In the last half-century, the planner’s role and responsibilities have changed remarkably. Traditionally, planners worked to build and maintain the infrastructure of the public realm. In contrast, the issues that planners now grapple with are complex, interconnected and interdisciplinary—issues like population growth and shifts, social connectedness, housing and homelessness, equitable use of government resources, reconciliation, and accessibility. When we at BC Healthy Communities attended the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) conference earlier this year, this was brought into clear relief: the majority of the lectures, case studies and stories shared by planners at the conference described projects that interacted with gender, race, reconciliation, equity, and power. It’s an exciting time to be a planner, but at the same time, the responsibility to integrate all perspectives and dimensions of power and fairness into planning has never been greater.
So how can planners step outside their own lived experience of the world, and better understand their role in complex systems? One approach that attempts to cultivate this understanding is called Reflective Practice. Reflectiveness “allows one to see things in context, to… slip into the shoes of others, to think out possible implications… not only in a purely analytical sense, but using one’s imagination to supplement hard knowledge.” The practice has has been embraced across many disciplines, including health, community development, and social work, but has particular value for anyone working at the community level to improve health and well-being.
What is Reflective Practice?
A reflective practice helps planners reflect on their experiences and actions in order to continuously learn from them. Reflective practice helps planners recognize the paradigms – assumptions, frameworks and patterns of thought and behaviour – that shape our behaviour and actions. It also prompts us to ask broader questions, such as:
What paradigms shape trends in our field?
How does our position relate to the assumptions we make?
How are our goals themselves limited by our paradigms?
How are our actions informed by power structures, and how do we subvert those structures to promote a more equitable process?
By trying out methods of reflection and personal inquiry, planners can nurture greater self-awareness, imagination, and creativity, as well as more systematic ways of thinking and working.
Integrating Reflective Practice into work
Across the disciplines that use Reflective Practice, a variety of reflective methods have been developed. Here are three that we use at BC Healthy Communities:
In her keynote speech at CIP, Dr. Leela Viswanathan echoed the importance of reflection in planning practice. Put bluntly, she described her struggle to integrate her personal values of anti-oppression, empathy, and reciprocity into “a university institution profession that is historically founded upon systems of patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism.” As planners, we must recognize our complicity in the nature of our environment and build a practice that embodies our commitment to progress and addresses systemic factors at the root of “wicked problems”. There is no perfect way practice, but reflection can help us continually improve and better address the complex nature of contemporary planning.
Sandy is a committed community planner who believes that planning is a powerful tool for equitable and socially motivated growth. He is passionate about public discourse and encourages self-reflective planning practices and progressive policy-making.>>Full Bio