Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Urban Vitality

Summary<br/>Social impact assessment (SIA) developed alongside EIA in the early 1970s as a mechanism to consider the social impacts of planned interventions. The early understanding tended to limit the practical application of SIA to the project level, usually within the context of regulatory frameworks, and primarily considered only the direct negative impacts. However, like other types of impact assessment, SIA has evolved over time and has diverged considerably from EIA. Nowadays, SIA has widened its scope to become a<br/>“philosophy about development and democracy”. Ideally SIA considers the pathologies, goals, and processes of development. In this broad understanding, it now focuses on the management of all social issues, intending to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment.<br/><br/>The SIA field defines “social” very broadly, as “anything that affects people and their communities”. Thus,for example, all environmental impacts are also social impacts because people depend on the environment for their livelihoods as well as their physical and spiritual well-being. Social impact concepts include people’s way of life, their culture, community, political systems, environment, health and wellbeing, personal and property rights, and their fears and aspirations.<br/><br/>Formerly seen as a regulatory tool required by regulatory agencies but resented by proponents, SIA, for a variety of reasons, is now increasingly being embraced by corporations and used as an internal process for managing social issues. Such a shift towards corporate acceptance, of course, does not guarantee that SIA will always be done properly, or that it is able to adequately influence company operations.<br/><br/>Several other shifts have been observed:<br/> greater consideration of benefits;<br/> moving towards developing and implementing Social Impact Management Plans;<br/> communities themselves actively commissioning, or doing, their own SIA studies;<br/> SIA playing an important part in ensuring “free, prior and informed consent” and gaining a “social<br/>license to operate”.<br/><br/>Health issues have a central place in SIA. Many of the social impacts of projects could also be described as health impacts, and all health impacts would be regarded as social impacts in SIA. In SIA, health impacts are considered amongst a wide range of impacts on people and communities. SIA practitioners are supposed to look from an integrated perspective. Arguably, this means that the determinants of health should be addressed when SIA is carried out properly. Nevertheless, SIA guidelines do not typically require a detailed analysis of the origins of, or pathways to, specific health conditions. There is, however, a strong awareness of indirect effects and cumulative effects.<br/><br/>In actual practice, the SIA approach used highly depends on the type of policy, plan or project being considered, as well as on the legal and cultural context, on client requirements, and on the commitment of the individual practitioner or consultancy. The SIA case studies considered in this chapter usually discussed the broader determinants of health but did not necessarily recognize them as such. The pathways from social impacts to health, and the linkages between health and social impacts, were not explicitly part of the analysis. Overall, the input of health expertise into SIAs seemed to be lacking. However, given the close connections between the HIA and SIA approaches, more cooperation and crossfertilization between these two types of impact assessment can be expected in the future.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>

Reference den Broeder, L., & Vanclay, F. (2014). Health in SIA. In R. Fehr, F. Viliani, J. Nowacki, & M. Martuzzi (Eds.), Health in Impact Assessments: Opportunities not to be missed (pp. 69-88). Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe.
Published by  Urban Vitality 1 January 2014

Publication date

Jan 2014


Frank Vanclay