UP504 • Critique of Planning Methods


last updated: Sunday, January 27, 2008

Assignment Two

due Monday, Feb 11

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You are to work in teams of two students. (Note: in group projects, you are to turn in a single, integrated write-up. All group members receive the same grade.)

The goal of this assignment is to critically examine the way that planners use quantitative methods in their writings and/or practice.

You have two options for this assignment: Choose either (a) or (b):
(a) Critique of quantitative methods used in a planning document, report or article.
(b) Interview a planner regarding methods used in practice.

suggested length: 3 pages (double-spaced)

(a) Find a planning document that uses quantitative methods and critique it  

Find a document with a substantive use of quantitative analysis. The article or report should present enough of the data, methods and conclusions so that you can adequately critique the methodology. (Sometimes the relevant discussion of methods and sources is listed in a separate "technical documentation.") Types of documents may include: articles in planning journals; reports written by planning departments or related agencies; reports by state and federal agencies; etc.

Provide a concise introductory paragraph that summarizes the document and its context (author, goals and key findings of report, etc.).
Then address the following questions. (You need not follow this sequence, but do address all these points.)

  1. What is the central research question(s)?
  2. Briefly summarize the methodological approach.
  3. What is the source of the data? (and is it primary and/or secondary data?)
  4. What is the unit(s) of analysis?
  5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the analysis and conclusions?  some elements might include:
  6. Finally, if the analysis was less that optimal, briefly suggest improvements to the analysis.

Please attach a copy of the article/report to your assignment.

(b) Write a critical evaluation of methods used by planners vs. taught in methods programs. 

Interview a practicing planner about her/his use of quantitative methods on the job. Summarize your interview findings and interpretations in your assignment write-up. You may interview the planner in-person or by telephone. Provide a concise introductory paragraph that briefly introduces the subject of the interview, their education and work experience. (If requested by the interviewee, you should maintain the subject's confidentiality.) [Note: you need only interview one planner, but you may interview more if interested.]

Possible questions include (but are certainly not limited to):

  1. Which quantitative methods do you use in your work (e.g., analysis of census data, data graphics, survey design, population forecasting, regression, etc?)
  2. What software applications do you find most useful? (e.g., Excel, SPSS, ArcGIS, Access, etc.)
  3. How well did your college education prepare you for using these methods?
  4. Did you learn methods in college that you never use at work?
  5. What methods do you wish you had learned in college?
  6. Were there methods learned in college that you don't use directly, but learning them was nevertheless valuable because the process taught you to reason more rigorously, analytically, critically?
  7. What new and emergent methods do you see in the field that are most exciting?
  8. What one bit of advice would you give MUP students regarding what methods they should (and should not) learn?

background reading: Kaufman, Sanda, and Robert Simons. 1995. "Quantitative and research methods in planning: Are schools teaching what practitioners practice?" Journal of Planning Education and Research 15 (1):17-34.  [online] [somewhat out-of-date but it does give you an idea of supply vs. demand for methods]