can and do get on with their work without ever reading research, but we can’t be happy with this. All professions need to be evidence-based as well as drawing on personal experience. The two should complement and challenge each other. This is why a commitment to continuing professional development is at the core of being a chartered planner.

"It’s critical that planners and policymakers benefit from independent research about the major economic, social and environmental challenges we face"

It’s also critical that planners and policymakers benefit from independent research about the major economic, social and environmental challenges we face and how planning can respond to these challenges. Securing sustainable development, managing the impact of demographic and climate change, and promoting social cohesion all require new thinking and an understanding of what works where. While we shouldn’t judge academic research only on the basis of how it serves to inform professional practice, evidence is critical to improving and developing what planners do.

When we relaunched the Awards this year we had three main aims: to recognise the best spatial planning research from RTPI accredited planning schools in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and internationally; to highlight the implications of academic research for policy and practice; and to promote planning research more generally.

This is why we’ve increased the number of award categories, including introducing a new category to recognise what we called ‘wider engagement’, where researchers have done something different to communicate their research beyond academia, and even involve communities in the research process.

We named this award after Sir Peter Hall, who in so many ways exemplified how academics could combine excellence in research with impact on policy and practice.

We’ve also been kindly supported by our sponsors for the Awards – the Idox Information Service and Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis group, both of whom have a commitment to disseminating research more widely to a range of audiences.

"There’s a desire among academics to get their work out to a wider audience – we’ve received three times the number of entries from last year"

Our experience of the Awards this year tells us that there’s a desire among academics to get their work out to a wider audience – we’ve received three times the number of entries from last year. It also shows the incredible diversity of issues that researchers are examining, from the future of London’s high streets and the impact of waterfront regeneration schemes, to how to promote active travel among schoolchildren and even how theatre can be used to engage the public in planning issues.

Given this, and the importance of research to both policy and practice, we want to continue to build on this year’s Research Awards to generate more entries and find new ways to recognise and promote the work being done in accredited planning schools.

Michael Harris is deputy head of policy and research for the RTPI

Tags

FEATURES
  • An overview of planning in Wales, looking at key planning themes, major projects and RTPI activities in the region.

    Swansea / Shutterstock: 623834069
  • Town centres as we know them seem to be in decline. Is this inevitable? Serena Ralston asks: How do we make the high street fit for purpose in the 21st century?

    City iStock
  • Alice Lester is newly promoted to director of regeneration, growth and employment for Brent, a London borough undergoing major renewal. She tells Huw Morris about planning in an age of austerity, why enforcement is about persuasion and what’s right and wrong about national planing policy

    Alice Lester Credit Peter Searle
Email Newsletter Sign Up