Global Planning Aid

Global Planning Aid: training barefoot planners

It was at the end of our Jakarta Congress last year that the idea for training barefoot planners was conceptualized. Sinking and traffic-jammed Jakarta made painfully clear that properly trained planners and civil servant at planning departments are entirely outnumbered by the scale and magnitude of the planning challenges ahead. Mobilizing the most talented among them to design a smart new capital city 1000km away might further aggravate Jakarta’s urban crisis.

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Global Planning Aid is ISOCARPs answer to the ‘Decade of Action’ to make the best of the SDGs by 2030. It aspires to mobilize educated planners to train millions of community workers as ‘barefoot planners’. This is meant as a term to take pride and empowerment to help communities with a basic training in participatory and incremental urban and territorial planning and Placemaking. Global Planning Aid would mainly provide training to intermediate local/regional NGOs to train grassroots communities. Only this way we can aim for scale.

This simple but ambitious idea was successfully tested on 12 February during a networking event at the 10th World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi. The event was co-organized by ISOCARP and Planning Aid Scotland, one of the pioneers in mobilizing volunteers to increase people’s access and impact on the Scottish planning system. A report of that event including all presentations will be soon available.

What are the next steps? The goal is to launch an operational Global Planning Aid at the 11th WUF in Katowice, Poland. That means that in less than 2 years from now we need to establish a new foundation with a viable business model as charitable organization funded by development and philanthropic partners. It means that we start developing online tools and training packages built up and improved in dialogue with training pilots, by mobilizing our collective human resources of trained planners and volunteers. During the GPA event in Abu Dhabi, Ms Lowe, the first female mayor of Banjul/Gambia already appealed for GPA to help the local communities plan for themselves, as there is not even a formal planning department to do so. Soon, ISOCARP will call upon members to join a GPA Taskforce and crowdfund a first barefoot planning training pilot in Banjul. Impatient members are most welcome to express interest by mailing to

Why Global Planning Aid?

Knowledge is power, but knowledge about how to design, plan and implement urban and rural development is in short supply. Globally the built environment professionals are concentrated in the richer countries. Within countries, expertise is typically based in the capitals or large cities, but thinly spread – if present at all – in small and medium-sized towns and peripheral regions.

“Planning skills need to be made more widely available, socially and spatially.” 

– Leading Change: Delivering the New Urban Agenda through Urban and Territorial Planning (2018).

Education to a professional level in planning and design is expensive, usually requiring study for a Master’s degree. Effectively poor and marginalised people are excluded, yet they are on the “front line” in creating and adapting the places where they live and work. SDG 11 cannot be delivered without themGlobal Planning Aid is about empowering people disadvantaged or ignored by conventional planning and design. This can be done by connecting volunteer professionals to those for whom that expertise can make a difference.

Developing the capacities of people and groups who lack formal planning education but have local knowledge and understanding of needs to become ‘barefoot planners’ is at the core of Global Planning Aid. Where possible this will be done in cooperation with local governments and other local stakeholders. However, we believe that training for barefoot-planners can also be organized remotely, using online courses and tools (apps) and mentoring. The need is most acute in rapidly urbanizing countries and small island developing states, but exists also in the “Global North”, e.g., in deindustrialised towns or amongst a diverse range of marginalised groups.

“Urban professionals are the key actors to support both decision-makers and civil society to build the essential frameworks and make large cities affordable, inclusive, resilient, sustainable and safe.” 

Jakarta Declaration, ISOCARP’s 55th World Planning Congress 2019.

Can it be done?

ISOCARP and PAS are already doing work of this type. In proposing Global Planning Aid, and inviting others to get behind the project, they intend to scale up their efforts and effectiveness. ISOCARP and PAS, together with other planning partners, can help to unlock the enormous potential we need to deliver sustainable urban and territorial development.

ISOCARP is an international non-governmental and non-profit member-organisation, with 700+ members across 85 countries.  PAS is Scotland’s leading place and active citizenship charity. It is a social enterprise with a large professional office that trains, manages, and supports 400+ unpaid volunteer professionals, connecting them with requests for their assistance.

PAS’ volunteers support individuals, community groups, local politicians and public bodies, including seldom-heard groups who often cannot readily engage in the planning system, e.g. young people, island dwellers, and gypsy travelers. PAS’ support empowers communities to make their own plans and have their say on the development of their places and built resilience. PAS has already developed the use of app for young people and online training.

ISOCARP creates Urban Planning Advisory Teams (UPATs), typically a mix of senior and junior planning experts, for 3 to 5-day workshops or charrettes, responding to an invitation from a host organisation. They deliver innovative approaches, policy proposals and or a plan or design for the focus area, accompanied by a report or magazine. Young Planning Professional (YPP) workshops typically follow the same creative rapid planning approach. Lessons are shared at ISOCARP’s yearly World Planning Congress. However, as the hosts have to meet costs, this planning service is only affordable for relatively well resourced or sponsored clients. Hence, many communities in need for planning assistance – e.g. in their struggle to be more climate or culture resilient – currently are not reached.

So there are hurdles but we have the building blocks: the vision in the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda, plus the expertise of PAS in mobilising volunteers, ensuring their skills and attitudes are appropriate, and connecting them to those who can benefit from their know-how, plus the international reach and experience of ISOCARP.

A Plan for the next 2 years 

Between WUF 10 and WUF 11, we pledge to work together to turn these ideas into a reality, and report on progress in 2022.  We will:

  • Provide office support to promote, develop and test Global Planning Aid, including recruitment of volunteers and identification of needs.
  • Invite partners and sponsors to commit to Global Planning Aid.
  • Create a Q&A ‘desk’ support on one or two topics (e.g. Safer and more liveable streets) through which expert volunteers can formulate generic capacity-development advice in writing, over the phone or through web-applications.
  • Promote the Place Standard, a simple-to-use tool that focuses discussion and action on the relation between place, wellbeing and health.
  • Actively explore possible sources of funding, including crowdfunding.
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