(February 2011) Learning with and from others: experiential learning and action research as an approach to studying transit-oriented developments.

Learning with and from others: experiential learning and action research as an approach to studying transit-oriented developments. image

 Research in the planning for transit-oriented development (TOD) are generally contextual and studied from the perspective of planning practitioners. Literature run the gamut of ex-post evaluations from highly descriptive case studies, comparing developments across regions and countries to analytical discussions evaluating instruments that have led to successful developments. This paper aims to explore the methods used in four phases corresponding to the experiential learning cycle and reflects on the implications of adapting methods from other branches of social sciences towards planning research.

"Institutional incentives for nodal developments in a transit corridor" seeks to explore which incentives can help in making TOD happen in the Netherlands. This research is a collaboration of practice and academia with a consortium of practitioners from city regions, transport agencies and knowledge institutions.Using an experiential research design (Straatemeier et al., 2010) following an iterative cycle of learning (Kolb and Fry, 1974) through observation and reflection of concrete experience is  followed by the formulation of abstract concepts which are then tested in new situations, the exchange of explicit and abstract knowledge is ensured. The research aims to enable and test for change within the planning processes to lead to TOD in the Netherlands.

The research begins by understanding the barriers to successful TOD by observing and reflecting on three local cases in the Netherlands. Applying a parallel deductive and inductive approach (Hennink et al., 2010) through literature review, complemented by in-depth open interviews and focus groups; a hypothesis grounded in the empirical and qualitative data regarding barriers to TOD in the Netherlands was reached in phase one. Based on the findings in phase one, the learning cycle continues in phase two by searching for appropriate foreign cases as inspiration for institutional innovation and learning  with a broad selection through a multi-criteria analysis of indicators to select three appropriate locations. In phase three, historical analysis is carried out together with in-depth and open interviews of embedded cases within the foreign locations to determine the role and process of incentives in enabling an evolution of successful TOD. Reaching beyond the explanatory trend in research planning, the final exploratory phase will be the testing of transfer of innovation and inspiration from the cross-national comparisons of cases abroad of phase three in an experimental setting with the research consortium in three consecutive regions to try to implement innovation and learning from abroad.

Methodological issues to be discussed includes the transfer of practical experience (explicit) towards scientific theory (abstract), external validity of qualitative methods of analysis (Weiss, 1994) and possibility of institutional transfer within cases both local and abroad (Pflieger et al., 2009) and the implications of participatory action research in planning.