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The Principles of Public Participation

Question:

Discuss about the Public Participation for Issues and Methodologies.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) model led to the concept of Social Impact Assessment in the United States in the year 1970s. The development projects and schemes like the roads, airports, mines and other infrastructural projects have social impacts which were studied by the SIA. Major developments in several countries across the globe affect groups, population and settlement and thus Social Impact Assessment should be conducted. A set of core principles should be followed for the practice of public participation. The public should express their opinion about decisions and actions that affect their lives. Sustainable decisions are promoted by the public participation because the interests and needs of all participants and decision making agencies are communicated in the process of public participation (Arce-Gomez, Donovan and Bedggood 2015). Public participation has many benefits like decision making agencies can understand the needs, role and contribution of members of the community and support from community members is gained by the process of public participation.

EIA has purpose of completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and improvement of quality of decisions (Glasson, Therivel and Chadwick 2013).  Public should be informed about the proposed project and the purpose of the project. Public should be made aware of the adverse impacts of a project on the environment and this will be an environmentally sensitive decision. Integration of economic, environmental and social objectives is the critical role of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Public participation can contribute positively to the process of EIA. The methodological issues of public participation are based on screening, profiling, scoping, assessment, development of alternatives and monitoring. Public involvement (PI) is an activity within the process of Social Impact Assessment (SIA). Quantitative information about variables of Social Impact Assessment can be obtained by the social impact assessor. In the process of screening, a planned intervention can be descried, public involvement can be invited, the issues and impacts of screening can be understood and it can be determined if Social Impact Assessment (SIA) will be required. In the process of profiling existing data is gathered, spatial domain is determined, areas of impact is delineated and community engagement of solicited.  Scoping involves technical identification and engagement of community. Assessing is the process of where a comparative diachronic model is adopted, an interactive community forum (ICF) is conducted and cumulative impacts are measured.  In the process of developing impacts technical and engineering aspects and social, environmental and economic criteria are considered.  In the mitigation process, impacts are identified and prioritized, mitigation strategies are developed and these strategies are implemented. In the monitoring process, key impacts are listed, targets are compared, monitoring plan is developed and grievance handling process is monitored.  In the management and evaluation process, social impacts are managed, mitigation strategies are evaluated, and corrective action plans are adopted. Thus, it can be understood that in the process of Social Impact Assessment, the intended and unintended social consequences which are both positive and negative can be analyzed, monitored and managed.  In both Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), impact area is identified, data is collected, analysis and mitigation is done and generating solutions are provided.  However socio-economic studies of people who are affected by loss of land, loss of livelihood, alternate occupation is the primary concern of Social Impact Assessment unlike Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)( Vanclay and Esteves 2011).

Methodologies of Social Impact Assessment

There are many benefits of public participation. Sustainable development, conflict management, protection of environment, understanding of projects and economic benefits are essential components of Public participation. This also minimizes or avoids public controversy, confrontation and delay. There is delicate balance between economic and environmental trade-offs and public participation makes public aware of this.  Public participation also safeguards against decisions which are politically motivated.  The experiences of public participation have been documented since years but the process evaluation of public participation requires improvement. The common set of criteria of evaluation criteria should and the features which define the mechanism of public participation should be identified. The contextual variables play a crucial role to shape and influence public participation. This role should be categorized and evaluated by the evaluation framework of public participation. In order to achieve these goals, innovative public participation ideas should be developed in forums; general knowledge should be exchanged between policy makers and practitioners who belong to different policy sectors. Agreement should be reached about evaluation framework which is required to be adopted and a balance should be maintained between specific and generic evaluation framework (Vanclay and Esteves 2011). 

The goal of public participation is to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower the public participation process. The effective public participation has a number of criteria for theoretical evaluation. The acceptance criteria are the features of a method that encourages acceptance by a wide public and the process criteria are the features of a process that ensures that the public process occurs in an effective manner. Instruments are required to be developed so that these criteria can be measured effectively and thus there is a scope of future research in this arena (Vanclay and Esteves 2011). 

The issue of public participation is that participatory approaches were centralized around issues that involved power. Powerful government and technical bureaucracies were in alignment with the commercial and economic interests of developers. However, there lies risk in adopting non-participatory methods which are technically acceptable and the impact study can’t access the crucial data of the impact processes which are generated by a proposal. The locally affected groups undergo dilemma to participate in the impact assessment process. These principles are in alignment with the ethics involved in project assessment and development action.  Social justice, fostering diversity, sustainability and economic equity are the primary ethical concerns (Hillier 2016).  Appropriate scales for participation must be considered by impact assessment studies.  After this the methodological, practical and conceptual issues which are required to foster, manage and understand non-specialist participation should be reviewed by impact assessment studies.

Benefits of Public Participation

The development projects are justified and conceptualized beyond local, the task of environmental change response can be understood by environmental and social impact studies. Impact assessment is a specialized area which and technical expertise is required for the basis of participation because ecological and social aspects of interaction is quite complex.  The integration, public display, information review and counseling are the concepts but these concepts are limited to particular social factors in the process of participation or post evaluation of the assessment (Vanclay and Esteves 2011). 

The risk of participation in SIA is that public participation is not often adequate in the process. This is also a practical issue of SIA.  The public often do not perceive SIA as a deliberative process which determines the acceptability of projects. SIA is often perceived by public as an attempt for legitimization of projects. Also SIA often does not address human rights adequately. Issues like human trafficking, access of members of community to cultural heritage and forced evictions are practical issues which are not adequately addressed by Social Impact Assessment (SIA)( Esteves, Franks and Vanclay 2012).

The practical issues of SIA process are the specific characteristics of the environment which is examined must accommodate the terms of reference and technical specification. The requirement of development agencies and project proponents is of paramount importance in this process. The impact assessment system should be opened to a long-term commitment to  the process of monitoring and post-development evaluation (Vanclay and Esteves 2011). 

The various groups of stakeholders like business, non-governmental organizations and trade unions are required to be decided in advance for the SIA process (Li, Ng and Skitmore 2013).  The economic, social and environmental interests should be represented in the SIA process. Sustainable Development Councils have a large number of representatives of civil society. These councils can provide qualified and relevant participants for the SIA process. Tools of Information Technology (IT) like participative web tools and electronic focus groups can be used to encourage participation of a large number of stakeholders in the process of Social Impact Assessment (SIA)( Franks and Vanclay 2013 ).There are different tools which can inform debates, deliberations and dialogues among stakeholders. Other conventional tools can be used to encourage participation of various stakeholders like Delphi Survey, In-depth interviews, Interactive back casting, consensus conference and focus groups (Cuppen, Broekhans and Enserink 2012).

Conclusion

It can be concluded that public participation has multiple benefits like sustainable development, conflict management, effective usage of available data and environmental protection. Screening, profiling, scoping, assessment, development of alternatives and monitoring are different methodologies of SIA process. There are however different practical, conceptual and methodological issues which are involved in SIA process. Local groups often undergo dilemma to participate in the impact assessment process. The process of public participation can be expensive and can consume a lot of time. The capacity should be built and staffs should be trained in the process of public participation. If the process delivers negative experiences to public, then public can develop negative perception of the process and can refuse to participate in future process.

Reference Lists

Arce-Gomez, A., Donovan, J.D. and Bedggood, R.E., 2015. Social impact assessments: Developing a consolidated conceptual framework. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 50, pp.85-94.

Cuppen, M., Broekhans, B. and Enserink, B., 2012. Public participation in EIA and attitude formation. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 30(2), pp.63-74.

Esteves, A.M., Franks, D. and Vanclay, F., 2012. Social impact assessment: the state of the art. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 30(1), pp.34-42.

Franks, D.M. and Vanclay, F., 2013. Social Impact Management Plans: Innovation in corporate and public policy. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 43, pp.40-48.

Glasson, J., Therivel, R. and Chadwick, A., 2013. Introduction to environmental impact assessment. Routledge.

Hillier, J., 2016, February. Values, images, identities: cultural influences in public participation. In Geography Research Forum(Vol. 17, pp. 18-36).

Li, T.H., Ng, S.T. and Skitmore, M., 2013. Evaluating stakeholder satisfaction during public participation in major infrastructure and construction projects: A fuzzy approach. Automation in construction, 29, pp.123-135.

Vanclay, F. and Esteves, A.M. eds., 2011. New directions in social impact assessment: conceptual and methodological advances. Edward Elgar Publishing.

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