The International Handbook of Social Impact Assessment
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The International Handbook of Social Impact Assessment

Conceptual and Methodological Advances

Edited by Henk A. Becker and Frank Vanclay

This important Handbook presents an indispensable overview of the range of new methods and of the conceptual advances in Social Impact Assessment (SIA). Recent increased attention to social considerations has led to substantial development in the techniques useful to, and the thinking in, SIA. A distinguished group of contributors provides an up-to-date and comprehensive account of the cutting-edge in SIA development.
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Chapter 1: Conceptual and Methodological Advances in Social Impact Assessment

Frank Vanclay


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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