MSc Global Urban Development and Planning

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Digital Planning - Decision Support Systems

Course unit fact file
Unit code PLAN60962
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Planning and Environmental Management
Available as a free choice unit? No


Evidence-based decision making is central to contemporary urban issues and policy design and monitoring. The consolidation of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as widely used tools for data management and advanced analysis via intensive use of data and methods to process and map this data have changed the focus of traditional spatial analysis towards a fully fledge use of digital tools.

Spatial and policy analysis knowledge and methods, supported by digital tools, is a central set of knowledge and skills for professionals in urban planning and policy related areas.

Acknowledging the ongoing significant shift in the UK and worldwide urban agendas towards a comprehensive digital approach to urban planning and policy design and monitoring, the course addresses basic and complex issues and delivers an essential toolkit for graduates to be effective professionals in providing robust, intelligible and accessible evidence for all domains of decision support.

This course unit focus on the use of decision support methods and techniques in multiple areas of spatial planning, urban design and transport planning.

The content of the course unit is aligned with the content PLAN60761 Digital Planning – Spatial and Policy Analysis to complement the training on quantitative methods in urban planning and policy design and monitoring.

This course unit is key to development of the topical data-driven approach to urban planning, in line with the current policy agenda on future cities, big data and artificial intelligence, as well as in the UN New Urban Agenda in its multiple layers of good decision-making procedures for sustainable development. The theoretical and methodological content of the course is key for training future professionals in working in decision making in current data-driven environment, both in the context of developed countries but also in developing countries of the Global South.


The course unit has the following aims:

  • To present the main theoretical grounds of using quantitative approaches based in ICT methods and tools in urban planning;
  • To illustrate how to use basic concepts from other areas of knowledge to capture and understand the complexity of urban systems;
  • To introduce methodologies that include advanced modelling in urban planning
  • To develop further and consolidate the use of data in urban planning 
  • To develop a critical opinion about the use of decision support systems in urban planning

Teaching and learning methods

The course will use a combination of lectures, practical workshops, some of them using the flipped classroom approach with support of online courses, and surgeries.

The course will have in-classroom synchronous lectures, some asynchronous lectures, support readings and many homework activities that will be subsequently discussed in in-classroom synchronous discussion sessions.

This module will be delivered through a combination of teaching methods with a strong emphasis on the importance of hands-on experience and small group learning.

The teaching will be largely based on introductory lectures and practical workshops that will be taken by students in class, with a follow-up discussion session to consolidate that knowledge based on relevant readings.

The practical workshops will focus on hands-on exercises using mock reality case studies and real-world case studies to allow students to understand the potential and limitations of the use of decision support systems.

There will be surgery sessions to support the elaboration of course work.

The course will use a series of free online workshops called Master in Geographical Modelling developed with Erasmus+ funding by the course convener with a consortium of European Universities.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Be able to critically assess the validity of using quantitative methods in decision making processes in planning; 
  • Understand the main processes of reducing complex systems to modelling entities considering the basic modelling assumption; 
  • Understand how form and complex socioeconomic dynamics play a central role in complex urban systems;

Intellectual skills

  •  Have a critical opinion about the use of advanced quantitative tools in urban planning and urban design; 
  • Understand the potential and limitations of using quantitative methods in urban planning; 
  • Be able to take decisions about the recommendation and implementation of their use in real-world case studies;

Practical skills

  •  Be able to use quantitative methods widely used in decision making in planning at multiple   scales across multiple planning systems; 
  • Be able to integrate the use of these models with GIS-based solutions; 
  • Be able to work with different quantitative methods and analytical and modelling concepts used in professional practice;

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Be able to investigate and develop research on modelling concepts; 
  • Be able to develop quantitative approaches to other planning problems in the different areas of planning.

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit (if relevant)

Assignment 1

A mock reality exercise (with theoretical instances) or a real case study that allows students to test many of the quantitative and modelling tools presented in the course.

Group assignment 1000 word group report.

Groups will have 3 or 4 members (250 words per group member)


Formative Assignment

Essay plan for Assignment 2

Individual work: one page essay plan for assignment 2


Assignment 2

An essay on the development and use of concepts of decision support systems in urban planning with conceptual examples of application of a method.

Individual assignment: 2000 word essay.


Feedback methods

Via weekly practical sessions, verbal feedback on presentation and final summative feedback via GradeMark

Verbal feedback during weekly sessions and final summative feedback via GradeMark

Recommended reading

Batty, Michael, 2013, The New Science of Cities, MIT Press

Geertman, Stan, Stillwell, John (Eds.), 2009, Planning Support Systems Best Practice and New Methods, GeoJournal Library

Geertman, Stan, Toppen, Fred, Stillwell, John (Eds.), 2013, Planning Support Systems for Sustainable Urban Development, Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography

Beinat, Euro, Nijkamp, Peter (Eds), 1998, Multicriteria Analysis for Land-Use Management, Springer
Schofield, John, 1987, Cost Benefit Analysis in Urban and Regional Planning, Routledge

European Commission, 2014, Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis of Investment Projects

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Practical classes & workshops 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 117

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Nuno Pinto Unit coordinator

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