Evaluating the Social Impacts of Environmental Change and the Environmental Impacts of Social Change: An Introductory Review of Social Impact Assessment

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 08 October 2014, At: 15:36Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    International Journal ofEnvironmental StudiesPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/genv20

    Evaluating the Social Impactsof Environmental Change andthe Environmental Impacts ofSocial Change: An IntroductoryReview of Social ImpactAssessmentC.J. Barrow aa School of Social Sciences & InternationalDevelopment , University of Wales Swansea ,Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UKPublished online: 17 Sep 2010.

    To cite this article: C.J. Barrow (2002) Evaluating the Social Impacts ofEnvironmental Change and the Environmental Impacts of Social Change: AnIntroductory Review of Social Impact Assessment, International Journal ofEnvironmental Studies, 59:2, 185-195, DOI: 10.1080/00207230210922

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  • Environ. Studies, 2002, Vol. 59(2), pp. 185195

    EVALUATING THE SOCIAL IMPACTS OFENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE AND THE

    ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF SOCIALCHANGE: AN INTRODUCTORY REVIEW

    OF SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT

    C. J. BARROW

    School of Social Sciences & International Development, Universityof Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

    (Received in final form 28 August 2001)

    This paper presents an introductory review of social impact assessment (SIA), focusing on itspotential for environmental managers. The origins, value, weaknesses, and principles areconsidered, and the process of SIA is briefly outlined. The SIA process is especially usefulfor those pursuing sustainable development, those interested in natural resourcesdevelopment, urban environments, the potential for and consequences of the relocation ofpeople, biotechnology impacts, or conservation. SIA is still evolving, and is not a perfecttool; nevertheless, it is likely to grow in importance. Some suggested further readingsources are presented.

    Keywords: Social impact assessment; Environmental management; Sustainable development

    INTRODUCTION

    Planners and decision makers increasingly accept that social impacts need

    to be considered along with environmental because:

    They are often closely interrelated; It is a wise response to the growing demand for social responsibility

    (increasingly backed by legislation);

    ISSN 0020-7233 print; ISSN 1029-0400 online # 2002 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080=00207230290015487

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  • It can improve environmental management and the quest for sustainabledevelopment.

    Social impact assessment (SIA) runs parallel with, overlaps, or is used

    by: environmental impact assessment (EIA); risk and hazard assessment;

    technology assessment; project, programme and policy monitoring and eva-

    luation; and a number of other planning and management fields. (The

    Author has recently published an introductory review: Barrow, 2000, see

    Suggested Further Reading.) Governments, funding agencies and non-

    governmental organisations (NGOs) seek to improve development efforts

    by trying to establish likely impacts in advance, so those which are un-

    wanted can be avoided or mitigation and contingency measures can be

    put in place. Social and socio-economic problems cause misery, waste

    money, and hinder efforts to establish stable governance vital for satisfac-

    tory environmental management. In an increasingly crowded world, SIA

    is vital for the avoidance of human problems, which often lead to environ-

    mental damage.

    SIA is an evaluative process that uses descriptive and analytical tools,

    often derived from the natural sciences, economics and planning as much

    as the social sciences. The public, planners, lawyers, engineers, resource

    developers, conservationists, and many others come into contact with

    SIA, especially those dealing with large-scale mining, highway develop-

    ment, dams, and other large projects or policy changes.

    SIA, like EIA, should be anticipatory; i.e. undertaken at the earliest

    stages of planning before decisions have been made. When this is the

    case SIA has the potential to help determine the optimal course of action

    and to reduce the risk of unwanted (perhaps difficult to cure) impacts

    this is the best approach for environmental management and sustainable

    development. In practice it is often started when a proposal has been se-

    lected, and so is less powerful. Sometimes SIA is applied retrospectively;

    this can still be valuable for improving resource exploitation and conserva-

    tion strategies; an assessment can give a clearer idea of how exactly the pro-

    cess of damage proceeds so that decision makers, rather than make do with

    vague ideas about encroachment on reserves, illegal logging, etc., can for-

    mulate policies likely to work. Retrospective SIA can add to hindsight ex-

    perience and understanding of how change takes place.

    There are two ways in which SIA can be adopted, either: as an integral

    part of planning, decision-making, and monitoring; or as a bolt-on

    186 C. J. BARROW

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  • extra. For EIA, the trend has been toward the former, and SIA is following a

    similar path, so that now it is becoming an important part of integrated

    environmental management. It is not enough for environmental managers

    to assess physical impacts, they must also consider social, cultural, and

    socio-economic issues which are often crucial. Environmental managers

    seeking to understand and manage natural resources need to be aware of

    social institutions, social capital, property rights, peoples capabilities,

    needs, fears and aspirations; SIA can furnish this information. Social capital

    comprises the abilities, traditions and attitudes, which help ensure a group

    of people will support each other, respond to challenges (including environ-

    mental changes) in a constructive manner, and innovate. In many situations

    social capital has been damaged or lost, is being eroded, or is at risk. People

    who lack social capital may be very differently affected by the same envir-

    onmental conditions than those who have it. SIA can provide information,

    which indicates whether environmental degradation will occur, or whether

    conservation efforts or sustainable development efforts will work.

    Although some anthropologists would claim much earlier origins, the

    expression social impact assessment began to be used around 1973 during

    feasibility studies for the Trans-Alaska (oil and gas) Pipeline. The 1969 US

    National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) contained a clause calling for

    federal agencies to make integrated use of the natural and social sciences

    when preparing environmental impact statements (EISs). In 1973 and

    1978 the US Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued guidelines

    to improve preparation of EISs, which stressed all impacts on the human

    environment, including social, were to be considered. The 1978 CEQ

    Guidelines in effect provided a legal foundation for SIA in the USA,

    although it was not specifically mandated.

    SIA in the USA came into the limelight in 1983 when the US Nuclear

    Regulatory Commission undertook an impact assessment before re-opening

    the Three Mile Island nuclear reactors, the radioactive leak had forced eva-

    cuation and caused much local concern. A citizens group legal action

    forced the consideration of social and psychological impacts; otherwise

    the EIS would have been restricted to physical impacts. Further progress

    was made in 1985 when the Northern Cheyenne Tribe fought a court action

    against the granting of a large federal coal exploitation lease because the

    EIA had included virtually no coverage of social, cultural or economic

    impacts on them. The Tribe won their action, preventing the mining.

    There have subsequently been a number of cases where indigenous peoples

    SOCIAL IMPACT 187

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  • or citizen groups in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and else-

    where, have reacted to development proposals with demands for SIA. For

    example, in Canada the 19741978 Berger Commission Inquiry into the

    social, economic and environmental impacts of the proposed Mackenzie

    Valley Pipeline (to convey oil and natural gas from beneath the Beaufort

    Sea in the Arctic to British Columbia and Alberta, crossing lands inhabited

    by ca. 30,000 Native Peoples) included in-depth hearings in villages (in

    local languages), and granted funding to support the Native Peoples to

    make their case. The Inquiry had considerable impact on natural

    resources development, helped establish the value of SIA, and taught the

    lesson that it must genuinely involve local people.

    The US Agency for International Development (USAID), Americas over-

    seas aid agency, issued guidelines for something similar to SIA in 1975so-

    cial soundness analysis to check on proposals. By the mid-1980s the World

    Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and increasingly other aid

    agencies required EIA and SIA before funding development projects.

    In 1981 the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) was

    founded, providing an important forum for the exchange of EIA, SIA, tech-

    nology impact assessment, and hazard and risk assessment news, views and

    research findings. The IAIA now plays a central role in the promotion,

    improvement, and regulation of impact assessment, including SIA,

    world-wide; and can be reasonably described as the main professional

    body (see Suggested Further Reading, Internet Sites).

    THE CHARACTER, PRINCIPLES AND AIMS OF SIA

    SIA draws on over three decades of theoretical and methodological devel-

    opment to improve foresight of future change and understanding of past

    developments. It is difficult to agree upon a precise definition of SIA, or

    a universally accepted list of its aims, and it is a field, which is still evol-

    ving. However, the following should be acceptable to most practitioners:

    A social impact is a significant or lasting change in peoples livesbrought about by a given action or actions.

    SIA is a process for systematic assessment of such changes; it should beanticipatory, it aids understanding, planning and (so far not often

    enough) policy making; it is iterative, i.e. adding depth and detail as it

    proceeds through its successive stages.

    188 C. J. BARROW

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  • Guides to SIA were published thick and fast between the late-1960 and

    mid-1980s; unfortunately, many were cookbooks which did little to

    improve theory or methods. Retrenchment after the late-1970s led to a

    shift to more reflection and research on methods, approaches and theory,

    in contrast to the often hurried and sometimes shoddy consultancy of the

    previous decade. Different conceptual frameworks shape the approach

    adopted for SIA, although all share a broad similarity and some common

    elements. Often the SIA focus is on the community because it is the

    level at which the costs and benefits of change are most acutely felt. The

    community also offers a manageable unit and some assessors work with

    those active in community development. The opposite conceptual orienta-

    tions of SIA are: politicalthe acceptance that the assessment is value-

    laden and seeks to empower locals; and the technicalthe gathering of

    empirical data to give expert judgement as objectively as possible.

    So far, SIA has mainly been applied at project-level, i.e. with a site-

    specific and limited time-span focus. Until recently widespread uncer-

    tainty, paucity of reliable data, and the lack of knowledge, meant that

    assessors found it easier to cope with small-scale and short-term issues.

    SIA, like EIA, has tended to dwell on negative (unwanted) impacts,

    although it can also predict positive (beneficial). SIA should go beyond

    anticipating possible impacts to suggest development alternatives to

    avoid, reduce or mitigate problems and maximise benefits. It can also

    play a crucial role in shaping ongoing monitoring and evaluation, and

    may also be a means for public involvement and empowerment, and

    for improving the accountability of planners and administrators; a

    means to extract useful information from locals; and a way to solicit

    public opinion on proposals, alternatives, trade-offs, etc.

    SIA can be a research technique, often ad hoc in approach; or a techno-

    cratic planning or management tool; or a policy instrument shaped by

    agreed laws and framework for application; or as a means of ensuring par-

    ticipation or even the empowerment of people in the development process.

    SIA aims to be multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, usually using

    a combination of objective and subjective assessment and ethical judge-

    ment. It is often treated as a subfield of EIA, but if EIA and SIA are

    laid out as a spectrum, then they are extremes, each clearly distinct in

    terms of approach, methodology and techniques, background of practi-

    tioners, and literature; however, there is also a great deal of overlap.

    There is clearer separation in historical terms, EIA and SIA having had

    SOCIAL IMPACT 189

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  • reasonably different evolution, and in respect of legislative and financial

    support.

    SIA is not an easy, nor a precise art; a given impact, or combination of

    impacts is likely to differently affect various social, ethnic, gender or age

    groups (perhaps not simultaneously), it may quickly advantage some peo-

    ple, slowly damage others, and leave some unaffected. Assessors may have

    difficulties defining social units, which anyway often change suddenly and

    rapidly. There are also the problems familiar to those involved with EIA of

    difficult to identify off-site or downstream impacts, indirect impacts and

    cumulative impacts. It is best to accept that SIA relies a lot on the profes-

    sional judgement of researchers, that qualitative measurements are useful,

    and that it is likely to be inaccurate.

    SIA has developed more slowly than EIA and has sometimes been of

    poor quality. Until relatively recently it often had little impact on project,

    programme, or policy decision making. This is due to a variety of rea-

    sons, including: uncertainty in some countries about its legal status; pro-

    blems comparing results because of a plethora of methodologies; and the

    ability of special interest groups to manipulate findings and side-line

    what they do not agree with.

    SIA, even if it accurately predicts many direct impacts, may miss others,

    and many (or even all) indirect and cumulative impacts (the latter being

    where more than one chain of causation interacts). There is thus a risk

    that those unfamiliar with SIA may be given a false sense of security by

    it. SIA can inform and reassure people so they are less likely to oppose

    a development, although there may be situations where it has the opposite

    effect, triggering unwanted reactions such as land speculation, in-migration,

    and protest. Much depends on how well the SIA is conducted.

    Reviewing SIA over the last 30 years or so the following weaknesses are

    apparent. There is a lack of standardisation of approach and the field has

    been poorly funded compared with EIA. Often in practice SIA is given too

    little time for adequate results. Frequently there is only one opportunity for

    assessment (giving a spatially, and temporally limited snapshot view).

    SIA deals with more complex and changeable factors than EIA, so it is

    likely to be less accurate and possibly slower.

    Social scientists involved in SIA tend to be critical and discursive, rather

    than predictive and explanatory, consequently it is difficult to get a solid

    supportive theoretical framework. SIA has mainly been applied at corpora-

    tion, federal government, or regional authority level, has often focused

    190 C. J. BARROW

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  • on economic costs and too little on how local people will be affected by

    development.

    Often SIA has access to a poor database, so assessment is hindered. The

    disciplines involved tend to have different, even contradictory terminology

    and incompatible units of measurement, so comparison of various assess-

    ments can be a problem.

    SIA often conducted by consultants who are poorly trained (some have

    been conducted by non-social scientists, and even by graduate students).

    As with EIA professional accreditation may resolve this. SIA has been

    too infrequently subjected to appraisal to see how it performed and what

    went wrong, consequently there is a failure to learn as much as might

    have been from hindsight.

    Hindsight is often denied a wide-enough audience because SIAs are

    mainly documented in grey literature (documents which are of very

    restricted circulation and seldom peer-reviewed).

    SIA is treated more as an approval mechanism to determine whether a

    development should proceed, and what conditions should be applied, rather

    than ensuring effective monitoring, mitigation of problems and responsive

    management.

    Legislation fails to oversee the SIA process adequately and may allow

    authorities to simply ignore findings.

    The weaknesses of SIA may not be as serious as they first appear,

    Burdge [1] argued that being sensitive to social impacts is perhaps

    more important than being able to precisely identify them. A less-than

    detailed and accurate SIA may thus be useful. Improved accuracy of as-

    sessment is a goal, but so must be the ability to get the findings accepted

    and acted upon by decision-makers and planners. SIA cannot be justified

    if its costs outweigh the value achieved through it, nor if the results are

    too unreliable. SIA has often been undertaken by outsiders who do not

    adequately know the people they are dealing with and by assessors who

    are not adequately trained objective social scientists. Some, possibly most,

    of the faults of SIA are the result of misuse or careless application, rather

    than the concept being faulty.

    SIA alone should not determine whether development proceeds, such de-

    cisions must be the responsibility of planners, decision-makers, and perhaps

    the public; the role of SIA is to advise and inform them. It should show the

    likely risks and benefits, and the development options available; also, like

    EIA, it ought to flag potentially irreversible and dangerous impacts.

    SOCIAL IMPACT 191

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  • Between the early-1970s and 1995 there was little uniformity in ap-

    proach or methodology. Proposals from the Interorganizational Committee

    on Guidelines and Principles for Social Impact Assessment have helped

    shape and guide SIA since the mid-1990 (see Suggested Further Reading).

    From the early-1980s SIA has shifted to a participatory, rather than techno-

    cratic approach, although the latter still has the edge in practice. Nowadays,

    as well as the participatory and the technocratic, there is also the more

    integrative approach. The likelihood is that a shift will increasingly take

    place to the latter, which combines elements of both technocratic and par-

    ticipatory. The integrative approach seems to hold considerable promise as

    a way to overcome various methodological weaknesses, and to link differ-

    ent impact assessment fields with SIA to achieve a more strategic over-

    sight.

    There are usually very different types and intensity of social impacts

    during planning and implementation; through post-implementation man-

    agement, when operational change takes place; at project, programme

    or policy closedown; and following closedown. Impacts start virtually

    the moment a development is proposed and they usually continue if devel-

    opment ceases; for example, in the UK impacts are still felt decades after

    cessation of coal-mining as communities established to service the industry

    adapt.

    THE SIA PROCESS

    If the SIA process is effective, dispassionate and thorough, it should iden-

    tify and help counter attempts to manipulate development to serve special

    interest groups. Like EIA, SIA can encourage decision-makers and plan-

    ners to look before they leap.

    It is common for the SIA process to be divided into the following steps

    or stages, similar to those adopted for EIA:

    (1) ScopingSet terms of reference, limits of study, etc.

    (2) Formulation of alternativesIdentify what path development might

    take other than that proposed.

    (3) ProfilingDetermination of what is likely to be impacted. Describe

    the social units affected. Identify indicators to measure. Establish the

    current social condition.

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  • (4) ProjectionMake projections of what is likely to happen and who is

    affected: if the proposed development proceeds; if it is abandoned; if

    alternatives are adopted. Identify indicators to study; identify cause-

    effect linkages and feedbacks.

    (5) AssessmentDetermine the magnitude of impacts, what effect

    likely changes will have, what impacts are most significant and how

    people will react. Determine potential for avoidance or mitigation.

    (6) EvaluationAnalysis of trade-offs: What are the net benefits? Who

    benefits? Who loses? Is the overall impact acceptable?

    (7) Mitigationif needed, identify measures to counter unwanted

    impacts.

    (8) Ongoing monitoringMeasurement of actual impacts, which can be

    compared with, predicted. Lessons learnt can be fed-back into

    policy-making and planning. Develop plan for ongoing monitoring

    to warn of need for further actions.

    DISCUSSION

    There is currently debate as to whether SIA is: 1) a planning and policy mak-

    ing tool which seeks to gather data and provide expert opinion on social

    impacts; or 2) is a means to promote much more fundamental changes in

    development approach (something value-laden, and essentially a political

    process seeking participation and to empower local people). SIA appeared

    in North America, much influenced by NEPA, and has largely evolved

    there and in other developed countries; to work effectively in developing

    countries, it must be adapted to their social, environmental, and cultural con-

    ditions, regulatory procedures, education level of the population, and so on.

    There has been growing interest in improving SIA to avoid it giving only

    a snapshot view (i.e. temporally restricted). A better approach might be to

    use SIA to link pre-development assessment, impact assessment during

    implementation, and ongoing monitoring.

    SIA is already a valuable aid to environmental management and as plan-

    ning moves toward more strategic approaches it is likely to be more impor-

    tant. Natural disasters generate refugees and marked global environmental

    change, if it takes place, may mean huge numbers of eco-refugees. SIA is

    a valuable tool for helping to predict whether there will be eco-refugees,

    how they will behave, and what impact they will have.

    SOCIAL IMPACT 193

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  • Nowadays, more than half the world population is urban and this propor-

    tion is growing, the environmental management of cities demands effective

    management of people and SIA will play a part in this. Conservation, con-

    trol of land degradation, and many other issues faced by environmental

    managers demand information on social developments, often of more

    than one group of people; SIA can clarify peoples reactions, their adapt-

    ability for various social, ethnic and gender groups. It is also a means for

    assessing how technological change may be greeted and whether it will af-

    fect the environment; for example, those involved in energy development in

    the 1960s little guessed that citizens would soon come to strongly oppose

    nuclear power.

    So far, surprisingly little effort has been made to assess the social

    impacts of biotechnology; innovations could lead to the substitution of

    some important export products with huge social, economic and environ-

    mental impacts. Innovations may not be especially beneficial to society

    in the long term, or environmentally wise, but they catch-on because

    individual farmers or agribusinesses benefit in the short term. SIA can

    help predict where things are leading so it may be possible to make precau-

    tionary course-changes and promote better ways.

    Reference

    [1] R.J. Burdge, A Community Guide to Social Impact Assessment, Revised edn. (SocialEcology Press, Middleton, Wisconsin, 1999) p. 5.

    SUGGESTED FURTHER READING

    1. Introductions, Guidebooks and Handbooks:

    Many handbooks and guidelines were published between the mid-1970s

    and the 1980s; most of these are now rather dated. The following are

    more recent reviews and introductions selected for those concerned with

    environmental issues.

    C.J. Barrow, Social Impact Assessment: an introduction (Arnold, London, 2000).H.A. Becker, Social Impact Assessment: Method and Experience in Europe, North America

    and the Developing World (University College London Press, London, 1997).L.R. Goldman (editor), Social Impact Analysis: an applied anthropology manual (Berg,

    Oxford, 2000). (This is anthropological in approach, looking at SIA in practice, especiallyin relation to indigenous peoples and resource development.)

    194 C. J. BARROW

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  • C. Kirkpatrick and N. Lee (editors), Sustainable Development in a Developing World:Integrating Socio-economic Appraisal and Environmental Assessment (Edward Elgar,Cheltenham, 1997).

    F. Vanclay and D.A. Bronstein (editors), Environmental and Social Impact Assessment(Especially Chapter 2) (Wiley, Chichester, 1995).

    2. Journal Articles

    R. Bissett, Social impact assessment and its future, Mining and Environmental Management4(1), 911 (1996).

    K. Finsterbusch, In praise of SIA a personal view of the field of social impact assessment:feasibility, justification, history, methods, issues, Impact Assessment 13(3), 229252(1995).

    Special issue (1995) of Project Appraisal 10(3) devoted to SIA.Special issue (1990) of Environmental Impact Assessment Review 10(12) is devoted to SIA.

    3. Internet Sources (Accessed by author in mid-2001.)

    (i) Guidelines and Principles for Social Impact Assessment prepared

    by the Interorganizational Committee on Guidelines and Principles

    for Social Impact Assessment (updated version) available from:

    http://www.gsa.jov/pbs/pt/call-in/siagide.htm or: http://www.nzaia.

    org.nz/iaia/siaguidelines.htm

    (ii) International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA): http://

    IAIA.ext.Nodak.edu/IAIA

    (iii) NEPA SIA call-in website, 1999: http://www.gsa.gov/pbs/pt/call-in/

    factshet/1098b/10_98b_7.htm

    (iv) EIA Newsletter (which contains some SIA articles) University of

    Manchester, Manchester MI3 9PL or available from: http://

    www.artman.ac.uk/EIA/n116.htm

    (v) Australian EIA Network (1994) Review of Commonwealth EIA

    Social Impact Assessment (updated 1997). This reviews SIA in

    general and focuses on practice in Australia, New Zealand, Canada,

    the USA, and the EU: http://www.environment.gov.au/epg/eianet/

    eia/sia/sia.html

    (vi) US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) call in on SIA:

    http://www.gsa.gov/pbs/pt/call-in/factshet/1098b/1098bfact.htm

    Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Australia) (2001) Ap-

    plication of SIA to the Management of a marine conservation area (a

    full report is available from the site): http://www.reef.crc.org.au/

    publications/techreport/TechRep2.shtml

    SOCIAL IMPACT 195

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