Memorize the Dance in the Shadows? - Unriddling the Networked Dynamics of Planning Processes through Social Network Analysis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The importance of cities is increasing due to the rapidly growing share of population living in urban areas. The accelerating urbanization processes together with the challenges set by climate change, globalization, and societal differentiation, are highlighting the importance of planning and governance in guiding sustainable urban futures. Sustainable urban development requires the synergy of multiple knowledges, as well as organizational capability of learning over time. Current planning theoretical views suggest that planning is constructed in social processes, increasing the importance of understanding their relational structures. As complex systems, the multi-actor planning processes are typically dynamic in nature and often unsystematically documented, challenging the organizational learning processes. Consequently, planning research has acknowledged that the procedural dynamics and their potential effects over time are not adequately understood, partly challenged by the frequently occurring gap between planning practice and research. The aim of this research is to approach the complex interactions in planning processes by generating new understanding of their often invisible networked dynamics. Furthermore, a special focus for interpreting the dynamics is set on process memory development. The empirical study utilizes longitudinal time-series data from one four-year statutory strategic spatial planning process in one municipality in the Helsinki Capital Region, Finland. The data has been specifically collected and processed to be analyzed through social network analysis (SNA) for studying the dynamics of the actors' connections through meetings. The SNA findings are validated through a series of individual interviews with participants of the specific process. In addition, focus group interviews with strategic spatial planning professionals are utilized for testing the applicability and relevance of the findings for process development purposes in planning practice. The findings open up the multidimensionality of the actual social complexities, visualizing and quantifying the often invisible networked dynamics in a strategic spatial planning process. Based on the findings, SNA opens up new ways for conceptualizing planning through visual-analytical methods and actor-relational criteria, generating new understanding of the diverse groups of actors and knowledges involved in shaping urban futures. Moreover, the findings suggest that a combination of qualitative and visual-analytical SNA methods can improve the understanding the causes, consequences and implications of various networked process structures which were previously difficult to identify. In conclusion, unveiling the networked dynamics in planning research is a promising direction for further understanding of planning practice.
Translated title of the contributionMemorize the Dance in the Shadows? - Unriddling the Networked Dynamics of Planning Processes through Social Network Analysis
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Mladenovic, Milos, Supervising Professor
  • Staffans, Aija, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8402-2
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8403-9
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • strategic spatial planning
  • planning process
  • planning process dynamics
  • social network analysis


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