CPT872: Researching Spatial Planning

School Cardiff School of Geography and Planning
Department Code GEOPL
Module Code CPT872
External Subject Code X210
Number of Credits 20
Level L7
Language of Delivery English
Module Leader Dr Francesca Sartorio
Semester Spring Semester
Academic Year 2017/8

How the module will be assessed

Research proposal

100% Contribution

Research proposal, including discussion of research design and methodology and ethical statement;  literature review;

4,000 words


How the module will be delivered

Part ‘A’ will be delivered by lectures.

Part ‘B’ will be delivered by inter-active lectures and reading workshops based on case studies.

Outline Description of Module

The module is organised in two parts.  Part A provides a generic introduction to and an overview of social science research methods for planning.  Part B provides skills and contexts in subject-specific epistemological paradigms, methodologies and methods.


Part B is course specific and students will learn how to define research aims and objectives, design research strategies and select methods, and understand how the disciplinary, policy and political context of spatial planning issues affects the research we do. It is designed to meet the needs of a number of audiences:

  1. For those that have taken an undergraduate social research methods course, it provides an opportunity to develop depth and precision in the choice, application and understanding of appropriate methods.
  2. For those that have not already taken such a course, it offers an introduction to the skills and components of research design

Students will relate the above to spatial planning issues, and to researching spatial planning practice.

Together parts A and B of this module give students a robust post-graduate-level understanding of the tasks involved in undertaking pure and applied social science research into and for spatial planning.

On completion of the module a student should be able to

Part A – in respect to research in general

  1. critically assess alternative approaches to social research and to recognise their strengths and weaknesses;
  2. examine the empirical content and relations of ideas introduced in other modules;
  3. identify suitable methodological approaches for a given research question;
  4. understand the epistemological principles (theories of knowledge) that govern the activities of social research;
  5. critically examine different strategies of data presentation and analysis;
  6. develop a dissertation project and conceptualise and plan the research process and its component steps:
  7. apply skills in selected methods relevant to a postgraduate dissertation.

Part B – in relation to spatial planning

  1. critically assess research approaches and methodologies in debates relevant to research into and within spatial planning;
  2. examine the significance of contrasting approaches to knowledge production in research into and within spatial planning;
  3. reflect on the role of social and institutional contexts for the research process in research into and within spatial planning;
  4. identify and evaluate different sources of evidence in research into and within spatial planning;
  5. identify, reflect upon and discuss major ethical issues relating to research into and within spatial planning;
  6. understand the inter-relationships of (1) – (5) as exemplified by the role of research in framing and addressing a major contemporary planning challenge

Skills that will be practised and developed

Whilst studying this module, students will practise and develop a number of skills.  Students will learn to identify the relative merits of contrasting epistemological and methodological perspectives on the research process.  They will learn when and how to use different research methods.  They will develop skills in ideas generation and in the identification of a researchable topic.  Students will also develop skills in writing research proposals and undertaking literature reviews.  Whilst not actually carrying out independent research in this module, students will be given the necessary skills to design and implement a piece of research on their own. 

Assessment Breakdown

Type % Title Duration(hrs) Period Week
Written Assessment 100 Research Proposal N/A 1 N/A

Essential Reading and Resource List

For Part A:

Bryman, A. (2012) Social Research Methods (4e) Oxford OUP.

Hennick, M (2011) Qualitative Research Methods.  London.  Sage.

May, T. (2011) Social Research: Issues, methods and process (4e).  Maidenhead.  OUP.

Silverman, D. (2010) Doing qualitative research: a practical handbook (3e).  London.  Sage.

Singh, K. (2007) Quantitative Social Research Methods, Thousand Oaks, Sage.


For Part B

Hillier, J and Healey, P eds 2010 The Ashgate Research Companion to Planning Theory   Farnham, Ashgate

Lo Piccolo, F and Thomas, H eds  2009  Ethics and Planning Research  Farnham, Ashgate

Sandercock., L and Attili, G 2010  Digital Ethnography as Planning Praxis: An Experiment with Film as Social Research, Community Engagement and Policy Dialogue  Planning Theory and Practice  11(1), 23 – 45

Silva, E et al (eds) (2015) The Routledge Handbook of Planning Research Methods London, Routledge

Straatemeier T, Bertolini L, te Brömmelstroet M, Hoetjes P, 2010, An experiential approach to research in planning  Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 37(4) 578 – 591

Background Reading and Resource List



Syllabus content

Part A of the module will begin by introducing students to the epistemological bases of social science research for “planning” (in its widest sense) and, after C Wright Mills, introduce the “planning imagination”.  This part of the module will then go on to outline the dominant research traditions in the social sciences and explain how these are intimately linked to choices made at each stage of the research process.  The connections between epistemology, methodology and method are established here.  The logic of enquiry for undertaking effective research is then explained along with an introduction to using quantitative methods, qualitative methods, mixed methods, case studies, secondary, documentary and archive research, visual research methods and field observation/ethnography.  This part of the module concludes with discussions on data analysis and presentation,

Part B offers a tailored suite of classes designed to explore research issues especially relevant to spatial planning debates. Indicative titles are :

  • The purposes and ethics of researching spatial planning
  • Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods approaches in research practice
  • Researching planning policy and practice : (i)  policy analysis; (ii) ethnography
  • The institutional context for researching planning : funding and commissioning; relationship to policy

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