Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

Historical Overview

Historically, social scientists have long been involved in performing impact assessment, almost since the dawn of their discipline. In the 19th century, a case study carried out by Condorcet is believed to be the first Social Impact Assessment ever carried out. However, SIA as it is known currently, emerged much later. The beginnings of social impact assessment can be traced back to developments as recent as those during the 1970s. From the early 1980s, several new methods started emerging including Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA), Participatory Action Research (PAR), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), etc. which were focused on making people and communities active participants, rather than mere objects of assessment.

During early 1990s, social science professionals developed an acceptable set of SIA guidelines and principles and the practice of SIA also got firmly established among development agencies as a way to assess the impacts of development projects before commencing. SIA is now a part of the formal planning processes in most development organizations. Moreover, in some countries, SIA is a legal requirement. SIA has been carried out for a variety of projects from diverse sectors such as health, water, sanitation, livelihood projects etc. But it has been found extremely useful for the resettlement projects specifically. This is because, the process has evolved to identify project-affected people and find measures to mitigate negative impacts or compensate irreversible losses following participatory process. Initially, SIA was carried out as a part of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). However, in recent years, a lot of work has been done on developing the methodology and application of SIA and it is now carried out as an independent exercise.

Social Impact Assessment

What are Social Impacts?

Inter-Organizational Committee on Principles and Guidelines for Social Impact Assessment (IOCPGSIA) defines social impacts as the consequences to human populations of any public or private actions that alter the ways in which people live, work, play, relate to one another, organize to meet their needs, and generally cope as members of society. The term also includes cultural impacts involving changes to the norms, values, and beliefs that guide and rationalize their cognition of themselves and their society.” These are the changes that occur in communities or to individuals as a result of an externally induced change and so, it can be either positive or negative. An example of project with significant social impact is that of a dam which causes disruption due to relocation of the local people. However, on the other hand, they are seen as positively impacting the lives of general public at large.

What is Social Impact Assessment (SIA)?

Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is a process of research, planning and the management of social change or consequences (positive and negative, intended and unintended) arising from policies, plans, developments and projects (UNEP, 2007). IOCPGSIA (2003) defines SIA in terms of efforts to assess, appraise or estimate, in advance, the social consequences that are likely to follow from proposed actions. These include specific government or private projects such as large transportation projects, building construction projects etc.

There is no common agreed definition of Social Impact Assessment. It has been defined in different ways by various organizations and scholars over the years but the essence remains constant. It is a process that seeks to assess the social impact that is likely to follow from projects undertaken to promote development, such as highways, dams, industries, mines, ports, airports, etc. It is an important tool that can help the decision makers to foresee the likely negative impacts of their actions so that the necessary steps can be undertaken for prevention. Social Impact assessment is built on the notion that decision makers shall understand the consequences of their decisions before acting and that the people affected shall not only be appraised of the effects, but shall be given an opportunity to participate in designing the future.

Steps in conducting Social Impact Assessment

According to Council for Social Development (2010), following steps are involved in carrying out the Social Impact Assessment.

Step 1: Defining the impact area

The first step is to define the impact area. The size of the area varies according to the project. For instance, a dam affects and submerges a large, contiguous geographic area affecting several settlements. On the other hand, the impact from a highway project or other such linear projects occur along a corridor such as small strips of land on either side of the road. For SIA, the team must get a map showing clearly demarcated area that will be affected by the project (both directly and indirectly). In addition, field visit to the area must be undertaken to have a better understanding of the geographic limits of the affected area and people residing there.

Step 2: Identification of data requirement

Review the existing available data on impacts likely to follow from the project and check if that could be used for assessment purpose. The secondary data should be checked for its adequacy and reliability. This review will help in identifying the need for collection of additional data through primary data collection method such as surveys and other participatory methods.

Step 3: Consultation with stakeholders

The first step in developing plans for consultation and participation is to identify stakeholders who will be involved in the consultative process. Stakeholders are individuals, groups or institutions which are likely to be affected by the proposed intervention (either negatively or positively), or those who can affect the outcome of the intervention. An effective public improvement plan needs to be developed and implemented in order to involve all interested and affected stakeholders.

Step 4: Conduct screening

Screening is undertaken in the initial stages of project development. SIA process begins with screening. The purpose this stage is to screen out ‘no significant impacts’ from those with significant impacts and derive a broad picture of the environment, scale and magnitude of the issues. This also helps in determining the scope of detailed SIA that would be subsequently carried out.

Step 5: Scoping

The next stage is scoping which involves visiting the project site and consulting with all stakeholders. It is important to confirm their understanding of the key issues. This is an initial assessment of likely impacts and therefore, on-site appreciation of impacts is essential for projects that cause displacement on a large scale. The local knowledge can be crucial in finding alternatives that help avoid or at least reduce the magnitude and severity of adverse impacts.

Step 6: Preparing a socioeconomic profile of baseline condition

It is necessary to assess the socio-economic conditions of the affected people in order to understand the extent of social impacts. This generally involves conducting a socioeconomic survey and a consultation with affected stakeholders. However, the socioeconomic profiling should not be limited to the affected population, it should also include those who benefit from the economic opportunities generated by the project.

Step 7: Survey of host population

A survey is carried out to check that the host area has enough land, income earning opportunities and other resources to sustain additional population from the affected area and that this influx does not put pressure on local resources that the host population may resent. Another important thing to be considered is that the population being relocated and the hosts shall be from a similar socio-cultural background as this helps in reducing social frictions to great extent.

Step 8: Identification and assessment of the impacts

Once the range of predictable impacts are identified, next step is to determine their significance and check if they are acceptable, require mitigation or are unacceptable. Since many impacts are not quantifiable, it becomes impossible to rank sometimes. Also, there might be a disparity in community perceptions of an impact and those of the SIA team in few cases. In such scenarios, the affected people should be consulted in ranking the impacts. If these are found unacceptable, the SIA must clearly state so giving proper reasons. Generally, SIA is expected to result in specific mitigation plan to address relevant social/resettlement issues and potential impacts.

Step 9: Development of a Mitigation Plan

The purpose of developing a mitigation plan is to firstly avoid displacement, secondly to minimize it, and thirdly to compensate for adverse impacts. The SIA study must aim to  help plan for, manage, and then mitigate any negative impacts (or enhance any positive ones) that may arise due to a proposed project.

Role of SIA in Planning

Planners and decision makers have increasingly recognized the need for better understanding of the social consequences of policies, plans, programmes and projects (PPPPs) and SIA helps in understanding such impacts. It alerts the planners about the likely benefits and costs of a proposed project, which may be social and/or economic. This knowledge helps in decision making as to whether the project shall proceed, some changes shall be made or whether it shall be dropped completely. The most important outcome of SIA is in the form of mitigation plans which help in overcoming the potential negative impacts on individuals and communities. A Social Impact Assessment if done rightly, shows the real consequences of the project on affected people and suggests alternative approaches.

Scenario in India

In India, SIA has been generally carried out as part of the Environment Impact Assessment clearance process for a long time. As it was considered a part of the EIA process, therefore, it has not received the attention it deserves. But now, Social Impact Assessment has become an important part of the project preparation process, especially for the preparation of Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs).

Resettlement policies have lately made social impact assessment a major part of the resettlement planning process. In 2006, a provision was included for conducting SIA in the Orissa R&R Policy 2006. The National R&R Policy 2007 has made a provision for conducting SIA whenever a new project or expansion of an existing project is undertaken. But this provision is limited to only those cases which involve displacement of 400 hundred or more families, en masse in plain areas, or two hundred or more families en masse in tribal or hilly areas, DDP blocks or areas mentioned in the Schedule V or Schedule VI to the Constitution.

According to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, 2013, it is mandatory to conduct a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and prepare a Social Impact Management Plan (SMP) for acquisition of land by government for its own use, hold and control or by public-private partnership or by private acquisition for public purposes.

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