In 2020 the UK Government published the Planning for the Future White Paper highlighting a need for planning reform with a focus on digitalizing the planning system as a means of making it ‘simpler, clearer and easier to navigate’ (UK Government, 2020, p.6). In this context, there is a growing opportunity to use technology in new ways to support greater transfer of information between planning systems and communities, promote dialogue, gather feedback, and encourage hard-to-reach groups to interact with planning processes. Despite the large and growing variety of software and hardware available to planners, little is known about planners’ usage or perceptions of technology, and their readiness to embrace digital planning. This study explores planners’ use and perceptions of specific technologies and barriers that limit UK planners embracing technologically focussed planning reforms.
Based on a survey of planners in the UK, the study found:
- 1% agreed that they feel confident using technology;
- Administrative and information sharing/presentation software (e.g. Microsoft Teams, PDF documents, planning portals, GIS, etc.) are most commonly used software;
- Specialised software such as 3D modelling software, planning support systems, AR/VR, and drones are largely not used by planners;
- A lack of technical expertise is a barrier to the use of much planning-specific software;
- Planners feel more confident when they have opportunities to learn from others in their workplace; and
- Having sufficient time to learn new technology is the biggest factor influencing planners’ use of technology.
Our study shows that a lack of time to engage with training and learn how to use different technologies and software is an inhibiting factor affecting technology use in planning practice.
This lack of time further reinforces planners’ poor technical skills around new and emerging technology and suggests a need for greater levels of institutional support in the form of allocating work hours for training in ICTs and enhanced levels of technological support where appropriate. The study also highlighted that planners rely on being able to learn about the functions of different software packages from their colleagues informally. Such opportunities allow planners the chance to immerse themselves in different forms of technology that they may be unfamiliar with in a space that is comfortable and supportive. The expansion of work-from-home policies may therefore impact the ability and willingness of planners to engage with new forms of ICTs if not properly supported with opportunities for social learning. These findings are particularly helpful for planning authorities and consultancies looking to adopt new technologies and suggest that training opportunities (both formal and more social), allocation of workload time, and inclusion of technology in CPD trainings are likely to improve planners’ confidence and capabilities using technology in their day-to-day work.