About the WITPI Project

The Working in the Public Interest project (WITPI), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, will bring together colleagues from the University of Sheffield, University College London, Newcastle University and The University of Lisbon.

The overall aim of the project is to explore whether and how the privatisation of spatial planning activities is reshaping professional practices and justifications of how planning serves the public interest. 

It will focus on three key areas:

  • The extent and nature of private sector involvement in planning;
  •  The implications of this involvement for planners’ understanding of their professional role;
  • The consequences of this involvement for traditional justifications of planning activities as in the ‘public interest’.

and will answer five research questions:

  • How have the roles of the public and private sectors in delivering public interest planning goals changed over the post- war period? 
  • Through what public/private organisational forms is planning now delivered?
  • How have professional planners working in diverse settings adjusted to changing organisational arrangements, what ‘professional’ work do they do, and how do they define and understand their professional identity?
  • What effects do different organisational configurations have on the ways that planning’s contested public interest purposes are defined and realised, particularly in relation to the complexities of place, democracy, and local politics?
  • How can ‘public service’ professional labour be reimagined as a means of better realising public interest goals, and challenging dominant understandings of what public services can and should legitimately deliver?

What contribution will WITPI make?
WITPI aims to influence both academic and practice debates. As the first empirical study of how privatisation is influencing UK planning, the project will make several ground-breaking contributions to knowledge. It will provide academics with an innovative framework for understanding how these profound changes are reshaping what it means to be a ‘professional’, and the nature of decision-making in the ‘public interest’. Finally, it will generate debate about how professionals might better realise the public interest in the future; highlighting the potentials but also the dangers of the commercialisation of public sector work.