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Social communications in planning Carney, Pat

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to explore the role of communications in planning and to suggest the design specifications and constraints for a social communications delivery system which will enable planners to cope with the demands of an "information ecology" (Nanus, 1972, p.398) or environment characterized by increasing flows of information and complexity of information systems. In such an environment, there is a need to provide for an element of information in the overall planning process. The use of information in planning is described as "social communications", which we have defined as "the use of information/communications systems to achieve planning objectives normally incorporating an element of social change". Our theoretical framework is based on the concept that the societal forces behind the evolution of an information ecology may be first, the emergence of the postindustrial society (Bell, 1973) in which information, or knowledge, becomes a major resource; and second, the rising demands of citizens to participate in the decision-making process, particularly when such decisions affect them. In designing our social communications delivery system, therefore, we have attempted to incorporate public participation strategies as one mode of communication. The study reviews the relevant literature in the field of planning theory, public participation and communications. It describes the essential characteristics of traditional communications modes, and presents a case study in which a public participation program was used as a social communications mode. Finally, it presents models for "one-way" and "two-way" social communications systems for incorporating public participation in a social communications program, and for a social communications delivery system which includes all three elements, e.g. both "one-way" and "two-way" channels and public participation. The study concludes that the planner may utilize a social communication system if he has a need to disseminate information about projects and policies and at least a partial need to obtain response, or feedback, from his target groups. This is likely to be the case if he is planning for innovation. It also concludes the planner's success in utilizing social communications in the planning process will depend largely on his selection of the appropriate degree of participation and mode of communication. Other essential elements are the selection of relevant units of information and the design of an efficient information delivery system. The study is based mainly on a review of the literature and interviews with officials of the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission and related agencies. The study also draws on the professional work of the author when she served as Assistant Director-General, Information, Canadian Habitat Secretariat, on the occasion of the staging in Vancouver of HABITAT: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, May 31 - June 11, 1976.

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