Community Development and Qualitative Methods

Course Number: GAFL 527

Urban planning and community development involve attempting to understand (and then propose methods for solving) complex problems arising from our shared experience of living together in communities. These wicked problems (Rittel & Weber, 1973) often arise from multiple co-occurring influences; economic, socio-cultural, political, geographic/geological, psychological, etc. The fluid and multi-dimensional nature of these problems, therefore, calls for a fluid and multi-dimensional approach to understanding them. Nonetheless, for the better part of the last half a century the majority of efforts to approach such dilemmas has relied largely on quantitative research methods. While quantitative approaches to understanding community dynamics certainly have a demonstrated value, an over-reliance on such methods can come at the expense of the more nuanced understanding available through qualitative research approaches. Quantitative methods are useful in exploring questions such as where, when, who and how many. They are less effective, however, in answering questions of why and how. For answers to these sorts of questions we must turn to qualitative research methods. This course will introduce students to qualitative research approaches currently used in urban planning/community development, along with methods NOT currently in use, but that hold the potential to yield insights into community dynamics. In addition, this course will teach students how to apply these research techniques in the service of producing a professional-quality outcome, as opposed to producing a purely academic end result. To this end, attention will be given to the process by which these research methods are applied, or would be applied, in the professional consulting world and the language and concepts that would be used in that process and setting. Each student will leave the course with a firm understanding of terms and concepts such as: project scope; sub-deliverable(s); final deliverable(s); benchmarks; Notice to Proceed (NTP); project kick-off; out of scope services, front-end and best practices research; and other related professional concepts/terms.


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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829