Challenges for Social Impact Assessment in New Zealand: looking backwards and looking forwards
Nick Taylor, Principal, Nick Taylor and Associates
Mike Mackay, Senior Social Scientist, AgResearch
In this article we introduce Issue 8 of Impact Connector, which focuses on the practice of social impact assessment (SIA) in Aotearoa New Zealand.Across the articles in this issue we consider some of the challenges facing SIA in this country.We asked the writers of these articles to look backwards to previous practice and also to look forward to where they see SIA going in future practice, especially where SIA might well be applied to societal challenges in future iterations of practice.
SIA emerged in New Zealand in the 1970s as an applied field in the social sciences (Taylor and Mackay, 2016a), with the origins often tied to the emergence of environmental impact assessment in countries such as the United States and Canada (Burdge, 2004). The field is now well established internationally with international guidelines developed and published by the IAIA (Vanclay, et al. 2015).Social impacts are now widely acknowledged as a key part of safeguards polices in international development assistance and in sustainable development, as in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
SIA has a long history in this country, as we have discussed previously in an overview of the history of SIA in Aotearoa New Zealand (Taylor and Mackay, 2016a).Our practitioners have contributed widely to the development of a common approach to SIA, including to texts, training and guidance documents both in this country and internationally.
In the early era of major energy projects described in the first article in this issue, by Ann Pomeroy, an SIA Working Group instigated and wrote our first SIA guidelines document: Social Impact Assessment in New Zealand: a practical approach published by the Town and Country Planning Directorate of the Ministry of Works and Development.The interesting aspect of these guidelines is their move from considering future impacts to a framework and approach for managing current social impacts through a participatory, community-based approach.
In her article, Ann Pomeroy also talks about the subsequent, transformative era of state-sector restructuring and the limited application then of the methods and skills developed by SIA practitioners in the preceding period when the focus of SIA was on the impacts of major projects.To some extent the subsequent period of intense, neo-liberal regulatory reforms that followed “Think Big” caught SIA practitioners on the hop.The lesson then was to ensure that the SIA approach, including the process and methods used, had the flexibility to adapt to different eras of national policy. Plus the transformative changes in society, for example structural ageing or technological disruptions.
At the lower level of project planning and resource consent applications under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), SIA has, in our view, become somewhat formulaic.The approach taken to social impacts is often limited in the conception of the social environment used and therefore in the scope of the effects under consideration.For instance, effects such as noise, dust or traffic, as evident in many construction projects, are not often followed through to their social consequences, including the effects on amenity values, human health and standard of living.This gap calls for a more integrated approach.
Gillian Stewart and Lynette Wharerau address this problem and propose in their article a conceptual framework of multiple capitals for impact assessment.Their integrating framework looks to move from a “linear” approach to a “co-dependent model” in order to analyse and evaluate the balance of impacts on community wellbeing, including positive, negative, anticipated and unforeseen effects on the lives of locals and the places they live.
In our experience, the most effective approaches that integrate SIA into assessment focused on community outcomes and wellbeing are found at the strategic level, as part of strategic environmental assessment or SEA (Taylor and Mackay, 2016b).At the higher, strategic level, SIA is applied in Aotearoa New Zealand to planning under the auspices of local and regional government.Examples include urban planning, transport planning and, especially over recent years, land and water planning.The use of SIA in Regulatory Impact Statements by central government is relatively undeveloped.
Social impacts experienced by rural areas remain an important part of SIA in this country.For instance, there is considerable analysis of the social impacts of land-use change (Taylor, 2019). David Simmons provides a summary of his research into mobile populations in rural areas.The research found that populations are increasingly mobile.He provides a framework for categorising the nature of this mobility. His framework could be applied to SIA focused on sectors such as tourism, infrastructure construction, horticulture and dairy farming, where there are high levels of workforce mobility and movements of visitors and other people.The framework proposes that mobile or ‘transient’ populations are usefully understood by using a continuum of the length of time they are present in a community.Each group is then described by social-demographic factors and vulnerabilities.The research has provided a guideline document that should be useful to SIA practitioners working with communities affected by change.
In their paper assessing the impacts of a new cycle trail in the Waitaki District, Mike Mackay and Nick Taylor consider the need for social impact assessment that focuses on sustainability outcomes of tourist trails across multiple dimensions, and in an integrated manner, to better inform the planning, implementation and management of trails and of tourism more generally in rural regions.Their assessment found that the Alps to Ocean trail is helping to diversify and revitalise the District’s economy and small towns along the way, while introducing a new type of visitor mobility to the affected areas, along with increased employment activity in the highly mobile hospitality sector.
In putting this issue of Impact Connector together, we asked contributors to consider new thinking in the field of SIA as part of their articles.There is increasing public concern about disruptive technologies and impacts of change remain a concern in cities, regions and communities. SIA has always had a practical interest in effects experienced by people and communities and how they can be avoided, managed, or enhanced.
As an example,Nick Taylor looks at transformational changes in relation to the management of biodiversity in Aotearoa New Zealand and the development of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan as well as national programmes such as Predator Free New Zealand (PFNZ).Protection and enhancement of biodiversity are major societal challenges.He notes there is a history of applying SIA, and social science more generally, to conservation management and provides an example with a case study of the SIA for a programme working towards Predator Free Rakiura.The interest in this SIA was on the potential effects on population, employment, livelihood, visitor numbers and behaviour, and the island way of life. To ramp up this sort of effort will require SIA practitioners to find ways to work alongside ecologists and conservation managers, to integrate approaches to human-ecological systems, and to work with affected communities and stakeholders.
Programmes to control or eradicate invasive species, to strengthen freshwater management with a revised national policy statement on Freshwater Management, to support regeneration of native forests for carbon sequestration, or to implement the Billion Trees Programme, are all potentially transformational in terms of their social outcomes.SIA can help to design and implement these transformational strategies and the projects that follow them.
In another area of transformational change, transport systems, Helen Fitt looks at the future of transport modes and potential social disruptions.She invokes the Jetsons to get us thinking about the social impacts we should consider.Looking back, Helen notes that the unanticipated effects of transport policies and decisions are now well known.Yet we still build motorways in New Zealand without fully recognising the potential effects on urban form, especially urban sprawl.She also notes the perverse impact of induced demand, whereby reduced congestion from a new road induces increased demand and then, yes, more congestion.SIA can help to understand these sorts of dilemmas and find solutions to them.
We face many challenges at the higher level of national policy development as Ann Pomeroy points out looking back at previous transformations.Current national developments include climate change policies such as encouragements to use electric vehicles, planting of trees for carbon capture, freshwater management and changes in urban design and planning. With their longstanding interest in rural communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, perhaps some of the most far-reaching transformations that SIA practitioners will need to turn their attention to here are in the primary production and processing sectors.These changes include transitions to more sustainable, carbon-neutral production systems.Innovation remains fundamental to these production systems and the “Agri-tech” sector faces innovations in bio-technology, digital technology, robotics, marketing systems and the like, which have the potential for significant social impacts, on people and communities through the work that they do and the places that they live in (Downs and Wojasz, 2019).As Bond and Dusik (2019) point out, impact assessment in general needs to rise to the challenges raised by the need to assess the impacts of technological changes.
This issue of Impact Connector reflects the practical focus of many SIAs on rural areas and the regions.The sorts of transitions that the rural productive sectors are now facing will require innovative thinking by SIA practitioners around issues such as the cumulative effects of multiple drivers of change. Other challenges are the increasing complex linkages between producers and consumers, and between rural and urban areas.These challenges will require SIA to move into areas such as foresight and futures assessment .Long-standing foci of livelihoods, work environments, skills and training, housing for workers and social equity will remain important but the frameworks for understanding social change will need to advance considerably. Public involvement will also remain a feature of our work but the nature of informed debate with communities is also likely to transform as new tools are advanced, such as digitised scenario games.
Finally, in this introduction to the SIA Issue of Impact Connector, a particular issue we want to note is the important relationship between SIA and applied social research and, where possible, meta-analysis that draws out the nature of social impacts and consequential changes in social life, social systems and social-economic status, or disadvantage.Where this research is made available from academia or crown research institutes, it is an invaluable resource for baseline analysis, understanding of social change and, most importantly, for understanding the complexities of human-environmental relationships.It is of interest that several of the writers in this issue (Pomeroy, Simmons, Mackay and Taylor) have drawn on research undertaken as part of National Science Challenges.Similarly, we note speakers at recent NZAIA conferences have drawn on their research in these Science Challenges to develop presentations relevant to IA practitioners.These links between applied research and impact assessment require active fostering by NZAIA.
We would like to thank all the authors for their efforts, plus Richard Morgan and Dy Jolly for additional editorial comments and Kate McNab for production online.
Bond, A and Dusik, J. (2019).Impact assessment for the twenty-first century – rising to the challenge. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, published on line DOI: 10.1080/14615517.2019.1677083
Burdge, R. (2004).Social impact assessment: definitions and historical trends.Chapter 1 in Rabel J. Burdge and Colleagues, The Concepts, Process and Methods of Social Impact Assessment: Social Ecology Press, Middleton, Wisconsin.
Downs, D.& Wojasz, A. (2019).Agritech in New Zealand: towards an industry transformation plan. Growing Innovative Industries in New Zealand, Draft for Consultation, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Taylor, N. (2019). Potential impacts of price-based climate policies on rural people and communities:a review and scoping of issues for social impact assessment.Report to Ministry for the Environment, Nick Taylor & Associates, Rangiora.
Taylor, C. N. and Mackay, M. (2016a).Social Impact Assessment (SIA) in New Zealand: Legacy and Change.New Zealand Sociology, Volume 31, 3: 230-246.
Taylor, C. N. and Mackay, M.(2016b).Practice issues for integrating strategic social assessment into the setting of environmental limits: insights from Canterbury, New Zealand.Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 34,2:110-116.
Vanclay, F.; Esteves, A.; Aucamp, I.; Franks, D (2015).Social Impact Assessment: Guidance for assessing and managing the social impacts of projects.International Association for Impact Assessment, Fargo.