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Are exchanges between practitioners and researchers achievable or a bridge too far?

15 August 2016 Author: Libby Porter

Planning practice benefits from research as much as planning research benefits from being informed by practice. Yet researcher-practitioner exchange and collaboration is far from easy and all too often is placed in the too-hard basket by practitioners and researchers alike. If the benefits are so real, then how can we work against the barriers to exchange and find ways for planning practitioners and researchers to together produce more informed research?

In the latest issue of Planning Theory & Practice, the Interface section is focused on three challenges to practitioner-researcher exchange: access, use and collaboration. Contributions from researchers, practitioners and people who straddle both those worlds reflect on the question: is the quality exchange between practitioners and researchers in urban planning an achievable objective or a bridge too far?

What we learn from this Interface is that the challenges of access, use and collaboration are all interlinked. Practitioners rarely engage with published research evidence because it is locked behind paywalls. Even if access is a possibility, practitioners even more rarely use published research because the incentives that drive research in academic institutions reward critical theoretical scholarship not immediate problem-solving. Practitioners not only feel poorly supported to engage in research, but also are incentivised differently also to go with ‘what seems to work from experience’ rather than what the latest evidence base suggests. Research means quite different things to different roles within the planning field. Relatively few incentives or forums exist for practitioners and researchers to routinely engage with each other, and the changing nature of institutional contexts proves to be an ongoing barrier.  As one practitioner in the article states, "practice in regional planning and questions from the field of research often diverge widely".

“Practice in regional planning and questions from the field of research often diverge widely”

We also learn of the myriad ways that many practitioners and researchers are successfully bridging this gap. The issue highlights the use of different forms of knowledge exchange, such as art, to help overcome the communication and definitional barriers. Joint funding opportunities are being successfully mobilised to better integrate the worlds of research, practice and policy. And even when there are different conceptions and applications of what research ‘is’, it’s possible to use that in interesting and thought-provoking ways. 

This Interface has something for planning practitioners, researchers and educators about the mutual benefits that research and practice in planning can provide.

Read the interface article for free.

Libby Porter

Libby Porter

Libby Porter is a scholar in planning and urban geography, based at the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University where she is Vice Chancellor's Principal Research Fellow. Her work ranges across the recognition of Indigenous rights and title in planning, the displacement effects of urban regeneration, the impacts of major sporting events on host cities, planning and sustainable urban regeneration, urban governance, and the politics of urban informality.