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3.0 Aims of the RTPI's research


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3.1 Informing a wide range of stakeholders
3.2 Promoting research as widely as possible
3.3 Linking research to campaigning activities

In addition to advancing and deepening knowledge on planning issues, we proposed that the aims of the 2019-21 Research programme should be (1) to offer a unified programme of research able to inform RTPI members, professionals, policy-makers, and academics, (2) to promote and disseminate research on planning issues as widely as possible (e.g. in the Media and policy circles), and (3) to encourage campaigning activities (when possible). Again there was widespread support for these aims. We also received lots of useful feedback relating to particular aims.

This chapter considers feedback from the consultation on how best to achieve these three aims. It is worth emphasising that the each of the targets identified here comes with resource implications. Thus while all of the ideas mentioned in this chapter may be desirable to implement, decisions must be made about priorities as it isn't practical to pursue everything.

3.1 Informing a wide range of stakeholders

3.1.1  Who should the RTPI's research be informing?

It is particularly important to consider who research is aimed at, as the approach to research and the language used when publishing it has a major impact on who it is useful to and who it influences. Being clear on who research is aimed at from the outset is important both to reach required audiences, and because this focus should inform the research process and language used to present findings.

Members and informing practice

Most discussions related the importance of producing research for practitioners and some saw this as the most important audience to inform. The RTPI was described as being in a unique position to provide evidence to planning practitioners, since many have no access to or interest in academic research. The RTPI's 2016 report 'A Planning Research Agenda for Ireland' suggested that priority should be given to research on planning practice.

Planners were thought to benefit from bitesize, accessible pieces that focused on learning for planners. To target this audience it was also suggested that we could give CPD badging to the RTPI's research and practice advice.


A number of participants suggested that the RTPI's research should mainly be aimed at politicians due to their ability to shape policy. This also applied to political engagement at all levels of the political spectrum. This includes local politicians and plan makers, civil servants in relevant departments, MPs and Lords, and Government and opposition ministers. We were also advised to specifically target parliamentary bodies such as select committees and to identify research topics and questions which they might be interested in. The RTPI should be a 'critical friend' to government, with a key role in aiding the scrutiny of policy.

We were advised that the most useful things for policymakers trying to make a case inside Government are (1) quality case studies, (2) short, strong, standalone executive summaries, (3) research with a clear and consistent strategic direction, (4) clear headlines backed up by facts and figures, and (5) delivery assessments and evaluative research. We were also advised that we should identify key decision-makers ahead of time, include them in the research, and then make sure a copy of the report gets on to their desk.

Research community and influencing the direction of research

The planning and wider-built environment research community are an obvious target for our research. In particular providing them with evidence which is absent from the academic literature and will help to influence it.

However, perhaps more important is seeking to influence the research agenda of planning researchers. We hope that the findings of this consultation can be used to influence the research carried out by planning schools, and the programmes of funding bodies. As the 2012 Research Strategy pointed out, the Institute is in a unique position and has a responsibility in promoting the research needs of spatial planning in the UK and Ireland and internationally (see also 5.3 on influencing the planning research agenda).

Wider built environment sector

Some participants urged us to engage across sectors relevant to planning rather than just planning practitioners. Particular groups mentioned included housing associations, professional institutes, architects, urban designers, charities, and the development industry.

The general public – promoting planning and the reputation of the institute

A number of participants saw promoting planning to the general public as an important goal. They argued our research should help us promote the profession as informed experts who can be trusted by others. To show that planning is more than just opposing applications and to make a strong case for planning as a positive force shaping society and the built environment. We were particularly encouraged to target young people, who are often unaware of planning and its value.

To reach the general public and develop out reputation, we were encouraged to make sure research does not appear merely interesting, but rather show why it is important. To focus on originality, hard data, and clear analysis, conclusions and policy asks. Part of this obviously includes reaching out to the press, who help to shape public opinion (see also 3.2). We were also encouraged to look at ways to reach people regarding particular topics. For example reaching out to the Alzheimer's Society and dementia friendly organisations when doing research on planning and dementia.

3.1.2 Creating accessible and impactful publications

We received widespread feedback that the clarity and accessibility of our research outputs is crucial to the achievement of all our objectives. This section draws on this feedback, as well as some documents on accessibility we reviewed in our background research.

Research reports are the main way in which we publish our research and will likely continue to be the main output from most internal and commissioned research. We explored how to make them as accessible as possible, drawing on feedback from the consultation as well as guidance from the British Dyslexia Association[1] and the Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C)[2]. We learned the following about best practice and different ways to reach different audiences during this consultation:

  • Fonts: Sans serif fonts such as Arial, larger character and line spacing, and minimum font size of 12 along with larger sizes available on request.
  • Headings: Consistent structure with extra space around headings and between paragraphs.
  • Colour: single colour backgrounds and avoiding distractions. Ensure sufficient contrast. Dark coloured text on light coloured background. Avoid green and red-pink (colour blindness).
  • Printing: matt paper rather than gloss and ideally cream or soft pastel colour paper.
  • Layout: Avoid justification and multiple columns. Short lines and sentences.
  • Style: Active over passive. Concise, short paragraphs, use images, infographics, and bullets. Provide a glossary.
  • Executive summaries: Provide clear short executive summaries which can standalone.
  • Case studies: highlighted as key output for influencing policymakers and a way of telling powerful stories about research. We plan to develop more case studies as part of our Better Planning work.
  • 'Bitesize' translations: turning reports into short accessible pieces with data and graphics e.g. focusing on key learning for practitioners; 'top 5' asks for policymakers or the media (2 pages); one pagers with just one key headline idea and data; 'pros and cons' policy briefings; or landscape A3 slides of key findings which can be added to team presentations.
  • Sharing: Make content which is easy to share on social media.
  • Printing: there was some demand for printed copies of reports or summary pamphlets.
  • Digital publishing:several participants expressed a preference for digital publications and in particular research which could be read on tablets and mobile phones:
    • PDF: One participant expressed a preference for well formatted pdfs and argued they are likely to be cited and shared in this form, however they are not suitable for mobile devices.
    • HTML: This basically means publishing reports as websites. This is particularly useful for reading on phones and tablets, and also has advantages for google indexing, sharing and general usability[3] (see example here[4]). Pages should operate predictably and be easily navigable and readable. These would probably be normal RTPI website pages.
    • E-reader: Some other organisations now convert reports into Kindle- or other e-reader-friendly formats like .epub or .mobi. This is relatively easy to do using free software like Calibre. You can also upload reports to ebook stores.

We have also considered a number of alternative ways of publishing as part of this review.

  • Videos: For example the the RTPI North West are exploring 'Planning TED talks'.
  • Podcasts: We have recorded discussions about research in the past but do not standardly do this for new research.
  • Webinars: One key RTPI stakeholder organisation said they had some success with webinars to gather opinion, share good practice, or promote research.

[1] British Dyslexia Association (2018), Dyslexia Style Guide 2018: Creating Dyslexia Friendly Content

[3] Ploughman, J. (2015), Using HTML publications on GOV.UK, Inside GOV.UK

[4] Centre for London (2018), The London Intelligence | Issue 4


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