Global Course

Spatial Planning & Institutional Design

Introduction & Course Manual

We are delighted to welcome you to the ‘Global Course on Institutional Design and Spatial Planning’. Whether you are a student from Beijing, Tokyo, Newcastle, Damascus or Groningen, you are in for a treat!


The ‘Global Course: Spatial Planning and Institutional Design’ is a joint effort of Newcastle University, The University of Tokyo, Renmin University of China, the University of Washington and the University of Groningen. The first edition of the Global Course won AESOP’s Excellence in Teaching Award 2018. We are pleased to present you with the version of the course for the academic year 2022-2023.

Around the globe

Providing a diverse and intellectually stimulating (virtual) classroom is one of the main goals we hope to accomplish with the Global Course. The Global Course is truly international, as the lectures are recorded and streamed at five top universities on three continents. The course will provide an international-comparative perspective on Institutional Design for Spatial Planning, from both a theoretical and practice-oriented perspective. The group work allows you to collaborate with fellow students from around the globe. In the Global Course, two questions will play a key role:

1. What are institutions and which historic, economic and cultural factors explain their existence?
2. How and why does the institutional context differ between the participating countries?

A look across the border shows that countries solve their social and spatial issues in different ways. Although consultants often propose to copy spatial interventions from one city to another, the Global Course shows that the success and outcomes of these interventions are context-dependent. In order to make spatial planning interventions successful, it is important to build the right institutional conditions. In other words: spatial design cannot do without institutional design. The Global Course consists of a theoretical and a practice-oriented narrative that allows you to engage in discussions about institutional design. The first is a theoretical perspective on institutions, taking into account history, culture and economy on various scale levels. The second is an international-comparative perspective on planning systems, based on an overview of the institutional context of the participating countries. 

Theoretical narrative

The theoretical narrative is about the nature of institutions, which will be discussed in a multi-disciplinary fashion. In the Global Course, we define institutions in the broadest sense: they are sets of legal rules, policies, and normalized or legitimized sets of behavior. On the basis of the history, culture, ideology and the interests of different groups, the planning system might evolve in a different fashion. Institutions are therefore not neutral. They are the result of decision-making processes, democratic procedures, collective behavior and power struggles between public and private bodies, individuals and (representative) groups, in official or unofficial ways. They generate outcomes that are relevant and purposeful to those who have established or uphold these institutional frameworks. However, the range of possible changes is limited by historic choices and by dominant ideological notions. During the Global Course, institutional economics, political economy, and path dependency are presented as explanations behind the existence of institutions.

Practice oriented narrative

In the practice-oriented narrative the lecturers provide examples from their local context and explain how their spatial planning system is established. The main aim is to establish a basis for international comparison on Institutional Design. You are challenged to think about questions such as: what is ultimately the goal of spatial planning and spatial interventions? How is the public domain defined? Under influence of which ideologies has the planning system shifted over time? Of course, we will take a look at the outcomes of various planning regimes in terms of the geographical location of various functions and social groups, public and private profits and losses, citizen participation and well-being. 


Altogether, this course aims to create awareness among planning students that spatial interventions are rooted in institutional settings, and institutional changes might have spatial outcomes as well. 
It will be our pleasure to help you along the course and wish you success!

Course Manual

In the Course Manual you will find all the information needed on the following topics: Learning goals, work forms, evaluation, assignment, peer reviews, lectures, mandatory readings, evaluation criteria and deadlines.