Conceptual and Methodological Advances
Edited by Henk A. Becker and Frank Vanclay
Chapter 1: Conceptual and Methodological Advances in Social Impact Assessment
Frank Vanclay Advancing the deﬁnition of SIA Social impact assessment (SIA) arguably originated, as a speciﬁc concept at least, with the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act of the USA (NEPA) (see Interorganizational Committee, 1994). However, in more general terms, predicting and assessing the consequences of change on society has been part of the political landscape since the Oracle at Delphi (Becker, 1997), and has been of interest to anthropology and sociology since their inception. Today, the objective of SIA is to ensure that the developments (or planned interventions) that do occur maximize the beneﬁts and minimize the costs of those developments, especially those costs borne by the community. Too often, these costs (externalities) are not adequately taken into account by decision makers, regulatory authorities and developers, partly because they are not easily identiﬁable, quantiﬁable and measurable. By identifying impacts in advance, better decisions can be made about which interventions should proceed and how they should proceed. Mitigation measures can be implemented, and redesign can occur, to minimize the harm and maximize the beneﬁts. By promoting participatory processes, better consideration can be given to what appropriate development for a community may be. Early deﬁnitions of SIA tended to see it as being inherently linked to a regulatory context. For example, basing their deﬁnition on that of the Interorganizational Committee on Guidelines and Principles for SIA (1994), which was speciﬁcally steeped in the language of NEPA, Burdge and Vanclay (1995: 32) considered that:...
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