The Anatomy of a Planning Study

Last week we looked at the different types of projects and studies that I work on. This week’s post looks in more detail at the process of a typical project, from the first meeting, to the final report.

In one of the worst University classes I’ve taken, our professor told us to, ‘write a Planning report.’ If any of my classmates are reading this, you’ll recall how stressful this was – mainly because the professor wouldn’t show us how to write a Planning report, tell us what’s in a Planning report, or even give us any sort of topic to report on. His recommendation was to ‘just write it.’

…And this was our ‘practical planning’ course.

I’ve since written many Planning reports, and realized that they’re basically a summary of a much larger process. And while there’s variation from study to study, the process is pretty standard:

  • Kick Off Meeting – This is the first meeting with the client, focused on introductions, finalizing the terms of the project (timing, approach, etc.), and discussing key issues. A site tour (with or without the client) often follows.
  • Background Research – This is where you review all the documents discussed here, and any others that pertain to this project (including previous plans and studies). If the policies are up to date, this’ll greatly inform your process. If they’re out of date, you’ll need to come back here at the end to recommend revisions.
  • Stakeholder Interviews – Stakeholders include anyone with an interest in your study area. This could be landowners, businesses, emergency services, local community groups, schools, etc. Interviews, rather than workshops, allow you to discuss key concerns in depth, which may (or may not) have big impacts on the study.
  • Opportunities and Constraints – The findings of the background research and stakeholder interviews are presented using clear, simple maps. This is used throughout the study to provide the client, stakeholders, and the public with a quick understanding of the study area.
  • Visioning (Public Consultation # 1) – This is often the first chance the public has to be involved in the study. The opportunities and constraints will be presented, and participants will provide their vision for future development (usually working in groups, in a workshop format). The outcome will be the development of a Vision Statement and Guiding Principles that guide development plans and key directions.
  • Develop Plans – If the study involves a Master Plan, this is when you’ll create some options. The options will demonstrate various ways in which the Vision and Principles can be achieved. You’re trying to sell a Vision here, so make sure your plans, diagrams, etc. look top notch, and clearly tell the story you want to tell.
  • Public Consultation # 2 – If Master Plan options are prepared, they’ll usually be the focus of a second workshop. Attendees will provide input on the options, and determine their preferred option (or their favourite elements of multiple options). If the study doesn’t require plans (i.e. design guidelines), this is a chance to touch base with the public to refine key directions.
  • Select Preferred Plan – Based on public input, and discussions with the client (i.e. City), a Preferred Plan will be prepared and refined in a greater level of detail. Supporting diagrams, renderings, etc. will also be refined/added to reinforce the Vision.
  • Draft Document – The draft document compiles all the above tasks into a clear, (hopefully) succinct report. Wherever needed, new text and pretty pictures can be added to tie the document together. When finished, the draft is circulated to the client for review and comment.
  • Public Consultation # 3 – A final public meeting is generally held to present the draft document. Because the report is mostly complete, this meeting is often an Open House format, where attendees can view display boards and provide comments.
  • Final Document – Once all input is received from the client, the public, and any other stakeholders, the feedback is considered and the report revised and finalized.
  • Council Presentation – Once finished, the final step is to present the final report to Council for approval. For guidelines, this is a pretty smooth process. More complicated studies, such as Master Plans, may get some push back at Council (often related to the cost of implementation).

While this process varies from project to project, that represents the typical steps of a planning study. Of course, there are also regular client meetings in there as well. These are sometimes scheduled regularly (i.e. monthly) or when key deliverables are completed. Many studies also require sub consultants, who’ll be completing their work in tandem, and feeding into the final report.

I hope this helps you to understand how a planning report comes together, and who the key players are. I’ll be discussing many of these elements in more depth in future posts, but if there are specific steps you want more information about, let me know.

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