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Interactive Community Planning:
Planning for Real

Planning For Real has been used “since the late 1970s as a means for giving local people a ‘voice’ and professionals a clear idea of local people’s needs in order to bring about an improvement to their own neighborhood or community.” (Neighborhood Initiatives Foundation 1995) Whilst its origin is in Britain, it has become increasingly widespread throughout the world. In recent years the Planning for Real kit has become popular in some developing countries and a modified version is under development.

Planning for Real uniquely builds around a community-assembled model on which problems and improvements are identified through pictorial ‘option’ cards. The model and the cards have several underlying purposes: They overcome the difficulties of verbal communication by providing an ‘alternative currency’ to words as a means of exchanging views and information. The model provides a common reference point around which to structure inputs, and allows a broader perspective of issues as well as providing a physical base for placing suggestions.

Throughout the process there is considerable awareness about the shifting relationships between the various participants and their degree of commitment. This relationship drives the process by building on an informal, non-committal start which progressively strengthens the commitment around shared knowledge and an emerging common purpose.

Planning for Real is distributed in the form of a ‘kit’, a small box which contains basic instructions on how to conduct sessions, a sample model, cutout masters for physical items – for example, houses – and non-physical attributes – for example, problems and opportunities: play areas, high crime areas, etc. Instruction is provided through four ‘packs’: publicity, suggestions menu, priorities, and follow-up. Each provides props and suggestions with techniques in managing the sessions. The style of the kit is simple and deliberately crude, which makes it accessible and unforbidding to communities. Much is hand-lettered, and only in recent versions have more typewritten materials been produced.

The process has three basic stages. In the first stage the model is assembled within the community, either by volunteers, a local club, students, or others as a way to involve key people. The model is generally at a scale of 1:200 or 1:300, but have ranged from 1:50 to 1:500. It is built in sections of lightweight material to be readily transportable by hand. This model is used to publicize public meetings to begin the process of identifying problems and opportunities. Training sessions are then held with a few local residents to familiarize them with the process. In the next stage public meetings are held where cutouts are placed on the model as a way to identify issues of concern to the community. Around these issues small ad hoc ‘working parties’ are formed on specific topics, for example, Traffic, Shopping Facilities, Play Areas, Work Opportunities, etc. These working parties then meet to work out details and to negotiate between conflicting interests and priorities, using a ‘Now, Soon, Later’ chart as guide. Collectively these series of activities are intended to develop a momentum that continues into specific practical proposals. The ‘Follow-up’ pack offers suggestions for keeping things going and recommends other useful publications.

Planning for Real is particularly effective in mobilizing community support and interest. Specific projects are also identified and implementation is set in motion.

Materials needed are minimal. Sheets of polystyrene are suggested as the model base which are glued to cardboard or other hardboard for stability. Markers, pins, tape, glue are needed, as well as access to photocopying facilities for duplication. The workshop location can vary, but must be large enough to accommodate the model. Common community spaces are preferred.

A knowledgeable moderator is generally needed to start the process, although a community member with some background in community development could readily pick up the key concepts through the ‘kit’. Sufficient time is needed for an effective exercise. Three months is suggested for the initial stage of mobilization, setting up a steering group, building the model and publicizing the sessions.

Participants are largely intended to be from the target community, with government officials, local councilors, and professionals present to answer questions, when requested. It is acknowledged that these officials and professionals are ‘absolutely essential’ but the style and technique seems to adopt an ‘us against them’ stance. For example, in the public sessions the professionals and officials are welcomed but then are admonished not to talk unless directly asked. Their role seems to be set up as ‘resource’ and less as ‘stakeholder’.

Planning for Real stemmed from the ‘Education for Neighborhood Change’ program in Britain in the 70s. It has been used in many communities throughout Britain and reportedly over 40 packs are in use. It has been used in several award -winning projects and is cited for bridging the language gap in minority areas of Spitalfields and East London. Currently the ‘kit’ is promoted by the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation, which also offers a large selection of supplementary support material. Local language versions have been developed in Holland and Germany, as well as in Poland. A version which considers the special circumstances of developing countries is currently in the testing stage.

Note: The Accord Group continues the work of Tony Gibsen and the Neighborhood Initiatives Foundation.
Margaret Wilkinson
Head of Planning for Real Unit

The Accord Group
Innovation Works @Rubery Owen
Booth Street
Darlaston, West Midlands WS10 8JB

The Accord Group has a longstanding commitment to sustainability and aims to be the ‘greenest’ housing organization in the country.

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