Major Schools of Thought in Planning

by Maria Pilar Lorenzo

April 10, 2018


The discipline of development planning has grown into what it is today thanks to the fundamental schools of thought whereby it is anchored upon. These have served as paradigms that guide on how planning is carried out, which in turn, paved the way on how this discipline makes itself felt with the everyday life of people and societies. This article gives an overview of some of the important schools of thought in planning while succeeding articles of this column describe each one of these in detail.

One of the classical schools is Instrumentalism. It posits that theories and frameworks are only relevant in coming up with predictions, but cannot act as the basis of truth or falsehood. It implies that theories are only good to be perceived as guides that could bring about successful actions and outputs. It signifies that it does not matter whether or not spatial analysis and concepts mirror accurately reality, but what count more are those ideas that give birth to positive results. In this sense that planning is perceived as something pragmatic.

The Incremental Planning Theory asserts that the determination of public interest cannot be singularly defined, and instead, it is identified through negotiation and political compromises. As negotiations are involved, it could be said that this kind of planning is mediated heavily by politics. The responsibility of the planner is to mediate in order to arrive at the common interest of various stakeholders, which are keen on pursuing things based on decentralized bargaining processes.

Systems Theory conceives of planning as a system composed of interdependent components interacting with one another in order to produce a cohesive whole. A basic model demonstrates a linear relationship starting from inputs to outputs, and the throughput in between these two components serving as the process.

The Activist or Advocacy Planning highlights the equity dimension of planning. Planning has to be practiced to advocate for the powerless and disadvantaged, redistributing power and resources in order for the usually neglected sectors of society – the weak, the poor, and the powerless – to be regarded, protected and defended. This theory embraces concepts of conflict confrontation in community organization (Saul Alinsky), citizen participation (Sherry Arnstein), empowerment (Allan Heskin), and transactive planning (Norman Krumholtz).

Modern times have shown greater lenience and inclination to women empowerment. Clamors for gender equality have also penetrated the field of planning. The Feminist perspective contends that the traditional ways of planning are substantially impacted by the assumption that there is usually only one worker in a household, and that is the male head. The feminist perspective in planning prescribes that spaces are designed in such a way that it is also conducive for women who both participate in labor market and in domestic work. Other factors (e.g. proximity to child care/school facilities) ought to be considered too.