Not being a native English speaker, I find it difficult sometimes to differentiate concepts that in our day to day conversations we use interchangeably. Most of the time I do so myself without even noticing it. However, recently I recognized a need to seek the true and appropriate meaning of some concepts that we often use in the landscape architecture field when writing documents, or preparing presentations, lectures, etc.

I think the main application of these concepts at their objective denotative meanings takes place at the philosophical intersection of a project’s theory and practice. Many times I find it difficult to describe how to deal with a situation in a structured way, one which requires hierarchy in the deliverance of ideas. In this work-in-progress exercise I made sort of a compilation – a personal glossary of sorts – to understand myself better, determining the main difference between these concepts and what do they entail. Of course, this is just an idea and has no validity as formal classification. But I sure found the process helpful as a self-reflection exercise, especially when planning future projects.

“A way of dealing with something or arriving at some destination”. It denotes manner and answers the ‘how’. These approaches in our field work better when being pre-formulated; approaches already out there adopted, perhaps modified to suit our needs. A solid and well-defined approach in a project is the best – a safer and smoother way to transition from the theory to the practice.

Examples of theoretical approaches: multidisciplinary, advocacy planning, inclusive urbanism, civic-pedagogy, public engagement.

The philosophy is the link between the entity and the product. If a firm has goals and ideals reflected in their code of ethics, mission, vision, and statement,  then the project’s philosophy has ability to infuse those motivations and expectations into the project itself. That’s why both need to be aligned. It also must represent realistically the intention of the project. It is a broader umbrella term, a sphere that encloses all the mentioned: values, mission, vision, history, area of expertise, trending currents, and so on. It is complex to identify or define because it happens to be the very ethos of the firm’s culture, subject to space and time, and sometimes even reinforced by art movements, individual mindsets, or currents of thinking. While the philosophy is the internal spirit behind a project, the approach is the way external spirit visibly manifested outwards to others.

Example of philosophies: Sustainability, Identity, Aesthetics, Health, Holism, Spirituality.

Line of Action
The elements of a broader field or discipline. It denotes category and answers the ‘which’. Disciplines are fields of study, and their sub-categories are ‘lines’ of study. If a philosophy is a reality, then the lines of action are the dimensions in which that reality takes place. Lines of action define the character of the general goal and the amount of specific goals to achieve, separating them by areas.

Examples of lines of action: Social, economic, ecological, individual, communal, private, public.

General Goals
Derived from the intention of the project, a good general goal would synthetize the overall purpose of the project, and perhaps also the purpose of all of its areas (see line of action) if they all demand equiparable priorities. The definition of goal is “the result of achievement toward which effort is directed”. Serves as an aspiration statement for the project.

Example of a general goal: The conception of a quality recreational space that brings the community together through diverse program elements and activities.

Specific Goals
Purposely isolated goals that will aid the general goal in terms of opportunities. A more specific level are SMART goals, which help even more to determine future strategies and tactics. But some people argue that SMART goals are more of a blend of goals and objectives, for they are not as abstract as conventional goals might be.

Examples of specific goals: The provision of a new urban landmark to the city. The regional recognition of the firm in alike projects.

General Objectives
The measurable and quantifiable steps required to reach a general goal.

Example of general objective: To design and build a neighborhood park in the City of XXXXX with the help of the non-profits and local government over the next six months.

Specific Objectives
Answers in form of actions to particular challenges, chances, or concerns. Each specific goal could have many specific objectives.

Example of specific objectives: To design and build a large-size iconic sculpture in the entrance of the park ensuring clear visibility from the main streets. To achieve certification from a leading sustainability entity during the management phase.

The study of how research is done, how we find out about things, and how knowledge is gained. Methodology is about the principles that guide the research practices, and it explains the methods or tools utilized.

When applied to non-research projects, methodology is the connection between the goals and the approach. Methodology diagnoses why we are doing things in the way we are doing them, and how these actions are going to lead us towards the goal. Methodology is not a statement, a phrase, a slogan nor a word; it is a narrative in which you communicate why and how you are planning to carry out the project. But it goes far beyond a justification, since it also talks about the tools and the philosophy being adhering to.

Example of a methodology narrative fragment: “[…] Previous cited works and articles have shown how projects using Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) design principles are lacking the community participation and engagement elements, since the experts rarely show an interest in delegating planning tasks to the residents. The crime rates in this community seem to suggest to us that in order to deter further criminal activity it is also important to give the community quality infrastructure that they truly own. Just as the ‘Parques-Bibliotecas’ case study we discussed in the previous section, we also consider vital for this project to reinforce the sense of identity and ownership in the community. Thus, we would like to inject into our CPTED design principles the Placemaking approach and we pretend to implement design charrettes, visual preference surveys, joint site visits, and other participatory activities.”

The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories about such application or use. It is a process, an activity and a goal that encompasses many other diverse sub-processes and sub-activities to ultimate achieve its very form as goal. Confusing enough? Of course. It’s hard to put in perfect words a practice into a theory in the same way it’s hard to put into perfect words a theory into practice. But practices constitute those activities that projects, fields of work or fields of study involve.

Examples of practices: planning, research, design, communication, construction, management.

Please note the definitions above have been heavily adapted and are only proposed, still undergoing development. I find a need in our field to properly define, classify, and most importantly, exemplify these concepts with tangible scenarios so we can improve familiarity. If you have comments or suggestions to enrich these, I welcome any submissions about your understanding or resources that could further help clarify their meaning. A future second part in this series will aim to discuss the Praxis System diagram, defining concepts like policy, strategies, tactics, roles, methods, tools, techniques, technologies, systems, tasks, processes, procedures, and more.


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  1. Experimenting with Concepts Related to Theoria and Praxis – Part 2 | AHBE LAB

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