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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Criticism and the plausible plan: theory and method Milroy, Beth Moore


When planners evaluate their plans they tend to ask "Does this plan lead to this stated objective?". The thesis argues that one finds only a very partial view of planners* purposes when a planning report is read as if the stated purpose is actually all that the report is about. A stated purpose is only one of the ways by which people demonstrate how they are adapting to a set of circumstances. First of all this sort of a reading assumes that a planning report is a technical, quasi-empirical document concerned to explain why a certain arrangement of goods and services, is appropriate. By contrast, justification rather than explanation is argued to be the task of planners when they put forth their recommendations. Secondly, this abbreviated view of what a planning report is about assumes that one is concerned mainly with physical objects and hardly at all with the subsisting relations between the individual and society, and between these and the larger ecosystem. To understand these relations, and how to couple the major systems, is argued to be the essential task of planning — a task which must consider not only the biological, physiological and physical relations but just as importantly the symbolic relations that imaginative man creates. Thirdly, a parsimonious reading of planners' objectives obscures the assumptions that are brought to the planning task. Much of what we do and think is habitual and our habits lie below the threshold of awareness in the course of everyday living. Some bundle of assumptions and habits of thought forms the premises for the plan. The bundle contains, for example, assumptions about the relationship between the planner and client; assumptions about the relationship between persons and nature; habits of thought about what constitutes a planning report; or various metaphors which have slipped into common usage. The study tries to show that planning is an activity in and of itself which requires its own mode of evaluation beginning within the planning enterprise itself. Evaluation techniques based in empirical fields that are applied to plans reduce planning to something which it is not. In this reductionism planning is mistaken for a poor cousin of empirical fields which can never quite succeed at explanation. In addition, the responsibility of the planner for the plan is clouded because the emphasis in empirical methods is on observation and not on recommendation. A critical method is presented which demonstrates the sort of approach believed to be necessary to evaluate planning from within planning. It is a method that slows down the reading in order to allow one to do two things in particular. First, it allows one to see how the recommendations of the report are made to appear plausible, since one can cluster together into "codes" what can be and cannot be written in a report. This process tends to support the argument that plans are subject to justification rather than explanation. Secondly, it allows one to identify some of the assumptions brought to the planning exercise, which can be clustered in patterns. The value of the study, I believe, lies in showing how much is being missed in conventional evaluations, and why that information is central to developing planning as an identifiable activity peopled with responsible planners. In addition, the method contributes to our experience of how to bring assumptions to the surface so that the sensitized planner is in a position to choose, with awareness, whether to retain or to exchange them for others.

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