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ResearchUrban and Regional Studies InstituteResearch projects

Improving social impact assessment and social performance

Principal researcher

Prof. Frank Vanclay


In a general sense, like social performance, SIA is a field of research and practice (i.e. a discourse, paradigm, or body of scholars and practitioners) that is interested in the processes of managing the social issues associated with development (projects and policies). My research program on SIA includes: (1) giving consideration to the full range of social impacts (both perceptual and tangible) that are experienced by people and their communities; (2) examining the techniques by which these impacts can be assessed and predicted; (3) considering how the impacts could and/or should be mitigated or managed; (4) thinking about possible enhancement of the benefits of projects to communities; (5) thinking about how SIA could be implemented more effectively in the planning process; (6) considering how SIA can be extended to the policy level; (7) developing ways of improving community engagement processes; (8) improving the understanding of what constitutes a social licence to operate; and (9) clarifying the relationship between SIA and human rights impact assessment.

SIA refers to the “processes of assessing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Its primary purpose is to bring about a more sustainable and equitable bio-physical and human environment” (Vanclay 2003).‘Interventions’ refers to: specific projects such as the construction and operation of a new mine, or the hosting of mega-events such as the Olympics; policies such as the planned implementation of a Rural Adjustment Scheme, or a reform of water entitlements; and to plans such as to increase ecotourism in Aboriginal communities. SIA is retrospective (ex-post) as well as prospective (ex-ante), studying past events to build a knowledge base from which to make predictions about current or future issues. SIA is similar to environmental impact assessment (EIA), except that SIA emphasises the impacts on humans and communities, and is more concerned with the management of the impacts rather than just their prediction. SIA has an important role in the project approval process, but is of greater use when it is involved in the planning and design stages considering issues such as how to mitigate, monitor and manage the negative impacts likely to be experienced and in thinking about how to ensure the benefits of projects to communities can be enhanced.
The major outputs from this research program to date include four edited books: Developments in Social Impact Assessment (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014); New Directions in Social Impact Assessment (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011); The International Handbook of Social Impact Assessment (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2003); and Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (Chichester: Wiley, 1995). Another significant contribution is the International Principles for SIA, published in 2003 in Impact Assessment & Project Appraisal 21(1). This was the culmination of a five year process that led to a new way of thinking about SIA now widely accepted.
Last modified:11 March 2014 2.47 p.m.