The appropriateness, usefulness and impact of the current urban planning curriculum in South African Higher Education

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences

Abstract

International institutions such as the United Nations have highlighted the significance of planning as a discipline in promoting more sustainable environments and dealing with the core economic, social and environmental challenges faced by Africa. Delivering successful urban planning training in SA Higher Education will thus make a key contribution to addressing SA national Government priorities around equity, social justice and democracy.

For many years post-colonial and post-apartheid SA has modelled its urban planning practices on Western systems which has been reflected in HE curricula. Concerns have been raised about the relevance and applicability of these Western theories and methods when planning African cities (Watson, 2003, 2009). To date, there has been little or no sustained work that brings together post-colonial and Southern debate theories with an examination of transferring northern planning theories to South Africa. Major uncertainties remain about HE and the appropriateness, usefulness and impact of planning curricula in the last 10 years and their associated teaching methods. The proposed research also aims to reflect more widely on the implications of the SA study for UK planning education; this is especially important given the recent increase in students from the Global South registering for planning-related courses in the UK.

O1: To investigate the social and economic value of planning education in SA particularly questions of equity and diversity in HE destination choices, graduation rates and employability outcomes.
O2: To deconstruct how the development and delivery of the urban planning undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum addresses issues raised by a changing post-colonial context in SA.
O3: Drawing on O2, to assess to what extent issues raised by a changing colonial context is considered and addressed in the UK undergraduate and postgraduate planning curriculum. By doing so and reflecting on lessons from O1, the research will explore the implications for urban planning lecturers in the UK when working with students from Africa and the wider Global South.
O4: To create a platform for ideas-sharing between SA academics, professionals and students across the world in order to connect and inform curriculum shaping, teaching methods and wider HE strategies for planning education (especially via SACPLAN)
O5: To develop a set of evidence-based resources for HE planning strategies that can address the Global South challenge in SA and across the wider continent.

The potential applications and benefits of the proposed research are diverse. There will be an immediate contribution to existing teaching programmes and to SACPLAN/RTPI strategies. There will also be a medium to long-term contribution through the way urban issues are dealt with in SA, what this means for planners when trained and re-trained (CPD) and for the content of planning curricula, teaching methods and thus planning policy. The main targets for dissemination of the project findings go beyond traditional academic audiences to planning practitioners, policy-makers and wider community groups. It will include the production of reports, briefing notes, good practice guides, evidence-based learning and teaching materials as well as academic papers and a book. The development of an online forum will maximise international dissemination of the project and provides long-term impact by creating a dynamic platform for debates among South African (and African) planners.

Planned Impact

As detailed in 'Pathways to Impact', a major programme of impacts, outputs and user-involvement activities is a core, scheduled element of the project. All materials listed below will be made available on the project and SACPLAN websites (available beyond the project's duration). Films will be posted on YouTube. Information will be distributed through relevant email-lists and social media. Key beneficiaries of the project include:

1. Planning courses accreditation bodies, specifically SACPLAN and RTPI
This project, developed in partnership with SACPLAN and the RTPI, will produce a range of open access online materials (briefing notes, curriculum review, good practice guides for teaching, recommendation reports including examples of best practices and 15 minute films). These online evidence-based resources will address specific sub-topics (e.g. diversity in housing in a post-colonial context; tackling urban poverty; tackling spatial segregation and spatial inequality). SACPLAN and RTPI will take part in seminars, workshops and end of projects events in SA and the UK. This will allow networking, mutual learning and partnership-building activities across a range of African countries.

2. National and International students engaged in urban planning education
Focus-groups and workshops with students and graduates (O1/O2/O4) are a key element of the project not only for data collection and networking, but also to foster their interest and engagement with addressing specific local issues relating to the urban planning curriculum in South Africa. The development of the online forum and the use of visual mapping should also create a dynamic platform for ideas sharing, learning and training across South Africa and beyond. This will be combined with the impact workshops and end of project events.

3. Policy-makers, community groups/NGOs, practitioners addressing African urban issues
Clear routes to national/regional impacts are in place via the South African team's partners (SACPLAN and related connections with planning organisations). Bespoke briefing notes/summary reports, films, impact workshops and end of project events will support policy-makers and practitioners as well as community groups/NGOs leading urban planning-related projects. Such activities are likely to produce meaningful impacts in terms of self-evaluation, changing organisational practices and longer-term enhancement of skills and capacities of personnel/organisations. The impact workshops and end of project events will allow for further discussion, networking and dissemination of knowledge across South Africa and the wider continent.

4. Policy-makers, community groups/NGOs, practitioners (especially teachers) interested in addressing post-colonial issues in teaching delivery
As per point 3 - the South African team's partnerships generate clear routes to national/regional impacts in this field. All project materials will support policymakers and practitioners leading urban planning-related projects by better contextualizing their understanding of post-colonial urban space. Public, private and third sector organisations will be targeted to produce meaningful impacts in terms of self-evaluation, changing organisational practices and longer-term enhancement of skills and capacities of personnel/organisations.

5. Wider international communities of stakeholders in urban planning issues
International impacts will be facilitated via engagement with the SA and UK project advisory groups (which will be composed of key academics and practitioners) and through the team networking activities. This will be supported by the various materials produced throughout the project and their wide dissemination.
 
Title You Tube Videos 
Description Production of a set of videos posted on the project's website and on youtube : 1/ Introduction to the Saper Project team, May 2017 2/ Introduction to the Saper Project Steering Group members, June 2017 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Those videos have been posted on You Tube in September 2017 and allow a presentation of the project to the wider public 
URL http://www.saperproject.com/resources.html
 
Description Research is still ongoing and most of the data collection is being undertaken currently (or currently being analysed), both in the UK and in South Africa. I am able to report though on the preliminary findings from our survey distributed to South African practitioners (addressing objectives 1 and 2 of the research) which have been the following: 1/the perception that planning education seems to be sufficiently preparing planners to work as planners in South Africa ; 2/ Half of the planners seem fulfilled by their job; 3/ When asked about motivations behind studying planning, the two largest answers where interest in the subject and desire to change society. This provides evidence for the widely held belief that many planners enter into the planning profession with the intent to improve the world they live in; 4/ When asked if planners have considered working abroad, the majority indicated that they had considered working abroad. Furthermore, of the respondents to this survey, 15 of the 219 respondents had already studied abroad, and 34 respondents indicated that they had worked abroad. In total, 40 respondents had either studied or worked abroad, with many doing both. This indicates that, at least among the respondents of this survey, that international work and study experience was common (18% of all respondents); 5/ Looking at curriculum and what planners gained from their training, emphasis was given on practical aspects of planning, and the limited regard given to theoretical skills. Specifically, of the three competencies with the word theory in their title (Social theories related to planning and development, Settlement history and theory and Planning theory), these were ranked as being the three least valuable skills. Conversely, the two highest ranked competencies were 'Land use and infrastructure planning' and 'Public policy, institutional and legal frameworks,' two skills that are decidedly practical in nature. Note that this is not necessarily a rejection of theory, but possibly a challenge to how theory is taught in planning schools at present; 6/ Building on this broader notion of theory and practice, and looking at skills, public speaking and report writing were ranked as the two most important skills. What was interesting was that GIS and data analysis in programs such as Excel was ranked higher than CAD skills, and that GIS skills had almost the same ranking as public speaking, emphasizing just how important respondents perceived GIS skills to be. Results from the survey also revealed a very important area for further research related to race and its impact on the planning profession.
Exploitation Route We are taking into account those preliminary results in the second phase of data collection which is currently taking place in South Africa (January 2018-May 2018). We are also working on two papers drawing upon the results from the survey and from the first set of interviews.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Transport,Other

 
Description Our findings from the first stage of data collection in South Africa are being taken on board and discussed by SACPLAN (the planning accrediting body). No action is taken yet but discussions are arising and are informing the second stage of data collection currently taking place
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Teaching App 
Description A key output for the SAPER project is the production of an interactive platform allowing the exchange of best practice in planning across the Global North and South. The first stage of this was piloted in 2017 with the production of an app for use by planning students in South Africa and the UK. Operating across the desktop and mobile web, the teaching app allows students to collect data in the field and automatically upload this to a shared map. Photographs and text comments uploaded by individual students can then be seen by the wider group and serve as a prompt for discussion. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Initial testing was undertaken in the autumn of 2017 with students undertaking the planning masters courses run by University of the Free State and University of Birmingham. Students found both the desktop and mobile versions of the mapping app simple to use and gathered a range of information about their local areas, focussing on the theme of sustainability. South African students highlighted topics around water use, informality and solid waste management. UK students highlighted topics around mixed use development, sustainable transport, and nature conservation. This testing phase had some limitations in terms of student buy-in for non-assessed work and difficulties with timing meant that online discussions between the South African and UK students could not take place. The next phase with the teaching app will take place in spring 2018, using undergraduate groups of planners and urban geographers exploring questions around neighbourhood poverty. This phase will also include discussions between groups of students across South Africa and the UK in order to develop greater cross-cultural understanding of the challenges facing communities in the Global North and South 
URL http://www.saperproject.com/collaborate.html
 
Title Internationalisation of Planning Education (UK) 
Description This database relies on the collection of a range of data among UK planning academics and practitioners as to address one of the objectives of the project aiming to assess the extent to which issues raised by a changing colonial context are considered and addressed in the UK undergraduate and postgraduate planning curriculum. By doing we are exploring the implications for urban planning lecturers in the UK when working with students from Africa and the wider Global South. This relies on 3 stages of data collection: 1/ interviews with UK planning academics (12 completed to date); 2/ survey circulated via the RTPI to planning practitioners (ongoing); and 3/ workshops/focus groups (forthcoming in September 2018) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Data collection is still ongoing so no notable impact yet except that data from the first range of interviews is being currently analysed and will be fed into wider discussions, in conjunction to the data collection in South Africa, currently taking place as well. 
 
Title South African Planning Practitioners - Survey 
Description In the summer 2017 an online questionnaire was distributed to urban planners across South Africa. We received 219 responses collected over a short period. This makes this one of the largest surveys undertaken with planning professionals in South Africa, with as much as 5.6% of all registered and candidate planners in South Africa participating in this survey. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Results gathered from the survey are currently still being analysed and two papers on currently being written. Additionally building upon preliminary results we are currently conducting a second phase of in-depth data collection in South Africa (interviews and focus groups). 
 
Title South African Planning Practitioners and Academics Interviews 
Description Extensive data collection through interviews and focus groups (preliminary phase in April 2017, and primary phase of data collection between January and May 2018) aiming to address the objectives of the project related to a) the social and economic value of planning education in SA particularly questions of equity and diversity in HE destination choices, graduation rates and employability outcomes; and b) the deconstruction of how the development and delivery of the urban planning undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum addresses issues raised by a changing post-colonial context in SA 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Ongoing - no impact yet 
 
Description Collaboration with SACPLAN 
Organisation South African Council for Planners
PI Contribution SAPER is feeding into SACPLAN's ambition to understand better the needs of planners in term of training and skills. As such, SAPER is informing the work undertaken by SACPLAN who is reviewing planning programmes and accreditation process in South African Planning Schools.
Collaborator Contribution SACPLAN is sitting on the project's advisory committee (in South Africa). Additionally SACPLAN has been providing support in data collection by 1) having circulated the survey which we conducted among South African planning practitioners and 2) getting access to database (e.g. numbers of accredited planners)
Impact Data gained out of this collaboration (amongst other research means) led to 3 conference presentations: 1/ "(Re)considering and (re)imagining urban planning curriculum in South African Higher Education", presented by Lauren Andres and Lorena Melgaço at the 2017 IBG-RGS Conference, London (disciplines : urban planning and urban geography); 2/ "The resilience, adaptability and transformation of the South African Planning Profession" presented by Verna Nel and Martin Lewis at the II 2017 International Conference on African Urban Planning, Lisbon and 3/ "Setting standards for planners: the South African Council for Planners' standards and competencies process", presented by Martin Lewis and Verna Nel at the II 2017 International Conference on African Urban Planning, Lisbon - both 2 and 3 only relate to the planning discipline. We are also in talks with SACPLAN to organise a joint-conference on planning education in South Africa in 2019.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration with the RTPI 
Organisation Royal Town Planning Institute RTPI
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution This project is directly contributing to the RTPI discussions and agenda on 1/ curriculum and 2/internationalisation. As of February 2018, we are currently in the next phase of UK data collection, including a survey sent to UK planners as to understand the importance of 'internationalisation' in their practice after having interviewed 12 planning academics about those issues. This matches with the areas of queries explored in South Africa.
Collaborator Contribution The RTPI (Andrew Close) is sitting on the project's advisory committee. Additionally the RTPI is currently circulating through his network of accredited members a survey, produced by SAPER, looking at the relation between urban planning, skills and training and internationalisation.
Impact no yet
Start Year 2017
 
Title Best-practice platform (with CAP) 
Description Developing the teaching app has been a technological testbed for the SAPER team. Based on this work the Commonwealth Association of Planners have agreed to work with SAPER to develop a best-practice platform to be embedded within the CAP website. Initially focussing on CAP's awards programme, the platform will host details of different best-practice projects across the Commonwealth, searchable by geography and type. The technical design as well as the 'look-and-feel' for this platform will be developed in spring 2018 for a soft launch in the autumn and content to be added on an ongoing basis. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Ongoing 
 
Title Project Website (incl. Blog) & Twitter Account 
Description The SAPER project benefits from its own website available via http://www.saperproject.com with a dedicated blog page. Additionally we have a twitter account @SAPER_ESRC_NRF dedicated to the project 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Both tools maximise SAPER's visibility towards a range of audiences; On average the website is visited by 100 persons per week (data provided by weebly) 
URL http://www.saperproject.com
 
Title Teaching App 
Description The teaching app is an interactive platform allowing the exchange of best practice in planning across the Global North and South. The first stage of this was piloted in 2017 with the production of an app for use by planning students in South Africa and the UK. Operating across the desktop and mobile web, the teaching app allows students to collect data in the field and automatically upload this to a shared map. Photographs and text comments uploaded by individual students can then be seen by the wider group and serve as a prompt for discussion. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Initial testing was undertaken in the autumn of 2017 with students undertaking the planning masters courses run by University of the Free State and University of Birmingham. Students found both the desktop and mobile versions of the mapping app simple to use and gathered a range of information about their local areas, focussing on the theme of sustainability. South African students highlighted topics around water use, informality and solid waste management. UK students highlighted topics around mixed use development, sustainable transport, and nature conservation. This testing phase had some limitations in terms of student buy-in for non-assessed work and difficulties with timing meant that online discussions between the South African and UK students could not take place. 
 
Description AESOP 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Lorena Melgaço attended the pre-AESOP conference seminar 'Transformative Knowledge for an era of Planetary Urbanization? '10th July 2017 and participated to the debates assessing transfers of knowledge and ideas across context. This was an opportunity to present the SAPER project and connect with other planning academics and practitioners attending the event. It brought new elements to the debate which we fed into the data collection and analysis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Dialogue with planning practitioners in Bloemfuntein 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with circa 10 planning practitioners in Bloemfontein in April 2017 allowed presenting the project and raising its awareness. Ongoing fieldwork (February - May 2018) in the Free State is currently taking place as to pursue those discussions further while gathering additional data.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Engagement with Planning Practitioners in Cape Town - April 2017 and Febrary 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The UK team met in Cape Town (South Africa) with 13 planning practitioners in April 2017 and February 2018. The goal was dual: present the project to practitioners & raise the profile of SAPER and collect data.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description IBG RGS 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 2 members of the UK team attended the 2017 IBG_RGS conference which included a presentation of the preliminary results of SAPER (out of the first stage of data collection - survey among South African practitioners) entitled (Re) considering and (re) imagining urban planning curriculum in South African Higher Education and the attendance to the event to 'Beyond the talk': Decolonising Teaching and Research in Geography - A RACE alternative event. On both occasion, the SAPER project was presented and opportunities occurred for engagement with debates and networking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting with Planning Practitioner from HTA Design LLP (September 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact UK team met with a South African practitioner from HTA Design LLP (Riette Oosthuizen) as to explore the preliminary results from SAPER and explore its relevancy with regard to her experience in South Africa (as student, academic and practitioner) and in the UK (as practitioner). This led to further thoughts on the areas for queries as well as possible collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting with Representative from World Bank (Febrary 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The UK PI met with a representative from the World Bank and former South African practitioner (Larry English) as to discuss the SAPER project, its ambition, preliminary results and discuss possible collaborations and follow-up projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting with UK academics - Oxford (September 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact UK team met with two UK academics (Dr Jo Waters, University of Oxford and Dr Lucy Natarajan, UCL) with expertise in international planning (incl. at the RTPI) and international education (geography background) as to discuss further the connection of SAPER with the wider decolonisation and internationalisation debate. This led to a range of thoughts and suggestions which are currently explored further in data collection and paper writing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description South African Steerring Group Comitee (October 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The South African team met with the seven steering group members of the project. After an introduction to the project, of its main aims and objectives, and the progress made to date, the Advisory Group debated the strengths and weaknesses of South African planning education in South Africa's higher education institutions, and discusses how the SAPER project might address these and other concerns that have been raised. The Advisory Group also provided useful contacts and links to resources that will assist the SAPER project's delivery.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.saperproject.com/blog
 
Description UK Steering Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 9 planning practitioners and academics were invited to the first steering group meeting of the project. In addition to providing wider feedback , the discussion led to a range of questions and debate about informality, inequalities and planning education, formats of planning Higher Education, international education and the wider concept of decolonisation. This raised the profile of the SAPER project towards wider institutions and led to a increased interest towards the project and its key research questions while opening new possible areas for collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.saperproject.com/blog