Rational Planning Model

Evolution of different planning models

Different authors and scholars coined different planning theories which evolved over time. Different theories were an attempt to refine the planning process so as to produce better plans. With more and more people working some of the well known planning concepts like rational planning model, advocacy planning concept, collaborative planning theory, political economic model in urban planning, critical minimum efforts theory emerged. Among these Rational Planning Model is considered to be most successful and even used today.

A brief history of Rational Planning Model

The rational planning model is the process of understanding a problem followed by establishing and evaluating planning criteria, formulation of alternatives and implementing them and finally monitoring  the progress of the chosen alternatives. The rational planning model is central in the development of transport planing & modern planning. Similarly, rational decision-making model is a process of making decisions which are logically sound. This multi-step model and aims to be logical and follow the orderly path from problem identification through solution.

Rational Planning Model
Rational Planning Model

The RCM (Rational Comprehensive Model) for planning owes its origins to Enlightenment epistemology (Sandercock, 1998; Allmendinger, 2002), as it is centred on decisions and principles that are based on reason, logic and scientific facts with little or no emphasis on values and emotions. Due to its tendency towards scientific method and its decision-making process, Faludi has termed it ‘procedural planning theory’. He sees planning as a procedure and declares that “the planning theorist depends on first-hand experience, reflects upon it, and puts it into context” (Faludi, 1978:179). Therefore, the planner learns from experience and can define the correct method or procedure to follow to get the correct result. Meanwhile Sandercock (1998) refers to the rational comprehensive model as ‘technocratic planning’ due to its emphasis on technical expertise and skills and its steadfast belief that technology and social science can be used to solve our problems.

Types of Rationality in Planning:

Influenced by Max Weber, Allexander (1986) distinguishes between two types of rationality in planning; ‘formal rationality’ and ‘substantive rationality’. Formal rationality “involves separating means from ‘given’ ends and systematically identifying, evaluating, and choosing means in a technical and apolitical way” (Allmendinger, 2002:182; and Reade in Breheny and Hooper, 1985). It focuses on the means rather than the ends, favours facts over values, and is often used in bureaucracies. A major problem with formal rationality is that it cannot show us what goals we ought to prefer. In using the example of robbing a bank, Faludi (1978) proposes that there is a rational way to robbing a bank but the goal itself is wrong. Rationality is thus contextual. Substantive rationality is more concerned with ends and their evaluation rather than the means themselves (Allmendinger, 2002). It is less scientific than formal rationality and it considers more than simply efficiency and effectiveness. It involves values which are not based on ‘blind faith’ but are built up from the experience and the information available to the decision-maker.

Terms used in Rational Planning Model

  • Goals – Goals are broad statements that we intend to achieve. They are quite general and abstract.
  • Objectives – Objectives are more specific, measurable and clear as they help to progress towards the goals. They are the means to actually fulfil the goals.
  • Targets – they are further specific and specify the time against which the actions need to be completed.
  • Data – Data is raw, unorganized facts that need to be processed.
  • Information – When data is processed, organized, structured or presented in a given context so as to make it useful, it is called Information.
  • Model – A model is simply a schematic but precise description of the system using assumptions, which appears to fit its past behaviour and which can, therefore, be used, it is hoped, to predict the future
  • Projections – Projections are usually carried out based on a number of alternative assumptions based on trends of growth and other linked factors like future policy of the government, attitude of people etc. They refer to the probable value of data in future.
  • Estimate – Estimate refers to the past date. For example, suppose we wish to have population of India for 2009 today, which is not available, so we have to estimate it based on some previous available data of other years.
  • Forecast – Forecast has an element of prediction into the near future using current data and sophisticated instruments. For instance, forecasting the weather in the next 24 hours.

Stages of Rational Planning Model


What makes Rational Planning Model successful?

Ration planning model is considered to be most practical and apt for the needs of the planning process. Its based on the scientific reasoning which takes into account the use of modern technology and increased data collection. The data collected helps in establishing the rationale and thus helps in making a claim. Another characteristic is the preparation of alternative and than choosing best among the alternatives. Moreover as the process completes the last step for the first time addressed the problem of rigidity. Planning processes is often criticized for being too rigid. The feedback and monitoring provides the much needed flexibility in the whole process so that timely modifications can be made to the plan.

Read about: Advocacy Planning Concept,  Political Economy Model, Collaborative Planning Theory