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Charles Goode: The value of volunteering

Charles is a Teaching Fellow in Urban and Regional Planning in the School of Geography at the University of Birmingham. His research and teaching interests focus on strategic planning, post-Covid urban centres and Green Belt/green infrastructure. He is a member of both the RTPI West Midlands Regional Activities Committee (RAC) and the Young Planners Committee.


The value of volunteering

As a member of both the RTPI West Midlands RAC and Young Planners Committee, it has been a very busy few months, especially with the Young Planners Conference coming to Birmingham in the Autumn. Although it instinctively feels worthwhile, it poses the important question about whether the time commitment in volunteering is worthwhile spending, particularly when time is so scare and there are several other pressing priorities as a Planning Academic including teaching and research. Other blogs have focused on the benefits to the employer and personal benefits of volunteering with this blog turning to the benefits for the RTPI and wider public interest of volunteering.

‘Strategic’ benefits of an active and varied Membership voice

In the same way that engaging a wide range of people in community involvement in planning is important to ensure that a variety of viewpoints are given, an active and diverse membership is vital to the operation and representation of the Institute, especially in terms of reflecting the range of views across the private, public and third sectors. Indeed, whilst the vital role of the ‘everyday’ benefits of active volunteering including organising CPD events/socials etc. have already been covered in other blogs, the more ‘strategic’ benefits to the RTPI of volunteering are also very important. An engaged, volunteering membership helps to ensure that the research, event and CPD activities of the RTPI reflect pressing contemporary challenges and issues in planning theory, policy and practice. Through providing a powerful evidence base and learned society of experienced practitioners, an active membership ensures that the Institute effectively contributes to, influences and is a voice in broader planning and policy debates. As planners, we have a range of skills and expertise which can be drawn upon through volunteering to ensure that our voice is heard in these wider debates which is very important as policy impacts our everyday work as planners. For example, in volunteering through writing articles/magazine pieces and speaking at CPD events, I have drawn upon my research and expertise on the Green Belt and strategic planning to help to inform the strategic direction and wider debate in the Institute.

‘Policy’ benefits of active volunteers

For several years, there is has been significant fluctuation among planners at the seeming lack of engagement in and influence on the Government’s planning reform agenda. Whilst we are understandably frustrated with the lack of influence planners seem to have, the ‘voice’ of the RTPI as representing planners in these debates is still important and volunteers have a crucial role in shaping this ‘voice’ as the implementors of planning policy. For example, given my research expertise in green infrastructure and strategic planning, I have tried to inform debate in the RTPI through a range of means (blogs, magazine pieces, Open Access papers, CPD events etc.) as well as informing policy consultations such as responding to the NPPF and Planning White Paper consultation. It is important to try to speak ‘truth unto power’ and the RTPI is an important vehicle through which to do this.

Concluding Thoughts: ‘Public interest’ benefits

Having a well-resourced and effective planning system is in the public interest to ensure that development is properly planned and that sufficient supporting facilities and infrastructure are in place alongside development. A strong volunteer base in the RTPI and active membership is vital to ensuring that the benefits of the planning system are heard and that a system which properly fulfils its function in serving the public interest is sufficiently advocated for.


Find out more about volunteering with the RTPI

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