Applying Systems to Capacity-Building in Participatory, Ecologically Informed Planning


  • Joanne Tippett University of Manchester
  • Emma Jane Griffiths University of Manchester


Participatory planning, ecological design, capacity building


Environmental legislation such as the European Union Water Framework Directive calls for more effective stakeholder and public participation in planning. Achieving the ambitious objectives of such legislation will require changes in behavior from a wide range of people. This adds impetus to call for more effective participation in planning, as people’s motivation to change is linked to their understanding. Recent policy reviews have identified a lack of skilled practitioners able to engage stakeholders in such planning as a major barrier to sustainable development in the UK. Developing effective training in facilitation and a supporting learning resource would help address this lack. This research in the NorthWest of England aims to develop a participatory process for ecological planning, which is based on a systems thinking framework, into a transferable methodology available to a range of practitioners. This will be approached through action research in 2006, and is supported by the Environment Agency and Manchester City Council. A literature review will examine best practices. The researchers will work with trainee facilitators to engage stakeholder and community participation in planning projects. Training techniques, to enable the facilitators to learn how best to use the process, will be developed and evaluated. Sources of data will include: • In-depth, semi-structured ‘before and after’ interviews with trainee facilitators; • Analysis of data collected during the action research from participant observation; and • In-depth workshops with stakeholders to test and develop the training approaches. The application of systems thinking principles to capacity building in participatory, ecological design will be explored in this research. In this paper a conceptual model based on systems thinking principles is developed for analysis of results from the ongoing empirical research. This builds on work to explore the teaching of ecological principles in design education, the development of living systems thinking in relationship to ecological design and eco-literacy, and recent applications of complexity theory principles to learning and innovation in organizations. This conceptual framework is developed within the contexts of shifts of the roles of practitioners in spatial planning.

Author Biographies

Joanne Tippett, University of Manchester

Lecturer in Spatial Planning PhD Planning and Landscape

Emma Jane Griffiths, University of Manchester

Research Associate PhD Planning and Landscape



How to Cite

Tippett, J., & Griffiths, E. J. (2006). Applying Systems to Capacity-Building in Participatory, Ecologically Informed Planning. Proceedings of the 50th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2006, Sonoma, CA, USA. Retrieved from



Organizational Transformation & Social Change