Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Planning Practice & Research

For a Special Issue on

Urban planning and local democracy in the age of consultocracy

Abstract deadline
29 February 2024

Manuscript deadline
30 June 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Stefanie Dühr, University of South Australia
[email protected]

Magdalena Belof, Wroclaw University of Science and Technology
[email protected]

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Urban planning and local democracy in the age of consultocracy

As other areas of public management and services, urban and regional planning has in recent decades increasingly been affected by privatisation processes. The (perceived) need for fast political decision-making in times of global crises has prompted politicians to often seek external knowledge to inform policy responses. Public sector capacity for urban and regional planning has been declining through successive processes of public sector reform and deregulation, resulting in an increasing reliance on the input of private sector actors.

Planning tasks that previously were undertaken by public servants are now done by consultants in many countries, regions and cities. Aside from the increasing involvement of consultants in the political side of planning (in relation to policy formulation, strategy and local plan-making, or development assessment processes), outsourcing of government functions in relation to more ‘technical’ planning tasks (such as spatial analysis, map-making, or community-engagement) is also wide-spread.

Public sector budget cuts and the outsourcing of government functions have further contributed to reducing the capacity of public planning authorities, arguably influencing the scope and depth of substantive planning knowledge now present in planning departments as the role of government planners becomes increasingly limited to acting as professional strategists, managers, or process planners. In parallel, the role of consultants has become broader, more diverse, and more integral to all aspects of planning as they now function as advocates, advisors, scrutineers or also mediators.  Moreover, in terms of local democracy, the commercialisation of urban planning as resulting in consultants to work with elected officials instead of government planners has been criticised as considerably reducing the possibility for public or community input into urban and planning processes.

Planning consultants have for many years acted for private developers, yet the wider implications of this shift towards the privatisation of planning for local democracy and urban governance remain under researched. Several studies over the past decades have analysed the privatisation of planning practice and the use of consultants in the public sector, but the overall picture of the changes to contemporary planning practices and democratic governance through an increasing reliance on consultants remains fragmented.

Given that in many contexts local planning practice is now increasingly defined by public-private interactions, this is an opportune moment to reflect on rise of ‘consultocracy’ in urban planning and the implications of the increasing reliance on private sector actors in planning processes for democratic local steering and urban governance arrangements. ‘Consultocracy’ has been defined as a process ‘whereby non-elected consultants are replacing political debate conducted by publicly accountable politicians’ (Craig and Brooks 2006). There is a need to better understand how private knowledge is becoming placed ‘deep into the heart of how societies are ruled and governed’ (Ylönen and Kuusela 2019: 242) and how this affects urban policy processes, governance arrangements and planning outcomes.

Submission Instructions

For this theme issue, we welcome original research papers and practice review papers (according to the journal's guidelines) from the international planning community on exploring issues related to consultocracy in urban planning more broadly and in conceptual terms, as well as more detailed analyses of specific aspects of urban planning, the changes roles of planning actors and the influence of private actor knowledge on local politics in different geographical and institutional settings. You are welcome to discuss your ideas for a contribution with one of the theme issue editors before submitting an abstract. A special session on this topic is planned for one of the forthcoming planning conferences in Europe in I/2024. More details will be announced in due course, to encourage contributors to the theme issues to also attend the conference track discussions.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article