Theory -of- planning is concerned with the process by which decisions are taken. Focus of planning process began in several fields after the Second World War and has involved contributions mainly from the social and economic sciences. Planning can be referred to as a set of methods designed to prepare information in such a way that decisions can be made  more rationally.(Friedmann and Hudson,1974:8 in Marios,1979). Rational comprehensive theory is one of the major streams in planning theory that has since been developed . It is based on a normative model which values higher rationality in the face of multiple organisational and political pressures. (Grant,1985)

Development of Rational Comprehensive(Synoptic) theory can be traced back to Auguste Comte(1798-1857).Comte applied the methods of observation and experimentation to the field of sociology and believed that persistent social problems might be solved by the application of certain hierarchical rules and that with the aid of science of sociology mankind would progress towards a superior state of civilization.(Raine,2005) .These key ideas introduced by Comte were adopted by Max Webber and Talcott Parsons, the main proponents of rational comprehensive theory that gained ground in the 1950s and 1960s.

Max Webber argued that the process of rationalization, once unleashed upon the world, transformed social life forever and for the better and that rationalization led to new practices that were chosen based on their efficiency. (Lippman.S and Aldric.H,2002 )
Parsons believed that all lasting social systems strive for stability with a strong sense of social order and institutional interdependence. His early theorizing on social action, influenced by Weber, focused on active, creative mental processes that have an important subjective component (Ritzer 2000)in Lippmman.S 2002. For Parsons, the basic unit of study is the unit act, which involves the following criteria: an actor/agent motivated to action; an end toward which action is oriented and means to reach this end; a situation where the action takes place; and norms and values that shape the choice of means to ends. Actions consist of the structures and processes from which humans are motivated to form meaningful intentions (through available goal-attaining means) that are put into practice within the social system.
Early 1970s Andrea Faludi came into play. He provided important contributions towards clarifying the procedural aspects of planning. Faludi viewed planning as a decision making process aimed at solving some of the varied problems which planners face. He argued that planning should be rational by evaluating comprehensively all possible action in the light of their consequences; and ensuring that these considerations include alternative goals and that planning should also respond flexibly to new situations. In planning efforts also need to made to relate operational decision to each other. (Faludi, 1986 ) .


The concept of rationality greatly influenced policy analysis on planning. Techniques and entire methodologies were dependent upon assumptions that clear objectives could be defined to guide the emergence and evolution of policy, that the full costing of alternative strategies could be identified, that the alternative strategies could be implemented, and that detailed monitoring of selected strategies was possible.(Lawless,P 1986). This systems approach was to have a profound influence on methodological thinking in planning and on the legal framework within which it operated.

It can therefore be concluded that rational comprehensive theory has two main characteristics.The first is the aspect of rationality, having specific cognitive skills which can be mastered, coupled with administrative expertise and appropriate aesthetic understanding for the planner to study options and present worked solutions to decision makers for choice.(Dror1968 in Grant,1985).The second characteristic of the rational approach is comprehensiveness ,the desire to analyse all rational alternatives available. According to Marios 1979, comprehensiveness implies the following; an attempt to satisfy all goals of various interest groups present in a pluralistic –democratic society that is to attain the general goals of the public interest (planning solutions that are of common benefit), and having a comprehensive view of a future desired state of affairs ,that is a view of a total utopian system for the future. It also refers to the idea of giving equal importance to all elements of the area of concern and the examination of these elements. Proponents of rational comprehensive planning thought that the more comprehensive the analyses of the problem were the better the plan would be. The planner-analyst regarded as the neutral observer of the problem would formulate and undertake analyses and provide valid knowledge of problems out there and that through profound analyses, one may predict the long term master plan with great accuracy to steer development.
These two main characteristics of rational comprehensive planning makes it to be perceived as a necessary rational tool to safe guard public interest and guide communities into the desired long range future. To effect rational comprehensive planning, the proponents outlined a procedural framework of operation (Hobbs and Doling 1981) outlined them as follows:

1.      Formulation of goals and objectives.
2.      Generation and examination of all possible alternatives open to a decision maker for achieving the set goals and objectives.
3.      The prediction of all consequences that would follow from adoption of each alternative.
4.      The comparison of the consequences in relation to the agreed set of goals and objectives.
5.      The selection of the alternative whose consequences correspond to a greater degree with the goals and objectives.
6.      Implement the preferred alternative.
7.      Monitor and evaluate outcomes and results.

       It is important to verify, define, and detail the problem in order to come up with common goals and objectives. This process ensures that every group member with conflicting opinions gain understanding to have the same definition and as Hobbs &Doling(1981) records, the process is important as it ensures that action is not without purpose.
       Having generated all possible solutions planners encloses on a few final solutions to the problem. Generation of alternative ways of achieving the desired goals is important in order to ensure that potentially useful plans are not overlooked.
       Objective assessment is undertaken to determine success and failures of each alternative. This process contains secondary analysis and evaluation of the information and possible options to anticipate the consequences of each and every possible alternative that is thought of. This process ensures that the best option is identified and chosen.
       The best solution having been chosen for implementation, different strategies of how to apply the solutions to the site are developed based on criteria assessment and analysis and finally implementation of the preferred alternative. After implementation monitoring and evaluation of outcomes and results is undertaken to ensure that the plan is working successfully.
One important aspect of rational planning is its cyclic nature (Hobbs et al.1981) The planning process is considered to be on going as a result of the dynamic and changing nature of society. Though an action may be seen to be working successfully, there is no guarantee that it will continue to work. Goals identified may also change with time, further more once goals have been achieved; new goals may have to be identified necessitating further planning. Another important aspect of this process is that at any stage it may be necessary to re-examine previous stages for example when at evaluation stage, it is found that the alternatives chosen do not meet the set goals. At this point it would be necessary to go back to the formulation of goals or the generation of alternatives stage. The monitoring of the process may also indicate it is not working well calling for a review of the entire process.

Rational model has also been likened to the approach of systems analysis (Hobbs et al. 1981).Systems consist of individual parts which interact with one another and with the outside world to make a complete whole. Thus the rational planning process can be described as a system where individual issues cannot be resolved in isolation from others but rather issues are dealt with in a comprehensive manner considering all the alternatives available.

Various assumptions are taken into consideration such as; the decision maker having adequate information on all the alternatives and the consequences of the alternatives chosen, and that the decision maker can rank the alternatives and choose the most desired and preferred choice.

Comprehensive rationality holds great appeal as a model of choice over other models. The approach lays out a logical and deliberative framework for planning practice marking one of its core strengths.(Hudson,1979). These include identifying a particular problem, setting goals, articulating aims and objectives, predicting and projecting outcomes, testing and implementing plans of action. (Alexander, 1986, Branch 1975) in Raine 2005. The model also considers a wide range of alternatives and ensures that only the best plan of action is chosen and implemented.
Even though rational comprehensive was for a long time the predominant planning model, a number of accusations of its failures were made by its opponents. They relied on a number of reasons in support of their arguments.
The opponents argue that it is naive to assume a stable and widely accepted values to structure goal setting. (Berry, D 1974). It is difficult to have each person agree on common goals as each and every person perceives issues differently and have different interests. Incorporating all this differences would pose a big challenge to the planners. More over not everyone can, and should, accept and adopt one form of universal values and beliefs.
The assumption of comprehensive intellectual human abilities is also in question. Human beings cannot comprehend everything nor can they even fully comprehend one planning aspect. (Lindblom, 1959). No matter how rational we would hope to be there is no way anyone can gather all the facts and take into account every consideration.
Concerning the need to develop alternative approaches, critics censor comprehensive rationality. The nature of the problems and the complexity of the environment would generate an unmanageable number of alternatives to consider.
The uncertainty and ambiguity of the environment would also undermine any confidence in determining consequences if a particular alternative is chosen. Critics argue that all decisions are taken in ignorance of the future but rather based on assumptions. The planners cannot predict abrupt changes and new expectations which arise between decision making and implementations. Only a short term future can be predicted with confidence (Grant, 1985).
Rational comprehensive planning also requires a great deal of time .Time, more often than not is limited. Not all relevant  information required for a decision can be  acquired within a limited time period and therefore most decisions can only be satisfactory solutions ;in March and Simons(1957) terminology ‘Satisficing occurs’.(Grant, 1985). Achieving the optimum balance therefore becomes elusive.
It is important to note that all activities directed towards allocation and reallocation of the scarce resources is essentially political. Rational decision making model tend to ignore this dimension of social planning. Decisions in the political arena are influenced far more by the perception of the situation than by any rational concept of objective reality (Raine, 2005). Critics argue that the lack of political interest and commitment to implement policies challenges the planner’s agenda of rationality in planning.
Another charge levelled against rational comprehensive approach is that it is ‘a costly and protracted exercise in futility’ (Wenocur, 1976).The argument is that while social and economic costs are well considered by rational planners, they ignore the enormous impact their planning has on budget allocations.
Critics also censure rational comprehensive planning for solidifying new forms of authority and power. The process places power and trust in the hands of the planner who is seen as an expert bearing all the information required to solve problems. This ignores public consultation which is paramount in the decision -making process.
Despite the criticism levelled against rational comprehensive approach to planning, the approach has taken root in most countries as the paradigm of choice and is the most utilised approach in decision –making. For it has the goal of maximising efficiency by picking the best alternative based on specific criteria and also provides a structured way to address a problem and arrive at a solution.
However in order to realise total success it is important to incorporate political interactions and public participation in the planning and decision-making process.
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  6. Lippmann s and Aldric H (2002).The Rationalisation of everything? Using Ritzers Mc Donald Thesis to teach Weber.Published in Teaching sociology,31,2(April2003):134145.Retrieved on 26th oct 2012 from http://www.unc.edu/.healric
  7. Hobbs F.D and Doling J.F(1981) Planning for Engineers and Surveyors.Pergamon Press, London

Critical Rationalism and Planning Methodology
Research in Planning and DesignAuthorAndreas FaludiPublisherRoutledge, 1986ISBN0850861179, 9780850861174Length144 pagesSubjects

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