|Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing Countries (UNU, 1999, 375 pages)|
|9. Emerging developments in EIA|
|9.6 Social impact assessment|
|9.6.4 Steps in the social impact assessment process|
· Investigate the probable impacts.
The probable social impacts will be formulated in terms of predicted conditions without the actions (baseline projection), predicted conditions with the actions, and predicted impacts that can be interpreted as the differences between the future with and without the proposed action.
Investigation of the probable impacts involves five major sources of information: (1) data from project proponents; (2) records of previous experience with similar actions as represented in reference literature as well as other EISs; (3) census statistics; (4) documents and secondary sources; and (5) field research, including informant interviews, hearings, group meetings, and surveys of the general population. The investigation of the social impacts identified during scoping is the most important component.
Methods of projecting the future lie at the heart of social assessment, and much of the process of analysis is tied up in this endeavour. In spite of the long lists of methods available, most fall into the following categories:
· straight-line trend projects (taking an existing trend and simply projecting the same rate of change into the future);
· population multiplier methods (each specified increase in population implies designated multiples of some other variable, for example, jobs, housing units);
· scenarios (1) logical - based on construction of hypothetical futures through a process of mentally modelling the assumptions about the variables in question; and (2) fitted empirical - similar past cases used to analyse the present case with experts adjusting the scenario by taking into account the unique characteristics of the present case;
· expert testimony (experts can be asked to present scenarios and assess their implications);
· computer modelling (involving the mathematical formulation of premises and a process of quantitative weighing of variables);
· calculation of "futures foregone'' (a number of methods have been formulated to determine what options would be given up irrevocably as a result of a plan or project, for example, river recreation and agricultural land use after the building of a dam).
The record of previous experiences is very important to estimate future impacts. This record is largely contained in case reports and studies and the experience of experts. Variations in the patterns of impacts and responses in these cases also should be registered. Expert knowledge is used to enlarge this knowledge base and to judge how the study case is likely to deviate from the typical patterns. The documents and secondary sources provide information on existing conditions, plans, reported attitudes, and opinions, and contribute to the case record. The field research involves interviews with people who have different interests at stake, different perspectives, and different kinds of expertise. Wherever feasible, it should also involve a search through a wide range of documentation that is often available (in forms that range from official statistics and the minutes of meetings to the patterns of coverage and letters to the editor).
The opinions of various individuals and groups toward the proposed change should also be part of the record. Surveys are valuable to assess public opinion properly, because spokespersons for groups do not always represent the views of the rank-and-file. Statements at public meetings and by spokespersons should not be used as projections, but as possible impacts to be evaluated through other means.