Person holding iPad with city plans over map

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ODI Fellow Report: Digital planning and its implications

Tue Sep 7, 2021
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ODI Fellow Sue Chadwick explores the implications of advances in digital planning

ODI Fellow Sue Chadwick completes her year with the ODI with this practical, legal and ethical issues posed by rapidly evolving data use, capture, processing and sharing possibilities faced by those working in the planning and building development sectors. She asks, can we approach the future as a friend in this sector? Read the summary below and the full report here, including appendices with example documentation


Effective use of data is increasingly important for the building, development and planning sectors and developments have a digital identity or twin long before any change to the land itself.

Our ability to source, capture, process and use data is increasing alongside an exponential evolution of emerging technologies, with widespread consequences for individuals and society. The speed of this change means laws, policies and ethics can struggle to adapt and may even be unfit for purpose.

We use analogue descriptions such as signatures, meetings, minutes for processes that, especially post Covid-19, take place in a digital space where data, rather than documents, is the dominant medium. And an increasing number of decision-making processes once made by humans are increasingly made by ever more complex algorithms.

This report Able to approach the Future as a friend: Digital planning and its implications explores the practical, legal and ethical issues that this raises in the field of urban planning. It welcomes the way that the effective and innovative use of data can enhance the way that we plan and develop land, and improve the world we live in.

However, the report also highlights the questions and challenges these changes create, taking into account relevant legislation, case law, and the digital data policy landscape. And it calls for changes in planning law, policy and practice including:

  • a definition of land that includes its digital identity;
  • transparent adoption of AI to ensure accountability in non-human decision-making, and
  • a collaborative commitment to developing new industry-wide data ethic standards to ensure that digitalisation of the planning function does not come at the expense of public trust.


Dr Sue Chadwick talks us through her year of statute-stalking, surveying both the content of the legislation made and the way it was made and applied. She will evaluate those practices against some established codes of digital ethics, including the ODI Data Ethics Canvas and the Government’s own Data Ethics Framework.