This event titled Emerging Social Impact Assessment Approaches, Challenges, and Opportunities took place on 17 May 2018 at Mott MacDonald’s offices in central London. As one of the scheduled events for 2018 of IEMA’s Global Environmental and Social Assessment Group (GESA), the event was organised in response to demand from IEMA members for a socially themed event. This was in recognition of the increasing attention that social issues and risks have received in environmental and social impact assessments over the past ten years.

The event started with a keynote speech from Tom Streather, Mott MacDonald’s Social Safeguards Team Leader who provided his personal reflections on the three lines of inquiry that had been put forward for discussion, namely:

  1. What are emerging SIA themes/priorities?
  2. How can SIAs contribute to projects sharing benefits more widely?
  3. Preferred ESIA approaches – integrated assessment vs stand-alone social specialisation?

These questions provided the framework for an open panel discussion with social specialists offering varying perspectives; that of lenders – represented by Sarah Ruck from EBRD, consultants - Marina Johnson from ERM, and developers - Phil Middleton from BP. The discussion was moderated by Rob Cole, an EBRD social specialist and audience participation was encouraged throughout with time for comments and questions ring-fenced.

Emerging SIA themes discussed included land acquisition and livelihood restoration, labour and supply chain management, gender-inclusive consultation and community engagement processes, indigenous peoples’ and human rights.

The panellists then went on to discuss the role of SIAs in benefit sharing. Whilst it was noted that the primary objective of SIAs should be to mitigate impacts and provide a voice to affected and often marginalised communities, SIA management plans can also extend to community development initiatives which share project benefits with affected communities. The opportunity of aligning social management plan objectives with broader development targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals was discussed.

Finally, the panellists shared their perspectives on whether it was best to deliver SIAs through an integrated approach within a wider environmental and social impact assessment, or rather as stand-alone specialist social studies. On the one hand having standalone SIAs forces projects to examine social issues in sufficient detail and by appropriate expertise, on the other hand an integrated approach enables issues to be addressed holistically and to align mitigation. One example of effective integration identified was the emerging practice of ecosystem services, which operates at the nexus of ecology and livelihoods.

Participants’ feedback on the event was overwhelmingly positive with particular praise given to the diverse perspectives of the panellists, as well as opportunities given to the audience to share their own experiences and perspectives.