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Applications of Social Impact Assessments

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1726 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Social impact assessment is the identification and assessment of the potential social impacts of a project. One of the most fundamental parts of SIA is that it includes affected people and interested parties. SIA plays an essential role in building a relationship between local communities and project to make the development sustainable.  Involving the people is one of the best ways to understand the perceptions of the affected communities. SIA can help maximize benefits, avoids or mitigate harm and effectively manages the social impacts.

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A few years ago, indigenous people were completely eliminated from SIA projects which entirely affected them. Every decision like management or allocation of resources was only under the hands of state administrator without acknowledging the presence of indigenous people who were mostly a part of these resources. But, recently things have changed and now the responsibility and decision making of these resources are shared by the joint authority of the local people and the state administrator. (O’Faircheallaigh, 1999)

An SIA presents an opportunity for cross- cultural interactions where several stakeholders come together and discuss their point of view. It is a key tool in managing development in multicultural environment where stakeholders have different views of the world. Working in a cross cultural environment provides an opportunity to create diverse set of solutions to an existing problem because different creative ideas exist. However; this is not always the case. When culturally diverse group come together, there exists an underlying problem which is, the different ideas, opinions, status and power that come on the table. This give rise to conflict. Therefore, a skillful method of negotiation by which agreements and compromise takes place settling down the differences is important in SIA. An effective negotiation is the skill to analyze the problems between two groups and based on that find possible solutions favoring both the parties and ultimately resulting in a win-win situation. It defines a good practice in SIA. In this paper, I will talk about the challenges that occur in a multicultural environment and some recommendations on one can eliminate the challenges and also reflect upon effective negotiations which can play an important role in implement a good SIA practice.

When two different cultures come together, there exist a difference in meaning, perceptions and languages.  The views regarding development and environment differ within the indigenous people and social scientist because of the different cultural backgrounds. Indigenous people and social scientist both live in separate worlds with different values, knowledge (Stoffle and Minnis, 2008) and language which ultimately affects the management decisions. Land means different things to an indigenous and non Indigenous people and the way they treat them also differs. Indigenous people have deep connections with their land and environment. Through generation of knowledge and co adaptations, they have developed deep connection with the environment physically, spiritually, emotionally and culturally.(Stoffle and Arnold, 2003)

Non indigenous people do not consider these concerns. They perceive environment as something they own and can carry development activities. It’s an asset to them. For example, according to indigenous community, land owns them whereas for the non indigenous community, they own the land. Also, one of the difficulties in a multi cultural environment is the communication barrier between the indigenous people and social scientists. The indigenous people have their own way of speaking and interpreting which is difficult for others to comprehend. For example: A study was conducted in the central Bahamas to examine the perceptions of the traditional communities on potential impacts of proposed Marine Protected areas. It has been noted that there were persistent failure of communication during it. “Caplan pointed out that communication difficulties are culturally based and Kerr concluded that two communities communication is a persistent problem”.

 In SIA, these conflicting values exist because different cultures have different ways of viewing the world but somehow the western knowledge has been dominating the system. Western knowledge are conventionally treated as the only possible knowledge and universally relevant. It is said that western knowledge as being universal. According to western knowledge, objective reality exists and it is the natural truth. This shows how western knowledge set limits and creates legitimate knowledge which directly marginalizes the other knowledge often likely to be seen in political arrangements and research processes. Indigenous knowledge is often subjugated against the western ontologies. For example, “In Napranum on cape York peninsula, aboriginal people insisted that they have their own way of looking at country and managing the land which the western knowledge had not considered. This gave rise to anger and frustration at not having their ways recognized and respected.    (Howitt, R. & Suchet-Pearson, 2003)

The power relations between people are often unequal because larger parties get involved in the process. Power is structured in such a way that it favors the institutional and political structure. It is usually seen in SIA that projects that negatively affect indigenous people are still carried out because of the power of the social scientist to control. This legitimizes the definition of Foucault (1972) who mentions that power represents the means by which an individual controls the behavior of others. The expression of power involves the control of financial, institutional, and political resources.  Any project values the decisions of people who benefit more from that project than the ones who suffer in a great quantity. Most of the decisions are made by the authorities and indigenous people have a little power in it. It denies the validity of perspectives and evidence put forward by the indigenous people to present their opinion For example, Edelstein and Kleese (1995), showed how native Hawaiian perspectives regarding the spiritual and religious significance of volcanos and the land surrounding them were rejected in the assessment of proposals for harnessing geothermal energy. The result was that native peoples affected by these proposals were marginalized from the decision making process” (O’Faircheallaigh, 1999)Additionally, In many cases, state development official, developers and consultants have denied the right of aboriginal people to participate. Gagnon et al. emphasized that indigenous people should take control of technical inputs in SIA. This can result in the balance of power. However, indigenous people lack a fixed stand (O’Faircheallaigh, 1999) This create difficult for the indigenous community to present their opinion and they are likely to show cynicism and distrust towards a development project.

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One of the best ways to tackle all these issue is to consider the ethical priorities and have effective negotiations. Negotiations are fruitful when it can shape the outcomes of development projects in a view appreciative to the indigenous people.  At first, an effective negotiation should address the uneven power relations of the indigenous people and the state. Power should not be defined as a means of controlling and showing dominance over other people. It should not be approached as only one side of the party should win.  Instead Power should be looked in such a way that it considers the contributions of both the parties involved in discussions. Negotiation should be compromising. In a negotiation, there should be a willingness to see the perspective of one’s own.  People should listen and consider both sides of the discussion. Information sharing and transparencies of any agencies should be provided. Trust should be build through open and equitable discussion. A shared responsibility of the resources between the indigenous members and the government which is also known as co management should be carried out. This can resolve the conflicts between the indigenous people and the governments. There should be an inclusive participation and democratization of decision making by both the parties. According to (Natcher, Davis and Hickey, 2005) In negotiation, there should be an incorporation of the knowledge and values of community members into the decision making process .If members feel their contributions are valued, a heightened sense of group identity can be created which can lead to enhanced social learning and trust, which is basis of negotiation (Natcher, Davis and Hickey, 2005)  Co operation within the groups and effective communication is the basis of negotiation which can be achieved through finding a common language, identifying the cultural attributes and engaging in different views of cultural understanding resulting in a good SIA practice.



  • Howitt, R. & Suchet-Pearson, S. (2003) Ontological pluralism in contested cultural landscape.
  • Natcher, D. C., Davis, S. and Hickey, C. G. (2005) ‘Co-Management: Managing Relationships, Not Resources’, Human Organization, 64(3), pp. 240–250. doi: 10.17730/humo.64.3.23yfnkrl2ylapjxw.
  • O’Faircheallaigh, C. (1999) ‘Making social impact assessment count: A negotiation-based approach for indigenous peoples’, Society and Natural Resources, 12(1), pp. 63–80. doi: 10.1080/089419299279894.
  • Stoffle, R. and Minnis, J. (2008) ‘No Title’, Resilience at risk: epistemeological and social construction barriers to risk communication, (2008), pp. 55–68.
  • Stoffle, R. W. and Arnold, R. (2003) ‘Confronting the angry rock: American Indians’ situated risks from radioactivity’, Ethnos, 68(2), pp. 230–248. doi: 10.1080/0014184032000097768.



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