Environmental Impact Assessment Review
Centre for People, Place and Planet
Impact Assessment (IA) has been adopted worldwide typically to ensure the achievement of its goal(s), which might be one or more of sustainable development, environmental policy integration, and democratic governance. Researchers have developed and applied effectiveness frameworks in order to evaluate whether IA achieves its goal(s). The application of these frameworks often identifies some areas of ineffectiveness, and the frameworks are rarely transferable to other cases either within or across different jurisdictions, which makes national and international comparisons problematic. Context is frequently cited as a reason why ineffectiveness is identified in a case, and yet context is not clearly understood in relation to effectiveness. Our aim in this paper is to unpack the notion of context in order to better understand how IA can achieve its goal(s). Based on literature review and a subsequent conceptualisation of context drawing, for the first time, on Integral Theory, we propose that the notion of context can be understood as a range of mediators, which act either as enablers or barriers to the ability of IA to deliver its goal(s). It is these mediators which lead to very different IA system performance in terms of goals achievement, despite applying similar procedural steps. Our conceptualisation provides a significant contribution as it clarifies the validity of claims about contextual elements in the literature, explains the nature of different elements of context, provides a framework with which they can be meaningfully considered and makes an initial attempt at identifying strategies for ensuring mediators act as enablers rather than barriers. It also potentially serves to help unify literature on the meaning of context for IA effectiveness, effectiveness dimensions, and causation in IA, thus providing clarity over the challenges of goals achievement and the appropriateness of capacity development interventions.
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