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Representative planners: why equality, diversity and inclusion are so important to Pathways to Planning

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

Why does representation matter?

Within local government, representation means that the decisions a council makes on behalf of its local residents reflect the needs, wants and unique character of their community. One of the best ways to make the right decisions for local residents is to mirror the diversity of the community within the council.

At Pathways to Planning, we have taken this same vision to heart. Within planning as a profession, those who identify as Black and Asian are particularly underrepresented. Women are also underrepresented in senior roles.

We also want to support candidates who we know tend to be disadvantaged by large-scale recruitment process, such as those from certain socio-economic backgrounds and people with disabilities, to have a fair and equal chance to access our programme.

If we want to be part of the change bringing a more diverse group of individuals into planning teams across the country, you may ask, what have we done about it?

Words into practice

The Pathways to Planning team believe that the best way to recruit graduates from a wide range of backgrounds is to involve a diverse range of individuals in the design of its recruitment and assessment process. We want to tackle the unconscious bias that can slip in to recruitment processes by keeping a wide pool of people involved in the design and review of each stage. To learn more about how we have been working to build a fair assessment process, please find information below about each stage of the process. 


To embed diversity in the heart of Pathways to Planning, we’ve designed the core assessment criteria – our competencies – in collaboration with the Young Planners Network and the BAME Planners Network, with a good gender balance between representatives. We have also had input from professionals with disabilities and have encouraged participation from individuals with diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

The finished competencies can be found on our website, with written descriptions for each heading. They are the only assessment tool that we will use in our recruitment process. We will not be using candidates’ work experience, university of study, degree subject or any other measure to influence the application process.  

Situational judgement test

The Young Planners Network, the BAME Planners Network and graduate trainees from the National Graduate Development Programme for local government (NGDP) have contributed examples of their lived experience on the job to form the backbone of our situational judgement questionnaire. These scenarios were mapped on to our competency framework by an occupational psychologist and then tested with a diverse group of graduate volunteers to assess the viability and fairness of each question. We closely analyse the outcomes of the situational judgement test using anonymised equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data to check for any adverse impact on anyone with a protected characteristic within the assessment.  

The situational judgement test is not timed, but if any candidates require the test in a different format or have an accessibility concern about this assessment, our team are available to offer advise and provide any required alternatives.

Video interview

Our video interview questions are drafted against our competencies and tested with a diverse group of graduates to ensure they are fair and clear. The interviews are assessed using a framework which has been designed by an occupational psychologist to ensure questions are marked in a fair and equal way regardless of a candidate's background. Video interviews will be marked by professional assessors as audio files only, to help remove unconscious bias from the process. Our team cross-mark some of the video interviews alongside professional assessors to ensure the correct marking standard is used. Before setting the pass/fail score for this assessment, our team will also closely analyse anonymised EDI data to check for any adverse impact against each protected characteristic. 

The video interview is a timed assessment, so we strongly encourage candidates with reasonable adjustments to get in touch with us at the earliest possible opportunity to ensure they are given extra time to complete this assessment. We provide extra time to read the questions, extra time to respond to the questions, and an additional opportunity to re-record your answer for all candidates who require reasonable adjustments. 

We do also provide alternative modes of delivery for the video interview content if candidates’ accessibility needs cannot be met within the software that we use. 

Assessment centre

Our assessment centre materials are designed by an external company of occupational psychologists in collaboration with a diverse range of industry experts. The professionals leading this work conducted four reviews of their work with a different diverse group, including a full trial of the exercises with a diverse group of students and assessors. Those consulted included graduate planners working in local councils across England, senior planners in local government, members of the Planning Advisory Service, members of the BAME planners network, BAME assessors, and current university students with a range of protected characteristics.  

We strongly encourage any candidates who have additional requirements to get in touch with our team before their assessment centre date to ensure we provide extra time and support as needed. Typically we can provide advance access to assessment briefings, extra time to read materials, and extra time to complete exercises, alongside any alternative formats required.  

We have also been able to provide coaching to candidates from disadvantaged groups at this stage in the past: this has taken the form of a workshop run by an impartial industry expert, and individual coaching calls.

Council Interviews 

While councils will be responsible for the structure and format of their interviews, we provide them with best practice guidance. Councils will provide feedback on request following the interview process.  We will not automatically pass any information about candidates’ additional requirements to councils as this is held confidentially within the Pathways to Planning application process. We strongly encourage candidates with additional requirement to share these with councils in advance of their interviews so they can receive appropriate support. Councils are diverse employers who seek to employ graduates as diverse as the communities they serve.  

We have also been able to provide coaching to candidates from disadvantaged groups at this stage in the past: this has taken the form of a workshop run by an impartial industry expert, and individual coaching calls.

We hope the length and detail of this article will demonstrate that our passion for equality, diversity and inclusion is at the very heart of the Pathways to Planning graduate scheme. We are keen to continuing growing and improving our best practice as we learn from the communities around us and the candidates who share their experiences with us.

To find out more about Pathways to Planning and the Graduate Programme head this way.