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Prototyping the Future of Planning

Future Cities Catapult invites UK businesses, individuals, entrepreneurs and planning authorities to develop ideas, proof of concepts, business cases and prototypes that demonstrate how we can create a more data-driven and digitally enabled planning system that is fit for the 21st century. Download the Open Call documentation to find out more.

The challenges

The challenges* are based on insights gathered as part of our Future of Planning programme. During our initial phase of user research our research has focused in three different locations, to: Architects, Developers, people extending their homes, Activist groups, Planning committees, Community engagement experts and Planning consultants

The research established a pattern of themes that came up time and time again. Those recurring themes are the focus for our challenges which have been refined by our Sounding Board (a group of practitioners including planners, councillors, developers and architects) and informed by sessions we have run with innovators (start ups, SMEs, academics and young professionals).

* Please note that the Catapult will be providing further material, including research and inspiration to support your submissions during the open call response period, the timing of this will be on or before the time that we hold the open clinic. The intention is that the challenge briefs themselves will not be refined or materially altered.

Challenge 1: Data Informed Planning

Data Informed Planning


During the plan making process planning authorities pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for consultants to collect, synthesise and model data, to provide evidence for policies and demonstrate that a plan is sound. Authorities current ability to monitor both the outputs and outcomes of the plan is limited and not incentivised. The data that does exist is largely unavailable, inaccessible and lacking in common standards or clear purpose. This is resulting in overproduction, a short shelf life and a lack of reuse for different purposes, sharing between authorities or opening up to the public.

How might we…

  1. Bring together, open up and visualise existing planning data in one place? (Evidence, monitoring and planning application data)
  2. Better measure outcomes as well as outputs?
  3. Integrate new and diverse data sources not currently utilised in planning?
  4. Cheaply and quickly understand what has been built?
  5. Give planning authorities the means to do more of their own analysis?

Challenge 2: Flexible planning

Flexible planning


It takes about four years to produce a local plan. During that time significant economic, political and technological shifts can and will occur. Plans, in their current form, lack the adaptability and holistic thinking to flex to these changes resulting in rapidly outdated or ambiguous policies, and uncertainty for developers and communities.

How might we…

  1. Help planners better forecast impact and spot trends to inform plans and policies?
  2. Develop ways of testing plans and policies?
  3. Rapidly iterate plans in response to changing local needs, and technological, economic and political shifts.

Challenge 3: Improving the user experience of planning applications


The planning application process is labour intensive, opaque and confusing to the inexperienced. It is a stop-start system that is characterised by a back-and-forth between those involved. On entering the system it’s unclear what lies ahead and large chunks of the process are hidden from view which can be frustrating and confusing.

How might we…

  1. Increase transparency for applicants about what to expect from the application process?
  2. Support applicants to better understand how local planning policy will affect their planning applications?
  3. Automate the right aspects of the process, from administration tasks to decision making?

Challenge 4: Increasing citizen influence

Citizen Influence


There are plenty of good citizen engagement practices out there but they are underused within the planning system. Citizen engagement follows the traditional ask/respond consultation model and is largely dictated by legislative requirements, repeatedly reaching similar demographics. Often occurring too late in the process, citizens input often has little influence on decision making. Engagement usually takes the form of ‘objections’ and citizens lack a positive way to influence plan making and local development in a meaningful way.

How might we…

  1. Engage citizens in setting the vision and objectives of the plan?
  2. Move from consultation to co-design by supporting planners to use different, but existing methods and models of engagement?
  3. Help citizens understand their role and how best they can have influence over decision making across the system, from responding to planning notices, to shaping a local plan?
  4. Increase the diversity of citizens engaging in planning?

The prize

The Catapult will be making available a total of £100,000 in this open call for solutions that address the challenges detailed in this call. Awards will range from £10,000 to £20,000 total each up to the maximum funding available. The funding is designed to cover salaries, overheads and other related costs to develop your solution into:

  • a concept;
  • proof of concept;
  • business case;
  • prototype;
  • digital prototype;
  • functional prototype; and/or
  • a combination of the above

Contracts will be awarded to those whose proposals are successfully selected during this competition.

As part of this Open Call we are also seeking local planning authorities who would be interested in working with the winners to validate, develop or pilot their ideas under a given challenge area.

Who can apply? (Eligibility)

The call is open to individuals, associations, organisations, local authorities or businesses legally registered in a member state of the European Union.


1. A High-level Project Plan and Project Initiation Document (PID) – this will set out the approach, direction and plans for the project of developing your solution.

2. A Concept brief – a brief report outlining the ‘need for’ and ‘objective of’ your innovative product or service. It could be supported by more details about the methodology you plan to adopt, or the way your product or service will operate in the future.

3. Any of the following:

  • A proof of concept – a light demonstration that your product or service (or the principles behind it) is feasible and has practical potential
  • Digital Prototype – a mock-up (potentially interactive) of how the service, tool or product would look like and operate based on minimum viable requirements
  • Functional prototype – an early working version of the service, tool or product that has real data and/or functionality incorporated

4. And:

An outline business case – an overview of the economic, social and environmental impact of the concept and/or how it would be translated into a viable and sustainable business

How to apply

Organisations interested in entering the competition are required to complete an online submission by midnight, Thursday 26 January 2017 and be available for interviews during 1-2 February 2017. The winners will be notified by 3 February 2017 and must be ready to start immediately.


For more information please contact futureofplanning@futurecities.catapult.org.uk


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