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Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is a methodology to review the social effects of infrastructure projects and other development interventions.


SIA first emerged in the 1970s in the U.S, as a way to assess the impacts on society of certain development schemes and projects before they go ahead - for example, new roads, industrial facilities, mines, dams, ports, airports, and other infrastructure projects. It has been incorporated since into the formal planning and approval processes in several countries, in order to categorise and assess how major developments may affect populations, groups, and settlements. SIA is often carried out as part of, or in addition to, Environmental Impact Assessment, but it has not yet been as widely adopted as EIA in formal planning systems, often playing a minor role in combined environmental and social assessments.

As to standard definition "Social impact assessment includes the processes of analysing, 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 biophysical and human environment." (International Principles of SIA)

A substantial academic literature has developed around the techniques and the application of SIA, and it is widely taught and practiced. Major consultancy firms offer SIA expertize (which could be offered to 'developers', governments, or campaign organisations). They, and individual skilled practitioners and academics are often called upon to produce SIA reports, particularly in advance of proposed new infrastructure projects. The academic backgrounds of SIA practitioners are diverse, but may include applied sociology, anthropology, geography, development studies, and planning.

SIA overlaps substantially with the current interest in monitoring and evaluation (M&E). M&E is carried out after a project or development has gone ahead, to assess impacts and to see how well its goals were met. Evaluation is particularly important in the areas of

  1. public policy,
  2. health and education initiatives, and
  3. international development projects more generally, whether conducted by governments, international donors, or NGOs.

In all these sectors, there is a case for conducting SIA and evaluations at different stages. There is a growing concern that projects of all types (from large dams to the work of small rural development NGOs), are efficiently conducted, do not disadvantage local people, and do not generate negative social and environmental impacts.

Increasingly, there is also a concern that non-experts and local people participate in the design and implementation of proposed developments or programmes. This can be achieved in the process of doing an SIA, through adopting a participatory and democratic research process. Some SIAs go further than this, to adopt an advocacy role. For example, several SIAs carried out in Queensland, Australia, have been conducted by consultants working for local Aboriginal communities who oppose new mining projects on ancestral land. A rigorous SIA report, showing real consequences of the projects and suggesting ways to mitigate these impacts, gives credibility and provides evidence to take these campaigns to the planning officers or to the courts.

==National SIA frameworks==TO DO

  • Australia and New Zealand
  • European countries
  • USA

==Extending SIA==TO DO

  • in international development
  • into advocacy
  • into other areas


  • Barrow, C. J. 2000. Social Impact Assessment: an Introduction. London: Arnold.
  • Becker, H and F Vanclay. 2003. The international handbook of SIA. Cheltenham: E Elgar.
  • Becker, H. A., 1997. Social impact assessment : method and experience in Europe, North America and the developing world London : UCL Press
  • Burdge, Rabel J. 2004. The concepts, process and methods of SIA. Middleton, WI: The Social Ecology Press. ISBN 0-941042-35-9.
  • Burdge, Rabel J. 2004. A Community Guide to Social Impact Assessment. Middleton, WI: The Social Ecology Press ISBN 0-941042-17-0.
  • Howitt, Richard 2003. Local and non-specialist participation in impact assessment, in: C.-Q. Liu, Z. Zhao, T. Xiao and J. Guha, Strategic Management of Environmental and Socio-Economic Issues: A Handbook. Guiyang, China, Guizhou Science and Technology Publishing House, 27-36
  • Howitt, R. 2001. Rethinking resource management: justice, sustainability and indigenous peoples. London: Routledge.
  • Kirkpatrick, C. and Lee, N., Editors, 1997. Sustainable development in a developing world: Integrating socioeconomic appraisal and environmental assessment. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Mayoux, L & R. Chambers 2005 Reversing the paradigm: quantification, participatory methods and pro-poor impact assessment. Journal of International Development 17(2) 271-298.
  • Roche, C. 1999. Impact assessment for development agencies. Learning to value change. Oxford: Oxfam
  • Taylor CN, Bryan CH, Goodrich CG. 2004. Social Assessment: theory, process and techniques. Middleton, WI: The Social Ecology Press ISBN 0-941042-37-5.

See alsoEdit

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