The multi-disciplinary nature of urban and regional planning suggests that planning consultants must be able to manage a team of diverse professionals in a project and still be able to own up to any liability in the consultancy as partner
Amidst economic challenges in Nigeria, consultant town planners have said there was the need for them to enhance their skills in order to remain relevant and give the professional town planners an edge in all planning jobs.
This, all the speakers, at the 2016 Professional Development Workshop organised by the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), said last week in Lagos.
Meanwhile, the comity of consultant town planners grew, as the group, admitted five firms into its fold.
The new firms are; Urban Planning Smart Solutions Limited, Obinka Environplan Consult, Ugo-Vera Consults, LANDEV and Planning Consult and Ugoamuchi Associates. While the first is a Lagos-based firm, the four others are based in Abia State.
Believed it might be losing out in getting the required recognition, ATOPCON gathered its members to discuss several issues affecting the profession of town planning. It themed the programme the programme: “Cutting Edge Competitiveness in Professional Practice.”
President of the group, Mr. Olaide Afolabi in his welcome address said it was an opportune time to refresh and imbibe new ideas and knowledge and discuss issue and problems of mutual interest as it concerned the practice of their noble profession and also to keep faith with one of the constitutional requirements of their association.
He added that ATOPCON was set up to organise annual professional development workshop to sharpen their skills be it in deploying technology to improve practice service delivery relationship management branding.
“Putting all the ideas and concepts that will be presented and discussed at this workshop to practice is then a task before us all as I hope that everyone would take the results of this program to develop our noble profession in their respective offices.”
The first speaker, Prof. Tunde Agboola, who spoke on “Branding For Town Planning Professionals noted that though unfortunately, the public image of the professional planner was misunderstood and unappreciated because of the professional misconduct of only a few bad eggs in the profession, many of who have not been punished to serve as deterrents to others.
If brands, according to Agboola, a lecturer at the University of Ibadan (UI) are so demonstrably powerful and since the definition and benefit of brands embrace every type of business and organization, the question to ask is why every professional, business and organization would not want to concentrate their resources, structure and financial accountability around this most important asset.
“Indeed, there is a clear need for Town Planning organizations (NITP, TOPREC, ATOPCON) to be consistently preoccupied with maintaining the sustainable competitive advantage offered by the Town Planning brand. The clarity of focus that a strong brand positioning gives organizations will always create more effectiveness, efficiency and competitive advantage across all professional planning activities.”
He added: “As such, the NITP/TOPREC needs to focus on building awareness of the profession outside of the planning community.
This should start by emphasizing the most important elements drawn out in Figures 1 and 2 and capturing the benefits that planners provide to the community, the roles and responsibilities of a planner and how the public can participate in the planning process.”
Similar to public perceptions, the don said the relationship between politics and planning varied greatly across the states, adding that, results indicated a general consensus that planners and politicians needed to work closely to build and maintain relationships so as to reduce frustration and misconceptions that may arise within the planning process.
“In this regard, the NITP/TOPREC, along with its affiliates at the state and local levels, should play a role in building and sustaining strong relationships with governments so as to promote a healthy planning process built on mutual understanding.”
In his paper, “Managing Relationships Effectively Between the Public And Private Sector Town Planning Perspective”, Mr. Odunlami Olatunji, said that though ATOPCON was the single most powerful grouping in the practice of the town planning profession in Nigeria, the group has not leveraged on place to influence planning policy, decision and programmes across the states of the federation.
“You need to establish small special interest units that will keep abreast of developments in the different special interest area and come up with position papers for proper articulation and transmission.
“In the same vein, you have been reticent and docile in exposing unethical practices experienced in your interactions with government agencies. Many of you have accepted that unethical practices are normal and have resigned yourself to suffering or condoning them and played along with the difficult officials just to get your projects approved. I have always wondered why this is so. I need to point out that this is on both sides.”
On relationships, Odunlami, a permanent secretary in Lagos civil service said it was important that ATOPCON body developed and nourished a good working relationship with various state chapters of the NITP and with TOPREC.
Immediate past president, ATOPCON, Moses Ogunleye, whose paper dwelt on “Developing Business Strategy For Town Planning Consultancy” reminded his colleagues that the dynamics in the internal and external environment in which the consultant they operate required that they should get prepared for eventualities.
He added that, as generally accepted that change will always take place, then consultants should be prepared to manage the expected change.
According to him, the change at the end of the service renders by the consultant is the value in the engagement by the client and that means practitioners must evolve a business strategy that anticipated the likelihood or certainty of change could prepare an organization for risk management.
Consultancy practice, particularly in town planning, Ogunleye said would continue to be operated as if they are not within the global setting.
“Although, the Nigerian business environment is very harsh, practitioners that are strategic in their operation have a high probability to not only survive but also thrive. Firms need to review, evaluate, redefine/refine their practices. Each business strategy is distinct and unique.”