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Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

Author: Graham Moon ~ Bohlweki Environmental (Pty) Ltd

( Article Type: Explanation )

Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is a stand-alone report or a subfield of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It is defined as the social sciences required in developing a knowledge base to provide a systematic appraisal, in advance of the impacts, on the day-to-day quality of life of persons and communities whose environment is affected by a proposed project, plan or policy change.

Social impacts (also known as effects and consequences) refer to changes to individuals and communities due to a proposed action that alters the day-to-day way in which people live, work, play, relate to one another, organise to meet their needs and generally cope as members of society.

A Social Impact Assessment (SIA) therefore is a method of analysing what impact a proposed project or plan may have on the social aspects of the environment. These aspects include (but are not limited to):

  • The ways people cope with life through their economy, social systems, and cultural values;
  • The ways people use the natural environment, for subsistence, recreation, spiritual activities, cultural activities, and so forth;
  • The ways people use the built environment for shelter, making livelihoods, industry, worship, recreation, gathering together, etc.;
  • The ways communities are organised and held together by their social and cultural institutions and beliefs;
  • Ways of life that communities value as expressions of their identity;
  • Art, music, dance, language arts, crafts, and other expressive aspects of culture;
  • A group’s values and beliefs about appropriate ways to live, family and extra-family relationships, status relationships, means of expression, and other expressions of community;
  • The aesthetic and cultural character of a community or neighbourhood its ambience.

SIA involves characterising the existing state of such aspects of the environment, forecasting how they may change if a given action or alternative is implemented, and developing the means of mitigating any changes that are likely to have adverse effects from the point of view of an affected population.

SIAs are done to help individuals, communities, as well as government and private-sector organisations understand and anticipate the possible social consequences on human populations and communities of proposed project development or policy changes.

SIAs should be done as part of the planning process at the beginning stages of a proposed plan or project, and should therefore alert the planner and the project proponent (through the social assessor) to the likelihood of social impacts. Like a biological, physical, or economic impact, social impacts have to be pointed out and measured in order to be understood and communicated to the impacted population and decision-makers. SIAs provide a realistic appraisal of possible social ramifications and suggestions for project alternatives and possible mitigation measures.