Enter real time planning, which brings elements of contingency planning into rural, urban, city, and regional plans and clarifies the underlying structure of the analysis and its connection to the plan results, the strategy recommendations and/or project list, allowing for continual updating as the reality changes."
Real time planning relates to integrating elements into an existing planning process, or designing a new planning process, that allows for flexibility and responsiveness to change. Think of it as contingency planning for the planning field. Historically and today, rural, urban, city, and regional planning is characterized by a planning cycle of 4-10 years typically, and plans are created or updated on this periodic cycle.
Change, unknowns, and uncertainty of today
The world today is moving faster and with more impact than in decades past, prompting the need for a new model and way of planning our places. Natural disasters are more frequent and more destructive. Climate change has had tangible repercussions in many parts of the world, and water shortages and drought are becoming increasingly common. Technology is rapidly evolving and changing the nature of how many services are provided, making even basic budgeting a challenge.
Need for transparent structure and logic for urban plans
After a plan is delivered, a lot may have happened by years 2 and 3. Nonetheless, there is typically no defined process to “rerun” or “reprocess” the analysis within the plan. Professionals are often forced to move ahead with implementation of the plan, knowing certain elements are outdated, but lacking little recourse. The idea of rerunning or reprocessing the analysis brings up another critical point, the lack of a defined, transparent structure behind plans. Most plans begin with goals and objectives, shift into analyses, and then close with general direction and recommendations, if strategic in nature, or programs, projects, and initiatives, if its purpose is to end with such results. The process and its results are often encapsulated within a document. Plan documents typically have text, photos, tables/charts for data, and maps to communicate the points. Oftentimes, the result or product of the plan aligns in general with the analysis, but there is little specific detail provided regarding which elements of the analysis combined to generate the various results. It can be unclear what precise analytical factors combined to result in the strategic recommendations or projects, and why other directions were eliminated. Simply put, there is a lack of transparent structure behind the plan results and direction. Without this, even if you did want to update it mid-cycle, the logic of the plan would not be clear enough to allow for such an update.
Enter real time plans
Due to this lack of defined, transparent structure, it is difficult, if not impossible, to rerun or reprocess the plan according to new insights. If a baker wants to share a new cake with others, they share the recipe containing the ingredients. In planning, there is rarely an ingredient list. It is far from the idea of reproducible research with its focus on an objective process and product. Enter real time planning, which brings elements of contingency planning into rural, urban, city, and regional plans and clarifies the underlying structure of the analysis and its connection to the plan results, the strategy recommendations and/or project list, allowing for continual updating as the reality changes.
To get started practicing real time planning, see How to apply a 10-point checklist for future-proofing your plan and How to identify tipping points and triggers.