2002 volume 34(1) pages 7 – 22
doi:10.1068/a3461

Cite as:
Shipley R, 2002, "Visioning in planning: is the practice based on sound theory?" Environment and Planning A 34(1) 7 – 22

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Visioning in planning: is the practice based on sound theory?

Robert Shipley

Abstract. Visioning became widely used in the planning process during the 1980s and 90s. In its simplest form it is the notion of creating images of the future to serve as goals or guides for planning decisions. For many people the idea of visioning became synonymous with or closely linked to public participation. While hundreds of communities have undertaken visioning, there has been little or no examination of the theoretical underpinnings of the practice. Practitioners of the technique, whether consultants or municipal planners, seem to have worked largely from a set of tacit assumptions about the usefulness of the practice. This study examines literature from various disciplines, refers to planning documents and reports on interviews and questionnaires in order to articulate the underlying assumptions or theory-like statements about visioning and then to measure those assertions against existing research. The resulting analysis shows that while there is a basis to support some of the assumptions about visioning there are also profound weaknesses in parts of the underlying theory. The paper is intended to help both advocates and critics of visioning, as well as those with a more general interest in planning, to better understand and assess visioning and other techniques that enter the professional lexicon.

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