SCARP’s Vision In Words & Keeping Our Word

Hi Everyone,

We are all familiar with the words used in the written statements of SCARP’s Mission and Vision and their sustainability focus.

SCARP’s Mission
To advance the transition to sustainability through excellence in integrated policy and planning research, professional education and community service.

SCARP’s Vision
Sustainability Through The Democratization of Planning

However, almost totally un-acknowledged and indeed forgotten are two long-existing statements that elaborate the meaning and implications of these Mission and Vision statements in highly significant ways.

It is important to note that these two supplementary statements have been positioned to play key roles in explaining the School’s program in the accreditation reviews of the US Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) and the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) in both 2004 and 2009. And to speak to all the School’s audiences, variations on them have been posted on the School’s web site.

Five Critical Challenges

The first statement, largely unchanged from the way in which Bill drafted it almost 20 years ago, is prominently located on the SCARP web site today and elaborates the statements of its sustainability focused Mission and Vision in terms of how the School’s program is shaped by five critical challenges confronting both students and practitioners of our profession.

Distinctive Emphases: Integration, Diversity and Learning-By-Doing

The second statement was initially prepared for the 2004 accreditation reviews. It further elaborated on the School’s sustainability focused program by detailing three distinctive emphases: Integration, Diversity and Learning-By-Doing. These distinctions were repeated in the materials submitted to the accreditation reviews in 2009 and in advertising for the new Director when I stepped down in 2006 and again when Leonie stepped down in 2008 (e.g. see Distinctive Emphases on pages 6-7 of ┬áSCARP Director Search 2006)

What Should Be Changed?

As we think about refreshing the wording of SCARP’s Vision and Mission statements we first need to acknowledge these other two long-existing statements that elaborate on their meaning and implications. We need to ask what specifically needs to be changed in the ideas in each of them and why.

Taken together the four statements include most of the items on Michael Gordon’s list of points that he urged us to think about in his email to the School listserv (26.9.11) and in turn Nathan Edelson and Leonie Sandercock said they found his list useful. Therefore, if we assume for a moment that the sustainability focus is retained, we need to ask what else we would add and how so as to have appropriate statements of Vision and Mission expressed concisely and elaborated in relatively brief ways that are readily communicated and understood with minimal ambiguity. The elaboration on the Vision and Mission statements is critical to their understanding in use.

But more fundamentally we need to ask why we have these statements and choose to conveniently forget about them most of the time, only pulling them out when we require arguments and text for justifying our existence or seeking accreditation or getting funding. This leads me to ask to what extent it is the sustainability focus specifically that is no longer attractive and powerful. And to the extent it is, what should the focus be changed to and what are the key words and how should they be elaborated?

My View

Personally, I see more to be gained at this tumultuous time for the School by refreshing the sustainability focus than jumping to some other concept or wording. My three main reasons are:

(i) I fear much might be lost by the School in abandoning the sustainability focus at a time when UBC and many others around the world have taken it up extensively, no matter how much the word and its use are problematic;

(ii) I don’t see alternative big ideas that obviously offer more potential than refining the sustainability focus and those that have been suggested suffer from similar challenges of ambiguous meaning and implications; and

(iii) I suspect the challenge is much more to do with getting buy-in and commitment to ensuring the focus is put into practice vigorously on a consistent and continuing basis, no matter how it is worded.

I will expand on these three reasons in another message shortly.


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