Triple Access Planning

Scenarios and uncertain futures for accessibility in urban and regional planning – The practitioners’ reflections

By Jonas Bylund, Marcus Adolphson, Tony Svensson, and Jacob Witzell, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

While the TAP project departure assumption point that integrated accessibility regarding land use, digitalisation, and mobility is a complex issue for planning practitioners, the Swedish planning practitioners in Norrköping seemed to relish the opportunity to explore and reflect upon accessibility and uncertainty in different scenarios for future development. 

During 2022–2023 a series of workshops was held with urban and regional planners in the City of Norrköping (and the Östragötaland Region) on how to utilize scenarios among cross-sectoral planners (i.e. transport and strategic comprehensive oriented planning officers) for the municipal planning process to integrate accessibility (in the full sense). The series of workshops were the operative side of what we may now perhaps call the shadow planning policy lab in Norrköping. Similar to a living lab but still slightly more ‘sandboxed’: live planning issues and concerns were used and put through the scenario development ‘machine’. Yet the formal decision-making apparatus was kept outside the exercise. A key aspect of testing the approach in a policy-lab setting was the possibility to think beyond established norms and ‘realities’ in the everyday planning context, and hence to scope what may be required for Triple Access Planning (TAP) to find traction. 

The plan for the exercise, co-designed from the outset with the Norrköping urban and regional planners, was to first identify TAP variables and sources of uncertainty. Then to explore these variables by developing four scenarios along a cross of degrees of resource availability on the Y-axis and degrees of transport efficiency on the X-axis. Following this a stress-testing and assessment of Norrköping transport and comprehensive plans and policy by using the scenarios. A normative phase to develop adaptive strategies and measures drawing on the previous work and then finally inquiries into how these strategies and measures can be implemented. (See also the earlier blog post commenting halfway through the series.)

As we now finished the sixth and final workshop and have had many thought-provoking exchanges exploring scenario paths into various futures, we reflected a bit together with the participating planning practitioners in the City of Norrköping on how the approach was experienced. 

Planners’ reflections in the shadow planning policy lab

The following three is a selection of experiences made and reflected upon by the planners in the workshop series.

On the scenario development

Throughout the workshops we created four scenarios along the X- and Y-axis cross described above which resulted in, on the one extreme, one scenario trajectory experienced as closer to current business-as-usual and a minimum intervention. On the other extreme, a scenario trajectory in which the planners found much resonance with visions set forward in current comprehensive planning and transport strategy.

Comments along the way were that the stress-test approach starting with one variable made it easier to get into the systemic thinking in the scenarios and checking correspondence and conflicts between variables. It made it easier to see how they all hang together vis-a-vis current planning proposals and strategies as well as politics and civil society points of view. That this is valuable to comprehensive planning in the future. Otherwise, the planners find it time-consuming to ‘get into’ the scenarios and for the approach, scenario methods, to be a useful tool in the everyday planning practice one would need a couple of more workshops to become ‘fluent’ – not least since the planners also would have to, if they were to use the approach in the planning practice, be able to popularize scenarios on the spot for politicians and the layperson public. 

On thinking about uncertainty

In one of the coffee-breaks during a workshop dealing with scenario variables’ stress-testing, the planners shared a sentiment that the big uncertainty for any proposed strategy to be implemented (or made into policy) is usually local politics – regardless of what scenario might be desired. There are turns, focus on particulars, lack of systemic insight, populism and negotiations which influences the carrying-through of any policy. 

The barrier or challenge seems, to a larger degree, to be one we might call ‘institutional uncertainty’ for now. That is, the common issue when considering how to implement policy is that shifting (democratically and legitimate) political values and policy directions may thwart action and impact. 

However, beyond that uncertainty there are also issues around what indicators and measures to use to build robust evidence and input into explorative scenarios and plan development. There is of course more to the issue of institutional uncertainty, but its connection to public administrative capacity for accessibility planning and urban and regional sustainable transformations seems clear. In this, institutional capacities seem to be a constant issue. 

On getting back to ‘reality’

So what did we, planners and researchers, learn in the shadow planning policy lab? We learnt that the use of scenarios – even in a ‘sandboxed’ policy lab – is a matter of timing. As one planner said in one of the latter workshops: ‘-If the transport strategy development was initiated now, we would have used scenario methods for sure!’

However, planners reflect upon that developing strategies around for instance private car use, while it is important to share and show consequences of different uses it is in the translation from strategy to measure conflicts usually turn up. That is, it is not enough to simply disseminate information. 

Related to this, and not surprisingly, by reflecting on the scenarios and how urban and transport planning practice is done today, we reflect on the need to align and shape joint priorities across sectoral boundaries. On the one hand, to shape a common capacity to analyze and value knowledge, data, etc. But also to be able to create longer-term perspectives to be able to assess various measures made – since the scenarios show a discrepancy between what the municipal strategic goals are and what we actually create budget lines for. 

A way forward?

Overall, accessibility – and uncertainty – are not strangers to local government urban and regional as well as transport planners. At least not in the City of Norrköping and Östragötaland Region. They understand and play around with the issues, they are quite analytical and reflexive. However, the planners, looking at capacity and resources, do not have much time on their hands. So, how can this policy lab be motivated? 

For one thing, the scenario approach can now be seen as an option in developing land-use and transport plans. It seems useful for at least a part of shifting mindsets, if one heeds Meadows’ idea that the most effective approach to achieve systemic transformations is changing the outlook and world-view rather than merely or putting all trust in tinkering with economy and engineering. 

Triple Access Planning

A TAP lab with planning practice – the case of Norrköping

Jonas Bylund, Tony Svensson and Jacob Witzell, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

In the Swedish part of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures Project explores ways to inject triple access planning (TAP) into urban and regional (transport and comprehensive) planning by way of co-creative scenario development workshops with planning practitioners.

The Swedish set of workshops turns out to be an experiment in its own right. It is experimental since it makes us of an approach similar to a living lab co-design action to investigate how explorative and normative scenario development can be used to integrate TAP principles. The assumption – or the test! – is that TAP to support Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning (SUMP) and uncertainty considerations therein can be integrated in planning practice by way of a shadow-planning practice where researchers and civil servants in (relevant) public administrations work together to develop the scenarios and the approach.

Shadow planning in this case means we are using real plans and strategies in a sandbox environment. In effect, then, we are using the shadow planning exercise as a living lab where the substantial content and active ingredients – i.e. problems, issues, concerns, trajectories, considerations, questions and reflections on what are realistic developments, what makes sense, what strains the imagination, what are causes and what are effects, what are macro and what are local variables, etc. – are mainly developed by the local expert-practitioners and problem-owners.

For instance, factors such as climate change, national policy, municipal remits, technological developments, and so on are open at the outset and collectively determined and relatively stabilized during the run of the successive workshops. It is hence genuinely challenge-driven in a transdisciplinary approach with an aim towards capacity building (cf. Bylund et al. 2022; JPI Urban Europe).

The lab setting

During autumn 2022 the work commenced with the City of Norrköping planners from comprehensive-strategic and transport divisions as well as a strategic transport planner from the Region Östergötland (regional authorities in the Swedish public administrative system are responsible for e.g. public transport as well as the coordination of public health services).

What we now call The Norrköping Scenarios has been developed in the series of workshops under the banner of explorative scenarios where uncertain and external future development factors are taken into account. The workshop exercises relied heavily on co-design of scenario content and joint reflections based on the results produced from the exercises. Even the process plan for the workshops itself was co-designed with the municipal officials.

We used a double-diamond approach (tweaked from the Design Council) to plan the workshops (see Figure 1) in order to, in the first phase explore and open up possible future lines and landscapes, then prune it down to a set of scenarios to be used for normative reflection and strategic lessons in the second phase.

Figure 1: The double-diamond approach to scenario development using the Design Council template, source: KTH TAP Project; Design Council 2005/2019.

The opening up phase during autumn of 2022 was particularly aimed at shaking loose presupposed or taken-for-granted lines of imagining possible near- and longer-term futures. In order for the scenario development to afford as much of the actors’ realism as possible while at the same time provoking or teasing out un-foreseen developments or impacts.

The scenarios are primed to grasp and highlight factors and variables, events and processes for the development of TAS in the municipality, including urban, peri-urban and rural areas, until/at 2045 with the overarching question ‘How will accessibility develop in Norrköping?’

The explorative scenarios, then, were developed using a scenario cross as a tool to capture and articulate contrasting scenes: the vertical axis in the cross notes degree of resources availability – scarcity at the top and abundance at the bottom; the horizontal axis moves from the left-hand side with a high degree of technological innovation with status-quo/retained everyday lifestyles (i.e. ecological modernization) and a small interest for planning control, to the right hand side with ahigh degree of transport efficient and sustainable structures and lifestyles and an overall big interest in planning control (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The four scenario macro-conditions, in Swedish, source: KTH TAP Project.

The choice of these two main dimensions in the scenario cross was made after an initial mapping of external ‘macro-variables’ and variables that concern aspects of the triple access system, and an estimation of the level of uncertainty and local importance for each variable. The degree of resource availability and degree of technological innovation were deemed as the variables most uncertain and the most important regarding their local influence.

On towards normative scenarios

Now, early 2023, we are closing down the first diamond. So far, three half-day workshops has been organized with participants form Norrköping municipality´s planning office and one representative from the Regional Administration (see Figure 3). Together we have developed and elaborated the four scenarios based on the produced results from the three first workshops. We are at the moment teasing out their accessibility characteristics.

Figure 3: Planners exploring TAP in scenario development, photo: Jonas Bylund.

Two more explorative workshops are planned to develop the resulting four explorative scenarios. At the these workshops we plan to first work with causal relationships between factors in each quadrant of the scenario cross (a kind of simplified CLD-exercise focusing on one causal chain at a time, rather than the whole system) to help participants identify synergies and other relationships between variables, under the specific circumstances for each scenario.

At the last of the explorative  workshops, qualitative narratives for each scenario will be drafted. After which, in the spring 2023, we will workshop how the scenarios are useful to stress-test the current SUM and comprehensive planning strategies and visions.