New entry route for chartered membership reaches pilot stage

Move designed to give more people involved in planning a chance to contribute fully to professional body, explains Brian O'Callaghan.

Membership steps: associate members will soon be able to gain chartered membership by presenting a learning portfolio
Membership steps: associate members will soon be able to gain chartered membership by presenting a learning portfolio

The institute introduced associate membership in 2007. It is designed to offer a membership class for those who have experience of planning but do not hold an accredited planning degree. Associate members must be graduates with eligible experience in spatial planning.

This class of membership is intended to appeal to: planners who do not hold an accredited qualification; planners whose professional qualifications were gained overseas; academics; or members of other built environment professional institutes who are engaged with spatial planning. When associate membership was introduced, it was intended that there should be a route to chartered membership for suitably qualified individuals. In developing this route, it is imperative that we adopt an inclusive approach to membership that maintains the high standards associated with chartered membership of the institute and the letters MRTPI. It is also essential that we do not undermine the established route to membership: through a masters degree at an accredited planning school and the assessment of professional competence (APC).

The membership and ethics committee and the executive board have recently approved a mechanism for associate members to gain chartered status. The scheme is being piloted by a small group of candidates from diverse backgrounds. They have been asked to submit their applications at the end of February and when we have taken account of their feedback and that of the assessors we will make the scheme available to all.

The approach we have adopted is to ask candidates to prepare a portfolio that will demonstrate the learning they have achieved through formal education and experience of planning work. We have identified six areas of competence.

In Integrated Spatial Planning, candidates are asked to reflect on issues such as energy policy, urban design, the rural economy and inequalities in health and education. Inclusive Planning asks candidates to examine the role of planning in reducing inequalities and meeting the aspirations of communities. In Sustainable Planning, we ask for a demonstration of understanding of the often conflicting objectives of economic development, environmental integrity, social justice and inclusion.

Legal and Ethical Frameworks needs little explanation, but is nevertheless a key area for those aspiring to chartered membership of the institute. For Professional Practice, candidates are asked to show how reflection on their work leads to continuous improvement and the ability to identify and tackle their own development needs. In the sixth and final unit, candidates are asked to demonstrate a depth of knowledge and understanding in their own area of specialist expertise.

For each unit of competence, there are a number of learning outcomes. These have been drawn from those required of an accredited degree and from the assessment criteria for the APC. Candidates must write a statement outlining how they meet the learning outcomes of each unit.

They need to support this statement with evidence.

Where the evidence is in the form of qualifications, this might be demonstrated by a certificate, module outlines or coursework. But it is also important that the knowledge and skills learned through formal education are kept up to date. If the qualification was achieved some time ago, it may be necessary to show evidence of continuing professional development activities.

It is also likely that the portfolio will contain evidence of what has been learned through professional practice. It must be emphasised that the assessors will be looking for confirmation of learning, rather than just an account of the experiences themselves. This learning from experience might be shown through working documents, such as reports, minutes and presentations, or the testimony of employers, colleagues or clients. Guidance will be provided as to how this might be done.

The provision of this route from associate to chartered membership will allow the institute to recognise the contribution made to the planning profession by those who did not start their career in the conventional way and who have, until now, been excluded from making a full contribution to the professional body.

Brian O'Callaghan is head of education and lifelong learning at the RTPI.

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