Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond
Chapter 17: Key learnings from psychology for sustainability assessment
The field of impact assessment has a long history of learning from other related fields, particularly policy analysis and planning. One field that so far has received little attention in relation to sustainability assessment is that of psychology, specifically the branch of psychology that seeks to understand how humans fundamentally tackle thinking and decision making. Given that sustainability assessment is a process that involves difficult choices, wicked problems and inherent trade-offs (Retief et al., 2013), understanding the psychology of decision making is obviously highly relevant. We suspect therefore that, although the psychology language might be alien to the readership, the content of this chapter is bound to have some resonance with most other chapters in the book, and should enrich understanding of decision making within sustainability assessment. The need to understand how decision making works, specifically in relation to strategic environmental assessment (SEA), has been highlighted in the past by a number of authors, such as Kornov and Thissen (2000), Nilsson and Dalkmann (2001) and Nitz and Brown (2001). These authors introduced learning from the political and decisionmaking sciences, with the main message being that for SEA to be effective it must influence decisions, and to achieve this it must learn how decision making works. Nilsson and Dalkmann (2001) go on to introduce a methodology which relies on so-called ‘decision windows’ or ‘windows of opportunity’ as particular points in the assessment process where decisions are made and can be influenced.
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