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

  1. 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
  2. Implications for practice

To Be Rational, Be Political

  1. Types of planners
  2. 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:

cognitive limits of communication
division of labor
interpersonal manipulation
structural legitimization

  1. The Politics of Muddling Through: Bounding Rationality
  1. 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.

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:

Focus on What Counts: Communicative Action

  1. Practice of Critical Listening
  2. Designing as Making Sense Together

Use Theory to Anticipate and Respond

  1. Experience of Communication Distortion

ComprehensionSincerity LegitimacyTruth
Face-to-faceWhat?Can I trust you? Is this right?Is this true?
OrganizationWhat does this mean? Can we trust them?Is this justified? Is this true?
Social StructureDo you think they understand what that means? That's their lineWho are they to say? What they never tell us about is….

  1. Correcting Communication Distortion:
ComprehensionSincerity LegitimacyTruth
Face-to-faceWhat does that mean? Does s/he mean that?I don't accept that I'd check to see if this is really true
OrganizationClean 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 StructureAll 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

  1. Anticipatory Planning Practice


© 1997 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 23 January 1997