Like postmodern approaches to planning theory, collaborative planning starts with the question: how can we ‘make sense’ of what is happening and plan for the future within a dynamic and increasingly complex society? When there is wholesale distrust of the political process, a fragmentation into single-issue politics and a plurality of positions, how can we come to agree on matters of concern? The problem for planners is that society is changing and changing quickly, while planning as a practice and as a collection of processes remains wedded to ideas and procedures from a different age. Central to these ideas is the debate over rationality. Despite attempts to improve public involvement and widen participation, planning processes remain dominated by instrumental rationality, born of the Enlightenment and modernity and typified by the systems or synoptic approach to planning of, among others, McLoughlin (1969) and Faludi (1973). This involves separating means from ‘given’ ends and systematically identifying, evaluating and choosing means in a technical and ‘apolitical’ way, as discussed in Chapter 1. The challenge to the systems approach has come from a variety of quarters, not least the political economy-inspired critiques of society and planning. But the normative poverty of this approach is still with us – how can planners work with disparate and diverse communities, reach agreement between them and formulate a ‘plan’? One approach that has gained increasing theoretical popularity is to see planning as a communicative or collaborative process.
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