Today IEMA has published the latest impact assessment guidance which is the long-awaited Primer on Digital Impact Assessment (IA). The Digital IA primer is a milestone in the profession's digital journey and the first published guidance on Digital IA from IEMA.

Taking a step back in time, ‘Embracing innovation and digital’ is one of the four strategic themes for action in IEMA’s 2017 ‘Delivering Proportionate EIA’ strategy. In May 2017, I wrote a piece for The Environmentalist, now Transform magazine, on Digital EIA. In the article I stated that it was a matter of when, rather than if, impact assessment would be fully digital. The intervening three years have seen steady advancement of digital IA in practice from a range of organisations, including a pilot, digital-only, submission to the Planning Inspectorate as well as the creation of a growing number of digital Environmental Statements (ES), environmental reports, scoping reports and non-technical summaries (NTS).

The current situation, regarding the epidemic, will likely bring forward and accelerate the adoption of digital working practices, and digital IA, more quickly than otherwise may have occurred. Therefore, the timing of todays release of IEMA’s new primer on Digital IA will be welcomed by practitioners.

The Digital IA primer has been developed by practicing IA professionals drawn from IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network (Footnote[1]). The group have used a wide range of experience from different organisations and specialisms to provide a useful practitioners overview of Digital IA. The primer aims to outline the current situation, the opportunities presented by Digital IA and the challenges faced.

The primer is aimed at IA practitioners, reviewers and stakeholders. However, whilst the primer requires a basic knowledge of IA, it is likely to be of interest to wider stakeholders as Digital IA is a key emergent topic of interest. The primer covers a broad range of topics related to Digital IA and has been written by practitioners for practitioners.

The publication of the primer follows hard on the heals of the recent pilot project by the Digital Catapult which has been investigating innovative ways of assisting the industry to transition to digital working. The Digital IA primer is available for free to IEMA members here and for non-members a PDF can be purchased under EIA Guidance here. For an overview, see the pre-launch webinar recording here from working group lead, Tom Gold (WSP) and working group member, Lisa Hall (Waterman Group).

The IEMA Digital IA working group is not finished here though, work is already underway on IEMA Impact Assessment Outlook Journal Volume 6, which will be on Digital Impact Assessment in Practice, and contains several case studies on real world examples of Digital IA from leading practitioners. Furthermore, the Outlook Journal will be accompanied by a microsite, in keeping with the Digital subject matter, with videos, GIS and animations to help bring the case studies to life.

Finally, in the wake of the government's sensible advice on staying at home, we have postponed the two Digital IA events planned in April for Leeds and Birmingham, however we will be running additional webinars and other online events on the digital theme across the year. To receive a quarterly E-newsletter and stay informed about new guidance, webinars and impact assessment activities IEMA members need to sign up to the Impact Assessment Network by emailing ia@iema.net and asking to join the IA network.

Enjoy the primer and look out for the Digital IA Outlook Journal and microsite in late April/early May.

1 Core Working Group: WSP, Waterman Group, Sweco, Stantec, Royal HaskoningDHV, Quod, Mott Macdonald, Jacobs, ERM, Capita, Barton Willmore, Atkins, Arcadis, Aecom.


About the Author

Dr. Howard is a leading professional in environmental impact assessment and sustainability with 20 years of experience across public, private and not-for-profit organisations. A Fellow of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and Chartered Environmentalist, Rufus sits on strategic advisory boards at; the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), the Advanced Research and Innovation in Environmental Science (ARIES) NERC Doctoral Training Programme, and the Kent Nature Partnership. Dr Howard currently holds positions as Policy and Engagement Lead for IEMA, Director and Founder of Greenfriars, and Sessional Lecturer at Kent Business School and Canterbury Christ Church University.