Power and Planning
These ideas are drawn from
Forester, J. 1989. Planning in the Face of Power. Berkeley:
U of California Press.
In Planning in the Face of Power, John Forester defines
planning as 'selective organization of attention to real possibilities
of action.' In this understanding, all planning is political:
"As they formulate problems, analysts pre-empt decision-makers;
they define and select feedback as well as process it." What
follows is a summary of some of the main points Forester makes
in defense of his position, and his recommendations for how to
make use of his insights.
Recognize Problems, Seize Opportunities
- Neglected dimensions of practice: "(Analysts) resolve
problems less by calculation ("solving" them) and more
by creating them anew, reformulating them so action and strategy
are possible, sensible, and agreeable to the case at hand."
This requires dealing with
- factual analysis
- coalition building ("Criticism is requisite to objectivity;
detachment is not.")
- set of questions
- Implications for practice
- ability to speak and write effectively
- selectively channel information and attention
- no longer simply to be "efficient," but to work
instead toward the correction of needless distortion.
To Be Rational, Be Political
- Types of planners
- Technician: power lies in technical information (power
based on technical problems)
- Incrementalist: information is source of power because
it responds to organizational needs (power based on organizational
- Liberal-advocate: information is power because it responds
to a need created by a pluralist political system (power based
on political inequality)
- Structuralist: information is power because it legitimates
existing structure of power (and perpetuates public inattention)
(power based on system legitimization)
- Progressive: information is power because enables participation
of citizens (and avoids legitimization issues of structuralists)
(power based on citizen action)
- Distortion of information: Distortion is inherent in communication,
and sets the bounds (limits) to the rationality of action. Distortion
comes from two sources: the social nature of communication (where
distortion may be structural or incidental) and the contingent
nature of communication (where distortion may be inevitable or
unnecessary). This results in a 2 X 2 table:
|inevitable ||cognitive limits of communication
||division of labor |
|unnecessary ||interpersonal manipulation
- Managing Misinformation: Social interaction depends on
- comprehension (distorted by problem framing)
- trust (distorted by false assurance)
- consent (distorted by illegitimacy) and
- knowledge (distorted by misrepresentation)
- The Politics of Muddling Through: Bounding Rationality
- Given limits on rationality, individuals construct simplified
models of the real situation when confronted with a choice. As
solutions are easier to find, standards are raised; as they are
harder to find, standards fall. Depending on the conditions at
hand, a strategy may be practical or ridiculous.
- Comprehensive (Unbounded): rational actor working in a closed
system on a well-defined problem with perfect information and
unlimited time. Strategy: Optimize/solve (use algorithm, technique).
- Cognitive limits on rationality: fallible actor working in
a system open to its environment on an ambiguous problem with
imperfect information and limited time. Strategy: Satisfice/hedge.
- Social limits on rationality: several actors of varying skills
working together in separate settings on a problem with various
interpretations with information of varying quality and differential
time commitments. Strategy: Network/search & satisfice.
- Pluralist limits on rationality: several actors in competing
interest groups with varied access to settings and multiple definitions
of the problem using contested information where time is power.
- Structurally distorted rationality: actors of unequal power
with differential access based on power and ideologically defined
problem using misinformation where time favors the "haves."
Anticipate Organizational Power and Conflict
"Where severe inequalities exist, treating the strong and
the weak alike ensures only that the strong remain strong and
weak remain weak."
Planners have various strategies at their disposal to mediate
land use conflicts:
- Planner as Regulator
- Mediate and Negotiate
- Planner as Resource
- Shuttle Diplomacy
- Active and Interested Mediation
- Split the Job-You mediate, I'll negotiate
Focus on What Counts: Communicative Action
- Practice of Critical Listening
- be attentive
- ask questions
- assess fundamental ambiguities
- sense of "publicity"
- respect for other
- Designing as Making Sense Together
- reading context and desire: facing ambiguity
- world shaping
- conversation as communicative action
- conversation as learning
- practically situated action
- reproducing identity and social relations
- political rationality
Use Theory to Anticipate and Respond
- Experience of Communication Distortion
|Face-to-face||What?||Can I trust you?
||Is this right?||Is this true?
|Organization||What does this mean?
||Can we trust them?||Is this justified?
||Is this true?|
|Social Structure||Do you think they understand what that means?
||That's their line||Who are they to say?
||What they never tell us about is
- Correcting Communication Distortion:
|Face-to-face||What does that mean?
||Does s/he mean that?||I don't accept that
||I'd check to see if this is really true
|Organization||Clean up the language so people can understand it
||Check with X to see if we can trust them on this.
||What does the neighborhood say about this?
||Check the data to see if these figures are really correct
|Social Structure||All this really means is
||What are they getting out of this?||Who does this serve other than the bureaucracy?
||We have to show what can be done here
- Anticipatory Planning Practice
- envision the situation
- prepare or manage good arguments
- negotiate strategically
© 1997 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 23 January 1997