Conceptual and Epistemic Uncertainty in Planning

Research for the renewal of industrial areas in Sweden

Authored by: Anders Törnqvist

The Routledge Handbook of Planning Research Methods

Print publication date:  November  2014
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415727952
eBook ISBN: 9781315851884
Adobe ISBN: 9781317917038


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Practitioners are often faced with the following question when addressing practical problems which are characterised by uncertainty: “What kind of problem is this and what do I need to know to solve it?” Planning problems are often “wicked problems” (Rittel & Webber, 1973). There may be difficulty in defining the problem (Schön, 1983). There is a need in planning practice to distinguish between conceptual and epistemic uncertainty. There is often uncertainty in planning about both goals and means – defined here as conceptual uncertainty (Friend & Jessop, 1977; Rolf, 2007; Simon, 1997). There is lack of empirical evidence for evaluating properly the consequences of planning alternatives – epistemic uncertainty (Faludi, 1987; Davoudi, 2006). Research in the planning field is often undertaken to help reduce both kinds of uncertainty. This chapter argues that exploration of the concepts and understandings that different actors use in practice can help with identifying practical solutions to real-world problems.

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