Social Impact Assessment

Social impact assessment is a study to determine, for a specific development proposal, what kinds of social impacts are likely to occur to people and their community; to assess the significance of these impacts; and to identify measures that may help to avoid or minimize potentially adverse effects.

Social Impact Assessment

Social impact assessment is a study to determine, for a specific development proposal, what kinds of social impacts are likely to occur to people and their community; to assess the significance of these impacts; and to identify measures that may help to avoid or minimize potentially adverse effects. When governments put in place laws and policies for ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS, they often define ENVIRONMENT to include the social environment. Social impact assessment (SIA) has become an important part of project planning and approval processes.

Social Impacts

Social impacts are changes that occur in people's day-to-day life, livelihood, culture or heritage and community as a result of the construction or implementation of a project, program, plan or policy. Some potential social changes may be necessary or even desired. Development proposals are usually planned to meet an identified need and contribute positively to people's well-being. It is the unintended and undesired effects that are often the focus of SIA studies, such as those impacts that create hardships, result in a loss of the use and enjoyment of home and property, or disrupt the way of life of people or a community.

SIA Process

A social impact assessment generally involves 5 stages: i) profiling the existing social conditions; ii) identifying the kinds of changes likely to occur as a result of the proposed development, such as who will be affected, in what way and for how long; iii) determining the relative importance of the potential changes; iv) identifying measures to prevent or minimize adverse effects; and v) evaluating the overall acceptability of the proposed development given the significance of potential social impacts.

It is often not possible to predict exactly what will happen to people and their community as a result of a development project. It is possible to provide an estimate and understanding of what might happen, why and what could be done to prevent harm, and to respond to the needs and concerns of those people who might be affected.


Further Reading

  • Christopher J. Barrow, Social Impact Assessment: An Introduction (2000).