Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Barbara P. Buttenfield

Second Advisor

Thomas A. Clark

Third Advisor

Lori M. Hunter


An emerging theme in planning research is the role of technology to enable and support formal planning tasks and activities. To realize the full potential of these planning support instruments (PSI) and geographic information systems (GIS)-based planning support systems (PSS), it is necessary to gain a better understanding of both their current level of use, and the technical and institutional factors influencing their adoption.

This study utilizes a mixed-method research design to assess current levels of PSI use in local government, and explore the opportunities and barriers to PSS implementation in rural settings. A World Wide Web-based survey is employed to characterize and assess the extent and nature of PSI implementation for planning departments in the U.S Mountain West. The survey inventories planning office web site content and functionality, community process tools, GIS infrastructure and PSS use. Case research, grounded in diffusion of innovation and technology acceptance theory, is conducted on PSS implementations in four rural local governments in Colorado. All cases involve CommunityViz® PSS software in comprehensive planning, and are assessed using a combination of semi-structured interviews and content analysis of Study results indicate that Mountain West planners are capable in ICT adoption and use, but lack experience as early adopters of innovative applications. While GIS implementation is ubiquitous, PSS adoption has been minimal and limited to project-specific applications with significant support from external expertise. Benefits of PSS implementation are perceived as improved communication and credibility, while identified adoption barriers include hardware/software costs, lack of staff and time, difficulties with usability, and complexities of planning problems. The study sheds light on differences in ICT needs and use between urban and rural planning settings, and is unique in its focus on demand-side evaluation of PSS adoption. A pragmatic contribution includes recommendations for planning education, future PSS development and PSS adoption best practices,administrative and policy-related documents.