What is it about?

This paper quantifies urban planners' usage of survey data, both self collected and from secondary sources, and then explores the extent to which planners design and administer surveys with an awareness of cognitive bias. I find that the majority of planners collect survey data at least annually yet have little awareness of cognitive bias and measurement error. When shown examples of problematic survey questions relating to hypothetical urban contexts which were vulnerable to social desirability bias, response order effects, question order effects or acquiescence bias, planners often could not identify any problems with these questions. On occasions where they could identify problems, they had little knowledge as to how these effects could be mitigated, suggesting that more training on such issues within planning curricula would be welcome.

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Why is it important?

Previous work has largely only inferred about planner's use of survey data because 'survey data collection' has previously been placed within broader categories such as 'quantitative methods' or 'data collection'. This work examines how planners use survey methods specifically, and identifies areas of strength and weakness that can be improved through planning school curricula.


Many articles have previously examined whether planning curricula is adequately preparing planners for the skills they need in practice. I find in this research that planners use survey methods and survey data more broadly on a regular basis but are adhering to outdated methodological practices in that they only consider survey limitations as some form of sampling error and have little awareness or knowledge regarding how cognitive biases can be mitigated when designing surveys. This could be addressed by planning educators expanding current methods courses to ensure that survey methods are not an optional component, and that broader limitations such as cognitive biases are covered.

Dr Meadhbh Maguire
McGill University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Survey Methods: How Planning Practitioners Use Them, and the Implications for Planning Education, Journal of Planning Education and Research, September 2021, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0739456x211043272.
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