New report on digital transformation of spatial planning reimagines the sector’s future

A new report published this week by the Independent Digital Task Force for Planning sets out an ambitious blueprint for digitally enabled spatial planning that could contribute to the achievement of government targets on net zero, levelling up and other pressing social and economic issues, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Digital Future for Planning: Spatial Planning Reimagined is the culmination of a comprehensive cross sector consultation programme undertaken by Task Force Co-Chairs Professor Mike Batty FAcSS and Dr Wei Yang FAcSS throughout 2021.

Keen for a shift to a ‘whole systems’ approach to spatial town and country planning, they engaged local and national government departments, agencies dealing with the natural and built environment, digital technology, public health, and higher education.

The Task Force is comprised of an interdisciplinary panel of influential thought leaders, seven of whom are Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences. Task Force members are drawn from a broad spectrum of disciplines ranging from planning to digital technology.

Pivotal to the Digital Task Force for Planning’s mission is to discover and collaborate in finding solutions to the urgent question: “What should be done now to make our world a better place for our future generations through achieving a universal common good?”.

The report puts spatial planning at the forefront of addressing these challenges equipped with new digital tools and expertise, and improved data.  Emphasis is placed on planners collaborating with like-minded professionals across the built and natural environment sectors to achieve common goals. The authors highlight that at this crucial moment in human history there is a need to work beyond professional and political boundaries to tackle multifaceted grand challenges.

On launching the report Professor Michael Batty said:

“Our report is strongly focussed on the digital transformation which continues to sweep throughout our society and is changing everything in its path. But rather than provide a definitive catalogue of new computer tools that planners can begin to use, our Task Force explores how this digital transformation is woven into the grand challenges of our times. These involve climate change, globalisation, the quest for net zero, issues of aging, poverty, pollution and the housing crisis – all of which require much better data and better computation.”

Outlining her vision for the future and the opportunities digital transformation of the sector will bring, Dr Wei Yang said:

“The world deserves a reimagined planning profession in the digital era. It will generate an invigorated community approach, more interesting, visual and accessible planning, much speeded-up planning processes, saving costs, increasing efficiency and productivity, as well as a unified approach to information management.

“It is also vital that we recognise spatial planning as an important applied science discipline, which interconnects social, environmental, and behavioural science. Our report elaborates that if spatial planning can be invested as an applied science discipline of national significance, enormous potentials of it can be unlocked.”

The report sets out eight key recommendations to government calling for investment in the digital transformation of the profession to maximise its capacity to advance sustainable development goals for all, as well as elevating spatial planning advice and expertise to the heart of public policy and decision-making at both national and local levels.

Find out more and download the report