Rational planning

The Planner
The Planner

Comprehensive rational planning

Comprehensive rational (synoptic) planning was for a long time the predominant planning model (Mitchell 2002).

It is based on instrumental rationality when analysing and making decisions (goal-rational) (Larsen 2003).

Central assumptions     

  • There is always a right or wrong way of management, problem solving or development. In a positivistic view this model assumes that it is possible to find this best way, the best solution to all planning issues (Fainstein and Fainstein 1996; Larsen 2003).
  • The environment is controllable by using scientific knowledge and modern technologies (belief in progress) (Fainstein and Fainstein 1996).
  • There is a common public interest (Fainstain and Fainstein 1996).
  • Change has to be engineered from the top (Fainstein and Fainstein 1996).

Assumptions and role of the planner

  • The planner is considered as a ‘homo economicus’. If he has collected and analysed all necessary data his scientific knowledge and experience enables him to
  • identify the common public interest;
  • identify all solution options;
  • evaluate them against specific criteria (especially economic ones) and thus
  • choose the best solution to all planning issues (benefit maximiser) (Fainstein and Fainstein 1996; Larsen 2003; Mitchell 2002
  • Thus, the planner is considered to be the expert capable to cope with the complexity of the world by using special techniques and technology to solve the relevant problems.

Role of the population

  • There is virtually no role designated for the people affected by planning (Kinyashi 2000).

Planning process

Planning is carried out in a centralistic way. The planning process consists of six successive steps (compare figure). These steps are connected by feedback loops. They create the possibility to incorporate changes into planning as a result of new information or experiences (Mitchell 2002). Several modelling and analysing techniques are used, especially quantitative analyses (Larsen 2003; Mitchell 2002).

Thus, planning is considered as a scientific-technical process without any involvement of the public (Kinyashi 2000).


  • undesirable ethical effects (planning as an objective activity without participation of the population on whom objectives and measures are imposed top-down cannot be considered ethically correct) (Fainstain and Fainstain 1996; Stone and McCarthy 2000);
  • undesirable environmental effects or no successful results (as local knowledge and practices are not incorporated in planning and management, the measures are not adapted to the specific conditions, the population does not support the measures ordered from the top, and no inter-jurisdictional cooperation is intended in this planning model) (Bunch 2000; FAO 2003; Pretty and Shah 1997; Stone and McCarthy 2000);
  • doubts on objectivity and rationality (data are not always available and difficult to analyse, nor are the attributes of the planner always made known) (Mitchell 2002);

In reaction to the critics, many alternative planning models were developed, for example transactive planning that is explained next (Mitchell 2002).