Collaborative Planning

June 19, 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
September 26, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
January 27, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
September 7, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
September 6, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
August 1, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
June 25, 2018 Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team
February 3, 2017 Tyler Carlson
May 16, 2016 Tyler Carlson

Collaborative planning is a participatory approach to design. From governance systems to architectural drafts, collaborative planning seeks to include as many stakeholders as possible. Numerous facilitation techniques are used to encourage consensus and cooperation.

Problems and Purpose

According to scholars Thomas Gunton and J.C. Day, collaborative planning is a “civics-based model of planning that delegates responsibility for preparing plans directly to affected stakeholders.”[1] Also known as ‘shared decision-making’ or ‘communicative planning’, this approach focuses on the use of collaborative, consensus-based practices in designing everything from governance systems, to environmental regulation, to physical infrastructure and community sustainability.[2]  

Origins and Development

In their paper “The theory and practice of collaborative planning in resource and environmental management”, Day and Gunton refer to collaborative planning as a “recent approach to public participation,” yet its emergence can be traced back to the 1960s. Seen for decades as the field of technocrats and ‘experts’, planning underwent significant change as policies increasingly came under critique and debate by a diverse range of state and non-state actors. In response, planners opened the process to multiple stakeholders and allowed for the democratic determination of guiding goals and values. The increased focus on participation led to a corollary development and integration of engagement methods such as workshops, advisory committees, and public hearings.[3]  

According to Patsy Healy, the collaborative approach “offer[ed] a way forward in the design of governance processes for a shared-power world.”[4] The adoption of collaborative planning has become widespread and is the preferred planning model for various public works in the United States, Canada, and Australia.[5]  

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The kind of recruitment or selection mechanism chosen will depend on several factors including existing policy or governance frameworks, the structure of the process, and the scope of the planning project.  

Policy and Governance Frameworks 

Policy frameworks which mandate and/or guide the use of collaborative planning are common in places like the United States, Canada, and Australia. Typically, these policies systematize and/or institutionalized a government department or public agency’s use of collaborative planning in various scenarios. For example, all Canadian Government departments and agencies “ha[ve] a duty to consult, and where appropriate, accommodate Aboriginal groups when it considers conduct that might adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights.”[6] The mandating policy often provides frameworks or guidelines for the process of collaborative planning. It is important to note that the guidelines may be drawn up or ‘planned’ without significant public participation - instead involving politicians, bureaucrats, and experts - but, once in place, they help ensure citizens and stakeholders are included in future planning decisions. For example, the Duty to Consult has been established through several Supreme Court decisions but it is the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs that guide or inform the resulting process of consultation and, where appropriate, collaboration.[7] There are, of course, exceptions to this. The policy framework which mandates and guides the collaborative planning of land use on Haida Gwaii off the West Coast of British Columbia was itself planned using a collaborative process.[8] In other cases, an Open Standards model may be used.[9]

Process Design 

Another factor influencing the choice of participant selection or recruitment method is the design of the collaborative planning process. Policies which mandate the use of collaboration - such as the Duty to Consult in Canada - may contain provisions or instructions for how to proceed. The number and type of parties and individuals involved in each stage of the planning may, therefore, vary. For example, the public may only need to be included during the initial phase of idea generation while organised stakeholders may need to be included in the higher-level decision making processes. The policy or framework may also specify the need for committees or teams and may provide guidelines on their selection and/or composition. Patsy Healy envisions the planning process as moving from strategy making, to discussions and “inclusionary strategic argumentation”, to the development of ‘policy discourse(s)’ and implementation.[10] Each stage of the process requires an assessment of who to include. The pursuance of the ‘all affected parties principle’ is not always feasible so that, as Healy notes, “it will always be the case that 'those present will outnumber those not present'.” The “inclusionary challenge” facing facilitators and/or participants “is to prevent those 'not present' from being 'absent' from the discussion [by] keep[ing] under explicit review the various ways the members of a political community describe both themselves and the others of significance to them as they engage in discussion, [and] maintain[ing] active respect and appreciation for those members who for one reason or another are ‘not present’.”[11] 

Scope and Scale of Project 

Yet another factor influential to the type of recruitment and selection method used is the scope or scale of the planning project. It is not always the case that the larger the project, the more people involved in its planning - at least in every phase or stage. For example, Haida Gwaii’s collaborative land-use planning framework created two major bodies, the Management Council and the Solutions Table, which manage high-level and operational-level resource decisions, respectively. Each body is “comprised of two representatives selected by the Haida and the Province, and one chair chosen cooperatively by both parties.”[12] 

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

Many collaborative planning initiatives design or make use of formal, procedural frameworks to guide the resolution of complex, multi-stakeholder scenarios. This approach is often applied to planning cases for the purposes of encouraging public participation, and resolving and mediating stakeholder disagreements.  

In the case of environmental or resource management, Day and Gunton highlight the following steps as best practice: 

1. Prenegotiation 

  • Forming a planning team, identifying potential stakeholders, and assessing the conflict and possible resolutions. 
  • Determining stakeholder groups that will participate in the planning process and selecting representatives from each group involved 
  • Establishing formal rules, responsibilities, timelines, and logistics – which may be agreed upon through consultation with stakeholders 
  • Collecting and analyzing information to be presented subsequently at the planning table 

2. Negotiation 

  • Discerning the interests of stakeholders and the range of planning options; creating subgroups to conduct joint fact finding when information is insufficient 
  • Clarifying and “packaging” options and encouraging negotiation through a central, guiding document; delegating more contentious issues to subgroups so that progress at the main stakeholder table is not hindered 
  • Formalizing a binding agreement between all parties and ensuring ratification of the agreement is completed by all organizations represented at the stakeholder table 

3. Postnegotiation 

  • Accomplishing all approvals needed in order to begin implementing the agreement 
  • Evaluating implementation through a monitoring framework that account for changing and evolving conditions after planning is completed 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The most obvious outcome of a collaborative planning effort is a strategy with support from all affected parties. Collaborative planning is pursued precisely for its ability to return the best possible strategy based, as it is, on a diverse knowledge-base. As well, the plans, proposals, strategies (etc.) developed through a collaborative process are also more likely to be accepted and upheld by stakeholders thus minimizing the amount of criticism or disagreement ex-post facto. For example, the British Columbia Public Service Agency maintains that the use of collaborative planning in the case of Child Welfare “often avoids the need for court involvement.”[13] Compounding the acceptance of outcomes is the fact that collaborative planning efforts give agency and voice to stakeholders. Norman Dale, community liaison for the collaborative economic planning of Haida Gwaii, states that, through the process, “the Haida and other communities negotiated the transformation of a primarily top-down and one-time spending version of economic development into a community-controlled model.”[14]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

While the literature notes challenges in evaluating collaborative planning, Day and Gunton (2003) suggest four common criteria to measure its effective use, including:  

  1. The ability to successfully reach agreement
  2. Efficiency in the collaborative process
  3. Stakeholder satisfaction in the planning outcome
  4. Achievement of social capital among stakeholders. 

For her part, Patsy Healy states that, if a systemic (institutional) process of governance is to meet collaborative planning’s “normative commitment to pluralistic participation”: 

  1. It should recognise the range and variety of stakeholders concerned with changes to local and urban region environment, their social networks, the diversity of their cultural points of reference and their systems of meaning, and the complex power relations which may exist within and between them (Part 11). 
  2. It should acknowledge that much of the work of governance occurs outside the formal agencies of government and should seek to spread power from government outside the agencies of the state but without creating new bastions of unequal power (Chapter 7). 
  3. It should open up opportunities for informal invention and for local initiatives. It should enable and facilitate, encouraging diversity in routines and styles of organising, rather than imposing single ordering principles on the dynamics of social and economic life. It should cultivate a 'framing' relation rather than a linear connection between policy principles and the flow of action (Chapter 8). 
  4. It should foster the inclusion of all members of political communities while acknowledging their cultural diversity, and should recognise that this involves complex issues of power relations, ways of thinking and ways of organising (Chapters 2 and 8). 
  5. It should be continually and openly accountable, making available to relevant political communities the arguments, the information, the consideration of stakeholders' concerns, the images and metaphors which lie behind decisions, and should include requirements for critical review and challenge (Chapter 8).[15] 

See Also

From Stream Management to Watershed Governance: The Collaborative Restoration of Vancouver’s Still Creek

Collaborative Design

Haida Gwaii Collaborative Land Use Planning


[1] Thomas Gunton and J.C. Day, “The Theory and Practice of Collaborative Planning in Resource and Environmental Managment,” Environments 21, no.2 (2003): 6, accessed March 22, 2018,

[2] Patsy Healy, Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997).

[3] Thomas Gunton and J.C. Day, “The Theory and Practice of Collaborative Planning in Resource and Environmental Managment,” Environments 21, no.2 (2003): 6, accessed March 22, 2018,

[4] Patsy Healy, Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), 5.

[5] At least in matters of “forest and land use planning, watershed planning, regulatory rule-making, and urban planning” (Gunton and Day, 6).


[7] Ibid.



[10] Patsy Healy, Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), 269-279.

[11] Ibid., 274-275.



[14] Dale, Norman. “Cross-cultural community based planning. negotiating the future of Haida Gwaii.” In The Consensus Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement, edited by Lawrence E. Susskind, Sarah McKearnen, Jennifer Thomas-Lamar, 923-950. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 1999. 

[15] Ed. Lawrence E. Susskind, Sarah McKearnen, Jennifer Thomas-Lamar (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 1999), 923.

[16] Patsy Healy, Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), 288-289.

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