Exploring the usefulness of structural-functional approaches to analyse governance of planning systems

Ruth Potts, Karen Vella, Allan Dale, Neil Sipe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Existing planning theories tend to be limited in their analytical scope and often fail to account for the impact of many interactions between the multitudes of stakeholders involved in strategic planning processes. Although many theorists rejected structural–functional approaches from the 1970s, this article argues that many of structural–functional concepts remain relevant and useful to planning practitioners. In fact, structural–functional approaches are highly useful and practical when used as a foundation for systemic analysis of real-world, multi-layered, complex planning systems to support evidence-based governance reform. Such approaches provide a logical and systematic approach to the analysis of the wider governance of strategic planning systems that is grounded in systems theory and complementary to existing theories of complexity and planning. While we do not propose its use as a grand theory of planning, this article discusses how structural–functional concepts and approaches might be applied to underpin a practical analysis of the complex decision-making arrangements that drive planning practice, and to provide the evidence needed to target reform of poorly performing arrangements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalPlanning Theory
Issue number1
Early online date9 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


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