Last week we co-hosted an event with Future Cities Catapult as they brought their programme, Future of Planning, outside of London to explore the role of innovation and technology in tweaking, expanding and redesigning the planning system. The day gave people from a broad variety of roles and organisations the chance to critique the existing system and dream about a future of planning which works better for all.

To start the day off we used the crossroads on which Impact Hub Birmingham is situated to root the discussion in a physical context and surface the skills and expertise in the room. This exercise gave everyone the chance to start off with an expansive discussion of how they feel planning can have a positive Impact on a city and to dream about a perfect development to them. Groups talked about parks, green space, shared space and lots of traffic calming as well as surfaced conversations about the tensions that arise within the planning process from gentrification to citizen engagement, data and how power is distributed.

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We then add in a few constraints and started to think about how planning could help to bring about these schemes.

What rules would put in place to make sure it’s used in the best way?

Who are the citizens that might be currently using the area? How are they using it? How would you engage them in conversation?

What more information would you need to make sure this area is used in the best way? How might you get this information?

Euan Mills, Urban and Planning Lead at FCC, then introduced some of the user research Future Cities Catapult have done in the UK planning system.

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The Planning System as a whole contains many stakeholder touch points and experiences. Identifying opportunities for innovation was our task for the afternoon.

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The ideas the groups came up with focused on a range of Interventions, from an AI powered Chatbot to improve citizen engagement and support during the submission of a planning application, through to digitising the whole application process through open use of OS MasterMap. The clear themes were around using as much open data as possible to inform the process and to make all the existing data in the system open to ensure that as many people as possible can access it.

The day closed with  presentations from Birmingham City Council, DemoDev and ODI Leeds and a panel discussion around how could an effective planning function assist in creating the allusive inclusive growth that everyone is after? There was a consensus that an ethos of openness, innovation and activity will all help to push planning forward as well as leading to an in inclusive growth strategy.

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The #FutureofPlanning programme will be an ongoing discussion and please join in the discussion on social media. The Future of Planning website is live, where you can find more information on the programme, Stefan Webb’s blogpost on how planning needs to use data better, as well as the “State of the Art – Innovators in Planning report”, a summary of innovative products and services in the planning sector in the UK and global – a must read for anyone interested in industry developments.

An Open Call for solutions has now been announced with cash prizes of up to £20,000 available for the best responses which could be developed into concepts and working prototypes. Information is now available on this website with more details on the open call for solutions to the challenges identified in the report.

Daniel Blyden

Daniel Blyden