Investigating the local plan - from visual confusion to clear communication

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Lisa Svenstrup Nielsen
  • Anna Fajstrup Graversen
This master's thesis deals with visualizations in local plans and investigates the problems that occur, when local planning is to be communicated from the experienced planner to the unpractised stakeholders, and how these problems challenge the main functions of the local plan and its democratic aspects.

Visualizations are used to create clear communication of the messages in the local plans, but sometimes they do the opposite. They can cause confusion and lead to mistaken expectations in citizens and politicians. In the worst-case scenario, citizens and politicians feel deceived and feel that their democratic voice has been misled by confusing visualizations. This is the starting point for this thesis and its problem analysis based on the question: \textit{Which problems arise with using visualizations in local plans?}. This leads to an investigation of which functions the local plan needs to fulfill and ends with establishing five functions: Regulation of areas, Implementation of politics, balancing of interests, inspiration, and inclusion of stakeholders. With these functions in mind, the project looks closer at the use of visualizations in local plans. It compiles a list of 13 types of visualization and through a questionnaire examines the use of these types in 56 different municipalities. It becomes clear, that it is especially the inspiring visualizations, that cause problems, and that the use of visualizations and the reflections on it are very different throughout the municipalities. This leads to an investigation of three examples of real-life problems, that are caused by visualizations. At the end of the problem analysis it is concluded, that there are many different problems, that can arise doe to visualizations i local plans, but that these problems also point to a sixth function: The local plan as a medium.

Based on the problemanalysis, the primary problem statement is formed: \textit{How can an improvement of the function as a medium, strengthen the rest of the functions of the local plan, the understanding of the plan, and its visualizations?} The first step, is a closer look at the local plan as a medium, where theory of communication is used as a basis of build a communication model of the local plan. The model shows that the medium is a complex function, with many different messages and recipients. The many messages can cause noise, which makes it harder to comprehend.

Based on the communication model, the misunderstandings of the plan and it's visualizations can be examined. This is done through a questionaire directed at ordinary citizens, which asks them about their knowledge of local planning and their interpretation of different visualizations. It becomes evident, that the ordinary citizen has little to no knowledge of local plans, and that visualizations can be interpreted differently by each individual. When the ordinary citizen tries to understand the visualizations without an understanding of the context, or with a wrong understanding of it, this can cause issues. This can lead to wrong decodings of the local plan and its visualizations, which lead to misunderstandings.

Based on the new knowledge on the medium and misunderstandings, it is possible to try to improve the problems, by clarifying the messages and accommodate the ordinary citizen. The improvements are presented and evaluated at three levels: Strategic, format, and visualizations. The improvements are e.g. internal guidelines, supplementary training in communication, to limit the use of professional words, to separate and clarify the different functions and messages, and to try and consider the perspective, level of detail, and colors of each different visualization to make sure, that they convey the correct message with the least amount of noise. In the final conclusion, it is determined that although not all of these improvements may be realistic in every planning department or for every local plan, there is an opportunity in most situations to create a greater focus on the final recipients and on separating the many messages of the local plan.
Publication date4 Jun 2021
Number of pages108
ID: 413688792