Corinne Swain did a degree in geography at Cambridge and an MPhil in town planning at UCL and is a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). She is a former director and head of planning at consultancy Arup and is currently one of the Government Office for Science’s eight-member Foresight Project on the Future of Cities. Swain was awarded an OBE in 2000 for services to planning and this October was awarded fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences, which includes distinguished scholars and practitioners from academia, public and private sectors.
Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?
My current role is to inspire younger planners to think beyond their immediate project work, and to act as a technical ambassador for Arup in my disciplinary areas. I also seek to influence policy and have sat on quite a few advisory bodies in my career – at the moment I'm on the London mayor's outer London group. There are not really any formal measures on my objectives but I have to give an account of myself at the end of the year in a value report. I indicate the number of big conference presentations I've given, the staff I've mentored and details of journal articles.
Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives?
A Hold tight to the vision and ideals that made you choose planning as a career. The planning system is often treated as a party-political football and its fortunes go up and down. Stay focussed – strategic planning has been in the doldrums in recent years but I'm still passionate about it, and what gets me out of bed in the morning is trying to help reinvent this form of planning.
Learn from others to avoid reinventing the wheel. So don't underestimate the importance of networking and learning and spreading best practice. This is relevant to understanding things in this country and overseas and in relation to other disciplines.
Make strong technical arguments but don't over-egg your case or resort to instant soundbites. Planners in the private sector often have to make the case for development proposals and sometimes give evidence at inquiries; use the power of logical argument to ensure you're on firm ground.