Victoria Hills, Chief Executive at the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), considers the lifecycle of a project and how we can put the environmental and social impact at the core of decision-making.
The Coronavirus pandemic brought us into unchartered territory, but with such a seismic shock also comes an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we do things, and even question why we do them. The move to online or virtual working that the pandemic triggered is one excellent example of that, and we are now all in the process of understanding that change. What it means for the way we do things in the future is still not certain, but a significant change is no doubt underway. It is beholden on us all to help shape that change.
But, we don’t have to suffer through seismic pressures to consider new approaches to old problems.”
The Construction Innovation Hub (The Hub) is a prime example of this. Last April, the Hub launched the pilot of their Value Toolkit with its focus of shifting thinking in the built environment from an obsession with the bottom line to a value-based approach. The hope is that this will become an easy-to-use way of shifting the focus from capital costs to broader metrics of value, such as climate, productivity and social and environmental benefits.
This effort follows clear shifts into this space through the Government’s Construction Playbook and the Construction Leadership Council’s Road Map.
Having been piloted with major infrastructure clients and supported by hundreds of industry leaders, now is the time to make the case for how the planning profession is ideally placed with the appropriate skills and knowledge to help shape this process further.”
There are several clear areas where the expertise of planners could add maximum value. Phase 1 of the Hub’s Value Toolkit – the ‘Need’ phase – involves defining the problems and goals for projects. This very much chimes with the RTPI’s own publication Measuring What Matters: Planning Outcomes Research in taking a holistic perspective of assessing impact and steering the process away from thinking about a singular indicator like cost or units delivered.
To achieve this definition of need requires comprehensive and wide-ranging community engagement. It strikes me that there is no better profession than planning to support this phase. Planners across the country have the experience and expertise in facilitating engagement with communities. With their input, major clients should have confidence that the early value propositions – the needs – are representative of the communities they impact and properly considered.
The second phase – ‘optioneering’ – or exploring and designing the best way to meet those needs -also provides an opportunity to work with planners. They advise forming a ‘concept team’ to understand what the desired outcomes are, how they interrelate and have the capacity to develop potential solutions. Once again, this outcome-based holistic view of issues and problems is the bread and butter of a planner’s work. I have no doubt that the addition of planners to these multidisciplinary teams would be invaluable.
Victoria Hills, Chief Executive at RTPI.
Measuring What Matters: Planning Outcomes Research paper identifies why planners would be well suited for the outcome-focused discussion. It states: “Our research has discovered that there is a groundswell of enthusiasm within planning for this outcome-focused approach. It touches at the very heart of why so many planners have entered the profession in the first place. They want to have a meaningful impact on place and its communities; if they are what they measure, they want to know what that impact is.”
The Hub’s Value Toolkit’s points-based index – the Value Index -is also identified as a key element in the process. This provides a means of quantifying performance expectations to narrow down options, but then it can be used in Phase 4: Delivery, to monitor results and identify whether objectives have been achieved.
This is another area where planners may be well suited to offer suggestions and support in identifying metrics to monitor and even more so into Phase 5: Operations. This final phase relies on continued monitoring and a successful handover to other stakeholders to answer the question: “Does the solution meet the viability and current need?”
The toolkit outlined in the Measuring What Matters: Planning Outcomes Research paper provides a more detailed discussion on how metrics can be reviewed and scored while constantly reflecting on wider outcomes and impacts in a similar way to the Hub’s Value Toolkit. While the Value Toolkit is primarily focused on the process needed to deliver a single project, it too reflects a need for a feedback loop in the process, which can help drive continual improvement in achieving outcomes.
It strikes me that that the skills, expertise and professionalism the planning profession can provide would prove invaluable by helping to engage properly with communities, define need in a realistic way and providing a genuine long-term monitoring capacity within project delivery.”
Oscar Wilde said that a cynic “is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing”. Perhaps it is time that the built-environment sector, with the knowledge and expertise of the planning profession, stopped being so cynical. By shifting away from the single-minded fixation on capital costs and moving to an outcome and value-based model that may be on the horizon.
As I say, it is beholden on us all to help shape that change.”