The SAPER project team held a retreat in Milton Keynes 18-22 June led by Lauren Andres and Stuart Denoon-Stevens in order to develop the impact and publication strategies for the project. This is a very exciting time in the life of the SAPER project as the data collection phase has just finished and the team has been expanded to bring on board Martin Lewis (SACPLAN), Elsona Van Huyssteen (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and Emmie Smit (UFS) to maximise the potential for impact.
The sessions included a masterclass on impact run by Sophie Hadfield-Hill from the University of Birmingham and a briefing on writing REF papers by Phil Jones. After a very intensive few days the team produced a detailed list of activities and tasks for the final 12 months of the project.
Opportunities were identified for feeding into a new mentoring and CPD strategy for South African planners. Activities at Parliament were planned to help shape South Africa’s forthcoming Planning Professionals Act. The team also sketched out a series of briefing notes and short films around the role of planners, the challenges of planning in a developing world, the future of the African city and the tensions between urban and rural planning.
The SAPER project has created a very large dataset of 212 questionnaire responses and 110 interviews with planning professionals and educators, producing the first comprehensive overview of the state of the profession in South Africa. Following a detailed discussion of the materials that have been gathered, up to twenty potential papers were identified and a writing strategy drawn up in line with REF priorities.
It was also nice for the team to meet face-to-face as a group – one of the problems of working across two different continents – and gain a better understanding of our motivations and constraints. Although it was an intensive few days, the project team ended the week feeling very positive about where the project was going over the next twelve months.
The SAPER team. L-R, Martin Lewis, Emmie Smit, Phil Jones, Verna Nel, Stuart Denoon-Stevens, Mishka Jacobus, Rouvé Bingle, Lauren Andres, Lorena Melgaco Silva Marques, David Adams
The months of February to May have been a whirlwind of SAPER activity. The second phase of our data collection has come to an end and the fieldwork has taken us as far as Cape Town to Bloemfontein, Pretoria, Johannesburg, George and Port Elizabeth. All of this in order for us to conduct in-depth, face-to face interviews with the South African planning community. The group was diverse and included the young and old (and wiser), men and women, multi-racial and multi-sectoral to create a representative sample.
Conversation ranged from the state of the South African planning profession, graduate readiness for the job market, diversity, technology and skills requirements. It was fascinating to sit down with persons from academia, government and the private sector and hear their perspectives on issues that affect both their communities and them personally. Interview after interview we realised how complex and fluid the work of planners is and that a long list of both hard and soft skills is required in order to mould a successful graduate. It was also interesting to discuss how expectations are met in a planner’s daily work in face of the great challenges (and achievements) of the profession.
Altogether it was an extremely successful and engaging experience and SAPER would like to thank each and every participant for their time and insights.
In total we have conducted 96 interviews (89 with South African planners) and all recordings are currently being transcribed and coded, as we speak. Some very interesting themes are already evident and we look forward to the final outputs.
Next up: The South African and UK teams are getting ready for their writing retreat in the UK.
Rouve Bingle and Lorena Melgaço
As we are getting closed to the summer it is time to sum-up our latest activities and flag up what will be coming up. The SAPER team has been extremely busy in collecting data in South Africa. By the end of the month we will have collected up to 80 interviews with a range of urban planning practitioners across South Africa. Coding is on its way and we are looking forward to start writing up our results. While impact activities are also starting shaping up, the team will soon re-unite in the UK for its first writing retreat. More updates and news to come soon then!
Seminar "Think Planning – Think Global Planning Challenges in the Commonwealth" – organised in partnership with the RTPI and the Commonwealth Association of Planners
SAPER partnered with the RTPI and CAP to organise a seminar looking at the challenges faced by planning in the Commonwealth context. We will soon publish a briefing note out of this seminar, with CAP. I cannot resist meanwhile to publish what Louisa Ward, currently one of our students on our MSc Urban and Regional Planning, wrote on Linkedin to describe what she learnt and gained from the presentations and discussions. The seminar was introduced by the RTPI president, John Acres and included presentations from Clive Harridge, Hector Pearson, Philip Clarke, Riette Oosthuizen, Louise Brook-Smith, Cliff Hague and me (Lauren Andres).
In October this year the South African Advisory Group met to discuss various aspects of the SAPER project with our current SA PI Ruth. The Group comprises Peter Robinson, Frederick Kusambiza, Anthony Barnes, Godfrey Musvoto, Aurobindo Ogra, Seana Nkhahle and Mark Oranje
After an introduction to the project, our main aims and objectives, and the progress made to date, the Advisory Group spent the morning debating the strengths and weaknesses of South African planning education in South Africa’s higher education institutions, and discussing how the SAPER project might address these and other concerns that have been raised. The Advisory Group members are leaders in various South African planning fields (practice, academia, local government, and accreditation) and we are pleased to have this rich set of expertise on board.
Some of the points that were raised during the meeting included the following:
· There is a need to more fully recognise that apartheid planning has had an exclusionary and lasting impact on planning practice and planning education in South Africa and that this needs to be addressed. It is crucial that dialogue continues, particularly regarding planning education in the country and the need to train planners to be sensitive to inequality, segregation and socio-spatial challenges as well as the diversity of language, religion and culture in the country.
· There is currently a mismatch between educational institutions and practice and there is a need for the two parties to interact in a more meaningful way. Employers and new employees struggle with expectations and the practical knowledge that the graduate has or has not gained. There is also the need to bring practice into conversation with academics to ensure that a richer more applicable education is provided.
· There is a need to ensure students of planning also have the opportunity to specialise in various niche subjects (such as SMART cities and urban health – for example) over and above their basic planning qualification. This would ensure that the graduate is more employable and is provided with domain expertise and a niche qualification (specialisation) appropriate for a South African/African context.
· South African students have limited options in terms of courses offered within their planning degrees. A different approach may be required that allows for dual specialisation and focal specialisation.
· There is a gap between theory taught and the link to social aspects of planning. The practice of planning itself versus planning for people is something that needs to be addressed.
· There is a need for planning curricula to pay equal attention to academic skills (e.g. theory), technical skills (e.g. GIS and other tools), and soft skills (e.g. report writing, negotiation, and presentation skills). These are all needed for a good curriculum and for planners that are trained to work within a practical planning context.
· Wider skills are also needed such as an understanding of financial modelling and analysis as well as skills related to technology and systems management.
· Social aspects of planning are crucial in the training of planners within South Africa. Planning for and with people is vital and skills are needed in areas such as asset-based planning, trade-offs, wants vs needs etc. Social planning skills are lacking amongst new graduates.
The Advisory Group also provided useful contacts and links to resources that will assist the SAPER project’s aims, and were helpful in providing us with advice on the way forward with our next set of data collection activities and data analysis.
Ruth has been offered a Research Associate post at the University of Cambridge from next year and will be leaving the University of the Free State at the end of January 2018. Stuart will therefore take over the role of Principal Investigator and Ruth will move to the position of Co-Investigator. She will still be involved with the SAPER project and will attend various conferences and assist with the drafting of journal articles and other publications where appropriate. Ruth would like to thank everyone for their support while she has been in the PI role and thank you to Stuart for stepping in at this point. We are confident that the SAPER project will go from strength to strength.
This year has been an eventful one and we would like to thank you all for your support throughout 2017. Here is a summary of project activities this year:
Lorena will visit South Africa from the beginning of February to the end of May. She will work with Mischka and Rouve interviewing planners, academics and students across the country. This data will supplement the information we gathered through the questionnaires in 2017. UK data collection (specially our surveys to UK planning academics and practitioners will run during this period as well). Ruth and Stuart will also host a session on Planning and Geography in South African Higher Education at the Society of South African Geographer’s Bi-annual conference in Bloemfontein next year. We will present papers at various international conferences including the 2018 AAG in New Orleans (Lauren will attend and present preliminary results from the UK data collection), SAPI congress in October and the RGS/IBG gathering in August. Members of the UK and South African teams will also gather in Birmingham in March and June for team meetings and a writing retreat. The Teaching App will also be rolled out further both at UFS and the University of Birmingham while we hope to have the online platform on CAP website up and running by the end of 2018.
Ruth Massey / Lauren Andres
Birmingham was the surprise jewel on my extended UK exploration which lasted three weeks. To many outsiders the city does not evoke the same passions as say, London or Edinburgh - mainly because of its industrial history and reputation. Yet, if I should describe Birmingham I would say that she might not be the "prettiest" but she sure has more personality and attraction than most. It was a place of openness and welcome opposites. It is both unpretentious yet sophisticated, quirky but serious, happy and sometimes reserved.
The city appears to be so comfortable with it's multiculturalism and diversity that you are transported from one experience to the next all by an extended network of cobblestone walkways and streets. A glimpse of Korea, India or the Caribbean can all be witnessed within a week although you are always aware of the city's British foundations. The obsession with tea, grande public spaces, museums, general politeness and the orderliness of everyday tasks were apparent from the start.
This ambiance extended to the University of Birmingham were we sat down and worked together as Brazilians, South Africans, French and Brits. The campus feels modern and advanced and the flurry of people and activity provides great energy in which to work in. I've also realized the importance of spending real time with colleagues and how often richness and details can be lost if we rely solely on Skype and the internet to communicate.
The time spent together was very important and I think all will agree that thoughts were streamlined, good discussions were made and the SAPER project is on the right track.
All and all it was very rewarding.
Thank you, team Birmingham for being amazing hosts.
Prof Verna Nel and Chief Executive Officer of SACPLAN, Martin Lewis* attended the second Urban African Planning Conference held in Lisbon, Portugal on 7 and 8 September 2017. It was hosted by the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning (IGOT), University of Lisbon and the International Planning History Society. They presented two papers; first on the Standards and Competencies process undertaken by SACPLAN and the second about the resilience of the urban and regional planning profession over the last century. Both papers were well received and their presentations can be found under the ‘Resources’ section of this website. Verna and Martin also chaired a successful parallel session at the conference. There were several South African delegates representing seven planning schools, alongside others from different African countries and European nations. *Martin Lewis is also a doctoral candidate at the University of the Free State.
‘Summer’ being already over, it is time for a short update about our activities since June.
The UK team has been working closely with the SA team towards the data collection. 212 questionnaires were collected amongst South African planners. Main areas of queries included the education level and formation, the relevance of training and relationship to professional performance and the professional stage, degree and careers’ expectations and accomplishment. Both teams have since been working on analysing the rich and fascinating data we received.
Lauren and Lorena presented at the 2017 RGS-IBG Conference in London in the special session “The ’battle of the maps’ – (re)imagining geographies of knowledge production” organized by Prof. Ashley Gunter (University of South Africa) and Prof. Parvati Raghuram (Open University). Their paper dealt with (re)considering and (re)imagining urban planning curriculum in South African Higher Education.
Key points of the paper included questioning the geographies of South African urban planning knowledge and how this involves rethinking how the object of study is constituted, address the issue of gained and missing skills and hence rethink education systems. It also involved looking at the decolonization of the urban planning knowledge looking at the decolonization of individual’s positioning and the gaps in international education. Issue of race in the profession resting on the perception of race bias in the field, specially from the white population was also noted as a significant area of query. Finally, as to go beyond knowledge production, the issues of the education versus the reality and the everyday of the planning profession and the future of the urban planning discipline in relation to the importance of politics and power relationships were highlighted.
Next key steps include pursuing our data analysis and collection, working on papers while starting to plan ahead Lorena’s forthcoming 4 months of data collection in South Africa and the visit of the South African team in October.