MPlan Planning

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Digital Planning: Decision Support Systems

Course unit fact file
Unit code PLAN44032
Credit rating 15
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


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 of existing PLAN60761 Applied Spatial Analysis to complement the training on quantitative methods in urban and regional planning.

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 content of the course unit includes the following four main blocks (assuming the fieldtrip week on week 9):

  1. Urban and spatial analysis: indicators, land use planning and urban design rules, space syntax (Week 1)
  2. Introduction to decision support methods: multi-criteria analysis, cost-benefit analysis, optimisation methods (Weeks 2, 3 and 4)
  3. Introduction to advanced spatial modelling: Cellular automata and agent based models, discrete choice modelling, spatial interaction modelling (weeks 5, 6, 7and 10)
  4. Collaborative decision/planning support systems: the GeoDesign framework (weeks 11 and 12)

Surgery to support the realisation of the first assignment will happen on week 8 (immediately before the filedtrip and Easter break).


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 unit will have 3 hours of contact time per week. Lectures are expected to use 1 hour and the practical workshops to use the remaining 2 hours of the session each week.

Lectures will be used to explore the main concepts and introduce the most important methods and techniques used in decision support systems in planning.

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.

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, available in the online teaching platform as the MGM Workshops.

There will be on surgery session planned to week 10 to support the conclusion of course work.

Resources needed to this course unit are 3 hours per week of computer cluster time in semester 2.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Critically assess the validity of using quantitative methods in decision making processes in planning;
  • Define the main processes of reducing complex systems to modelling entities considering key modelling assumptions;
  • Describe 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;
  • Define the potential and limitations of using quantitative methods in urban planning;
  • Formulate an informed decision about the recommendation and implementation of the use of quantitative methods in real-world case studies;

Practical skills

  • Use quantitative methods in decision making in planning at multiple scales across multiple planning systems;
  • Integrate the use of these models with GIS-based solutions;
  • Work with different quantitative methods and analytical and modelling concepts used in professional practice;


Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%

Group assignment 1000 word group report.  Groups will have 3 or 4 members 25%

Individual assignment 3000 word essay

Feedback methods

Via weekly practical sessions, verbal feedback on presentation 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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