EVALUATION, DELIBERATION IN THE PLANNING DISCOURSE

An effort to clarify the role of deliberative evaluation in the planning and policy-making process
Thorbjoern Mann

EVALUATION / DELIBERATION

‘Evaluation‘ and its related term ‘deliberation’ is understood in many different ways. A simple view is just the act of making a value judgment about something: about a plan: is it ‘worth’ implementing? To many, it evokes a somewhat cumbersome, bureaucratic process that itself constitutes a problem. Seen from the perspective of theories like the Pattern Language, for example, it is a ‘method’ from which the Pattern Language ‘frees’ the designer: not needed, even ‘part of the problem’ of misguided design and planning process. So does the idea need some clarification, discussion?

Some answers to this question might be found by examining the reasons people feel such efforts are necessary: Beginning with trying to make up one’s own mind when facing a somewhat complicated situation and plan, trying to consider all pertinent aspects, all significant causes of the problem a plan is supposed to fix, also its possible consequences, its ‘pros and cons’; trying not to forget important details, expected benefits and costs and risks if things don’t turn out quite as we might wish.

Such ‘mulling’ about the task in order for an individual person to arrive at a judgment may not require a very systematic and orderly process. Things may be somewhat different when we are then asked to explain or justify our judgments to others, and even more so when participants in a project discourse try to get other parties to not only become aware of their concerns and judgments, but even to give them ‘due consideration’ in making decisions. Or when clients or users are asking designers, planners and ultimate decision-makers to make the decisions in developing the plan ‘on their behalf’: The burden of explanation (of what they would consider a viable answer to their needs or wishes falls first on the former, and then on the latter, pointing out how their plan features will meet those expectations. The common denominator: explaining the basis of one’s judgment to others, for the purpose of justification or persuasion — to accept the plan. The basic pattern in that process is to show how o v e r a l l judgments or quality scores depend on various   p a r t i a l judgments, or ultimately on some ‘objective’ quantifiable features (‘criteria’) of the plan. (The very term ‘objective’, used in asserting its distinction from ‘subjective’ judgments and ‘opinions’, is of course itself a major controversy, to be dealt with in a later segment.)

The shift of burden of explanation mentioned above is an indicator of a fact that is often overlooked in discussions about evaluation issues: that evaluation occurs in many different shapes and forms, in many different stages all along the planning process, not just in the final occasions of accepting or rejecting a proposed plan, or selecting ‘the best’ of a set of proposed alternatives by a competition jury. Should a better coordination be developed between those different events, and the often very different terms used?

The claims and arguments used in the different evaluation tasks use different terms, and draw on different sources and methods for obtaining the ‘evidence’ for claims and arguments. The near obsession with ‘data’ (or ‘facts’) in this connection overshadows the problems associated with the relationships between facts describing the current ‘problem’ situations to be remedied, the ‘facts’ about the expectations, concerns, wishes, needs of different groups in the affected populations (which themselves are not ‘facts’ …yet) and the ‘facts’ (but also just estimates, predictions) generated by systems models about the ‘whole system’ in which current problem, plans and future consequences are embedded.

A final aspect should be mentioned in this connection. There will be, in real life, many situations in which people, leaders and others, will be called upon to make quick decisions, with no time for lengthy public discourse. These decisions will be ‘intuitive’, often ‘offhand’ decisions for which there is insufficient information upon which they can be reasonably based. We expect that decisions must be made by people whose (intuitive?) judgment can be trusted. This suggests that we think some people have ‘better’ intuitive judgment than others. So where does better intuition, better judgment come from? Experience with similar situations is one likely source. There are claims that having experienced the process of organized, systematic deliberation and evaluation may also contribute to improve decision-makers‘ quality of intuitive judgment. What is the evidence for this, and what, if any implications should be considered?

Given the speculative nature of many of these considerations, it seems that there is a need for more thorough study and discussion of these issues; what are the implications of assumptions we make for the design of better planning discourse platforms? What other aspects should be added to the picture?

–o–

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