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 17: Handling Complex Societal Problems

Dorien DeTombe


Dorien DeTombe What are complex societal problems? There are many problems that can be categorized as ‘complex societal problems’. These are problems where the ‘solution’ is to be found at the societal level. Complex societal problems are real-life problems reflecting much uncertainty and are therefore hard to deal with. Complex societal problems are often unique in the course of their progress, although they may have occurred many times before. This means that there is no routine way of solving them. Complex societal problems are often ill-defined, multifaceted, as well as hard to analyse, to structure and to change. Knowledge and data are missing and/or contradictory. The causes of the problem are vague or ambiguous. It is difficult to see where, when and by whom the problem was started, who is involved in the problem and who is not, and who is affected by the problem. Although many phenomena, actors (private and governmental) and people are involved, it is seldom clear beforehand which are involved. There may be a changing group of actors. Each actor has their own views about the problem, their own goals, power and emotion. Complex societal problems are unstructured and dynamic. They have a considerable impact on society at the macro, meso and the micro levels. Sometimes they are local problems, although mostly they are region-wide or even worldwide. They can be found in all countries of the world. It is often uncertain what impact the problem has on society, what the goals...

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