Walsh, C. & Kitchin, R. (2012) Supporting Evidence-Informed Spatial Planning in Ireland: A Research Perspective, Pleanáil, Issue 18, 75-89, Full Text
This paper, written in summer 2011 for Pleanail, the journal of the Irish Planning Institute (one of two professional associations for planners in the Republic of Ireland discusses the role of academic and applied research in supporting spatial planning in Ireland. It was published in November 2012. It focuses in particular on the applied spatial planning work of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA, where Prof. Rob Kitchin is Director) and the related All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) and International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). AIRO plays a key role in making spatial data and publicly available on a comparable all-ireland basis. The ICLRD conducts policy and practice oriented research and training focussed on the cross-border region of Ireland/ Northern Ireland. At the European level, NIRSA contributes to the further development of evidence-informed spatial policy through its role as ESPON Contact Point for Ireland and as a partner in ESPON projects.
The Irish Planning Institute has recently highlighted the need for ‘coordinated and comprehensive research on planning and development matters at a national level’ to support evidence–based planning in Ireland (President’s address, Autumn Conference 2010). New legislative requirements and a rapidly changing planning and development environment have served to highlight the need for a robust evidence and research base to support decision-making and monitoring at local, regional and national levels. The National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) has since its foundation played an active role in articulating and implementing an applied research agenda for spatial planning in Ireland providing tools, analysis and research support on a wide range of issues. The recently launched All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) provides a freely available spatial data portal where key statistics, indicators and mapping can be easily accessed in a user friendly manner. The International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD), of which NIRSA is a founding partner, is very active, working at the interface between research, policy and practice with a particular focus on issues of North-South cross-border cooperation through spatial planning. Through participation in the ESPON programme, NIRSA is active in disseminating research findings and policy implications at a European level and translating them to an Irish context. This paper provides a research perspective on some of the key challenges and opportunities associated with the further development of an evidence-informed approach to spatial planning policy and practice in Ireland. In particular, experience in NIRSA points to the positive benefits of a dynamic interactive relationship between research, policy and practice, which is well positioned to respond to a rapidly changing economic, planning and policy environment.