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Section III: Panelsí Criteria and Working Methods

3.26 Town and Country Planning, UoA 34

UoA Descriptor

3.26.1 This UoA is a broad and interdisciplinary field, but includes: planning history, theory, techniques, law and practice. Local and regional planning theory and practice, spatial planning, regional analysis, policy and development. Governance. Urban analysis, policy and regeneration; economic development, economics of planning; urban design and conservation; environmental planning, including EIA; rural, recreation and tourism and sustainability issues. Housing theory and policy, development, management and finance. Community planning and social exclusion. Transport planning, policy, practice, modelling, evaluation and socio-economic/environmental aspects. Property investment, development and management, finance, valuation, law and economics. Information management and technology in these fields.


3.26.2 The UoA description indicates the subject area to be covered by the Panel. This embraces the policy, practice, governance and legal aspects of city, regional and rural planning, property markets, housing and transport, and their substantive knowledge fields. The Panel recognises the considerable range of sub-disciplines and specialisms encompassed by research in Town and Country Planning, and is aware of the need for flexibility of approach in applying criteria during the assessment process.

3.26.3 The Panel will work closely with the Built Environment Panel (UoA 33) referring for advice submissions which span the boundary between the two UoAs. In particular the Panel will refer submissions which include work in construction, architecture and landscape architecture and receive work related to planning, property markets, housing and transport. Institutions should indicate in their submissions which work they wish to be cross referred to other panels to ensure that it is viewed by experts in the field. Given the interdisciplinary and interprofessional nature of the field the Panel anticipates limited cross-referrals with a number of other panels (for example Social Policy, Geography, Law). The Panel will appoint specialist advisers where it considers this to be necessary.

Interdisciplinary Research

3.26.4 Interdisciplinary research, within and between UoAs, professions, clients and users is regarded as an important element of work in this field, and the Panel expects that many of the submissions will exhibit interdisciplinary and inter-professional working. The Panel has extensive experience of conducting and assessing such research.


3.26.5 Sub-panels will not be required.

Joint Submissions

3.26.4 The Panel expects a single submission from each HEI in this subject area.

Treatment of Evidence

3.26.7 The Panel will review and assess carefully the listed research output, data on research students and income, the statements on research structure and strategy, levels of funding, and esteem. It will consider all aspects of the submission in the round, acknowledging different practices in the various disciplines within the UoA. But it will pay particular attention to the quality of the submitted research outputs in deriving its ratings.

Research Outputs (RA2)

3.26.8 The Panel expects to assess a range of research outputs, but principally refereed journal articles, research-based books and book chapters, refereed conference papers and research outputs from projects commissioned by all levels of government, industry and other research funding bodies. Research outputs in electronic formats, embracing developments in appraisal, forecasting, data processing and analysis and web-based case studies, and associated software, may also be included. Pedagogical research in the field will be welcomed.

3.26.9 All research, whether applied, strategic or basic, will be considered, and no type of research will be treated as superior to another. The Panel will only be concerned with the quality of work submitted for assessment, and supporting information on research studentships, funding, strategy and achievements.

3.26.10 The Panel's ratings of the quality of research outputs will be based upon the latter's substantive research content, their quality of argument, and their contribution to the advance of theory and/or methodological development/policy development/good practice.

Research Students and Research Studentships (RA3)

3.26.11 The assessment of the provision of research studentships will focus on the level and pattern of recruitment per FTE of research-active staff, but particularly upon doctoral completion levels.

3.26.12 It will include examination of the source of studentships, giving particular weight to those won competitively from research councils and those derived from collaborations with practice. It will also take cognisance of those funded or part-funded by government, charities, etc. Lesser weight will be attached to those funded internally, but nonetheless these are an important measure of institutional commitment to development of a research culture.

External Research Income (RA4)

3.26.13 The Panel will regard the research income per FTE of research-active staff as a useful measure of both the utility and quality of the research being undertaken and the esteem in which it is held by government and the business community. It will examine the trends in funding in the light of the changes in the complement of research active staff over the assessment period.

3.26.14 However, particular weight will be attached to funding which has been subjected to peer review and strong competition, provided by the research councils, European and National Governments, devolved governments and their agencies, charities and industry.


Research Strategy

3.26.15 It is most important that the RA5 statement elaborate the department's research strategy for the next five years, explaining its objectives, structures, activities, potential outputs, coherence and staffing policies.


3.26.16 The RA5 statement should include an honest, self-critical and constructive assessment of research performance over the RAE period, reflecting on the 1996 RAE Research Strategy and its objectives. Attention should be drawn to ongoing work with no immediately visible outcomes if this exists. The statement should explain the progress made over the assessment period, anticipated and unanticipated events and research outcomes, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the research culture and its outputs. This self-assessment should encompass all key aspects of research inputs and outputs, structure, staffing and research strategy.

3.26.17 In the text of RA5, the main research groups should be defined along with their leadership and membership. Their principal research foci and substantive outputs should be identified in addition to their national and international linkages and principal sources of funding, including staff participation in agenda-setting bodies and professional committees with a research component. The main achievements of each group over the RAE period and the existence of a research synergy and critical mass of inputs and outputs should be clearly identified.

3.26.18 There should be a substantive explanation of the means by which a department-wide research culture is established and maintained and quality is assured. This should link research groupings, research assistants, studentships and funding to research outputs and make reference to other activities of a research nature such as training and skills development, support structures, internal and external seminar series, journal editing and preparation, conferences and research-based continuing professional development and postgraduate teaching. The relationships between the department's research activity and public policy and other user interests should also be explained. Specific evidence should be provided of the department's approaches to dissemination of research activity.

3.26.19 A description of the unit's research infrastructure should also be given, including the accommodation and facilities provided for research students, their IT provision and training, their research training, any research council recognition of the same, and evidence of their participation in, and progression through, the unit's research programme.

3.26.20 Any special arrangements for supporting interdisciplinary and collaborative research should be noted.

3.26.21 Those groups or parts of groups whose outputs have been submitted to other UoAs should be identified, and the justification for this explained.

Staffing Policy

3.26.22 The RA5 statement should include a description of how the research effort across the unit is supported and monitored, and any collaboration or developmental initiatives that have been established. The support mechanisms for new/young researchers should be outlined and their potential and actual career paths explained, including their progression to academic, professional and other employment. The contribution of research students to the research culture should be identified.

3.26.23 The pattern of staff recruitment over the RAE period should be explained, particularly detailing those who have been recruited in the later stages of the assessment period. This should note the departure of staff in categories A*, B and D, and comment should be made on how this has affected the strength, coherence and research culture at the census date.


Evidence of Esteem

3.26.24 The RA6 statement should provide indicators of international and national esteem of the research of both research groups and individuals. These will include academic and professional prizes for research outputs, honorary degrees, visiting research posts in other institutions, national and international research collaborations, consortia and conference organisation. It may also note membership of important research advisory committees and panels, editorships and academic ownership of key journals, and evidence of the dissemination and influence of research outputs on policy and practice.

Individual Staff Circumstances

3.26.25 The Panel will note any individual staff circumstances which may have significantly affected research productivity over the period. These circumstances might include part time or recent appointment, maternity leave, sick leave, secondments or major administrative appointments, but would not normally include teaching, day-to-day administration or course development duties.

Contributions by Non Research-active Staff

3.26.26 The contribution to research activity by staff who have not been returned as research active may also be recorded.

Working Methods

3.26.27 The principal component of the research assessment will be the qualitative assessment of the four outputs submitted by each research-active member of staff. The Panel will normally expect four publications from each member of staff, but will take into account the time in academia, sickness or maternity leave, part-time appointments and so on. It will positively acknowledge the inclusion of new/young researchers at the early stages of their academic career, including those moving from practice into academia, and judge their outputs according to the potential they display. A guideline for adequate research productivity might be one output per year in post subsequent to the first year for new researchers; or two outputs for a half time appointment over the assessment period.

3.26.28 Research-active staff will be given an individual rating based on the quality of the output they submit. In aggregating these individual ratings to derive an overall rating for the submission as a whole the Panel will also look carefully at the quality of the research environment, the achievements of research groups (RA5), peer esteem (RA6), and other quantitative indicators (RA3 & 4).

3.26.29 The Panel will use a quantitative approach to assessing aspects of research income and research studentships. These will be measured on a per capita of research-active staff basis. As regards research income the Panel will focus particularly upon the level of income of the types specified in paragraph 3.26.14. As regards research students the focus will be on doctoral completions and research council and externally-funded studentships of the type specified previously in paragraph 3.26.12. Trends in these data over the five years will also be assessed to understand the research trajectory of the department. Changes in the complement of research active staff over the assessment period will be noted as a factor influencing per capita outputs.

3.26.30 All submissions will be read and assessed initially by each member of the Panel working independently and without consultation with other Panellists. All Panellists will submit their rankings to the Panel Secretary in advance of any group discussions. These 'blind' evaluations will then be collated and will form one of the key inputs into the detailed discussion and rating of each submission.

3.26.31 Two academics, one acting as lead assessor, the other as a secondary assessor, will be nominated to examine each submission in depth. Between them they will examine in detail virtually all outputs listed in the submission. The two academic Panel members will be selected with regard to their expertise and the principal research areas of the submission. They will be backed by a practitioner on the Panel who will review the research outputs, assess their quality, and make a particular assessment of the contribution to policy development and/or good practice. The final rating will take on board these deliberations and the collective assessment of individual and research group work, the quantitative data on research studentships and income, and the original 'blind' evaluations by all panellists. These three panellists will lead the discussion on each individual case, bringing in the specialist views of individual Panellists around the table as necessary.

3.26.32 The Panel will aim to reach its decision through consensus taking into account all the evidence before it. Where this is not possible, further detailed scrutiny will be undertaken to resolve the precise nature of the disagreement. If all else fails, voting will be used to derive a rating, with the Panel Chair having the casting vote in the event of a tie.

International Excellence

3.26.33 The Panel's concept of international excellence in research is work which helps set the national and international research agenda in the field, or which contributes significantly to the development of knowledge in the field. Such work will normally be disseminated internationally, and will most probably be rigorously peer reviewed. It will have a substantive research content, be well argued, and make a contribution to the advance of theory and/or methodology, policy development and good practice. It should be widely regarded as a significant contribution to the field. An international or comparative focus for research does not of itself signify international excellence. Conversely, work which has a national or local focus is capable of attaining standards of excellence recognised internationally.

National Excellence

3.26.34 National excellence in research is work which is not of such widely recognised significance but is still well researched and argued and makes a contribution to theory and/or methodology, policy and practice. Much of this work will be peer reviewed, but it may be subject to less rigorous processes or be more in the nature of a research or policy review. Work in this category will still make a significant contribution to the field, but in quality terms will be closer to the average for the field.

3.26.35 Sub national research should still make a contribution to the development of knowledge or techniques in the field and be soundly researched.

3.26.36 The Panel will nominate a small number of internationally-known non-UK based academics familiar with British university and planning/surveying practices to verify its assessment of Grade 5/5* submissions. They will receive the 5/5* submissions and the top grade 4 submissions, as well as the Panel's provisional ratings and comments sheets, and be asked to advise on the appropriateness of these ratings on an international level.

Last updated 17 April 2000

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