Initiatives to help improve learning

Recent joint research highlights the skills needed to encourage sustainability, Jenny Crawford reports.

Are built environment professionals "members of a defective workforce awaiting reskilling" or "open-minded, enquiring professionals awaiting the opportunity to exercise these abilities in a working context"?

These were among the issues considered by a research initiative on skills and knowledge for sustainable communities, funded jointly by the Economic Social Research Council and the Homes and Communities Agency. It engaged planning, landscape architecture, urban design, surveying and architecture academics in 11 projects across the UK. Robert Rogerson and Sue Sadler of the University of Strathclyde have been highlighting lessons to be learned from across the initiative and disseminating the findings.

They emphasise that there are lots of new and exciting ways of learning and working that are increasing the adaptability of professionals and the sustainability of communities. Workplace learning is vital. Even routine practices such as strategic environmental assessments can provide a springboard for learning and the emergence of hybrid practitioners can mobilise new networks.

Professionals need opportunities to learn in a variety of ways. Built environment professionals and local communities need to be aware of their skills sets. The research highlights how motivating it is to empower people to build on existing skills and create skilled teams.

There are many imaginative ways to engage communities and professionals in creating sustainable communities. Different approaches have been used to open minds to new perspectives or complex issues and to engage young people in leadership roles.

Some of the projects identify the specific skills required to work with divided and contested communities - where acknowledging difference is important - and they help those involved to accept that not all issues and conflicts can be resolved. In such cases, professionals need to understand local power relations and capitalise on everyday encounters as a basis for collaborative action.

The Strathclyde team argues that outputs from the project provide insights into some of the novel ways that learning theories have been applied by built environment professionals and local communities. That should encourage us all to try new ideas, reflect on what we have achieved, to be more adaptable and be prepared to strive for more sustainable communities.

Key findings will be published shortly in a special issue of the Town Planning Review and a synthesis of the findings from across the initiative is due to be published in an edited book from University of Hertfordshire Press early in 2011.

For further information on projects and related case studies, please visit www.strath.ac.uk/humanities/research/sustainablecommunities/researchinit iative/ or email r.j.rogerson@strath.ac.uk or sue.sadler@strath.ac.uk


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