Environmental Impact Assessment Review
Centre for People, Place and Planet / School of Science
Ministry of Environment of Finland
Visual communication is widely and commonly used in environmental impact assessment (EIA) practice by all stakeholders. It includes maps, photographs, tables, info-graphics and other images used in environmental impact statements, as well as videos and graphics in online materials or in face-to-face consultation sessions (e.g., posters and PowerPoint presentations). The purpose of this research was to understand the practice of visual communication in EIA, focusing upon the perceptions and experiences of stakeholders. Surveys were conducted with international EIA practitioners along with observations of consultation sessions for three EIA projects in Portugal and interviews with proponents, regulators and members of the public involved. Specific focus was on (i) understanding stakeholder perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of visual communication in EIA; (ii) proponent perceptions about the creation and use of visual communication; and (iii) public perceptions regarding their understanding and experience of visual communication as recipients of this material during public engagement in EIA. The mode and content of presentation, visual literacy of stakeholders and technical arrangements interact to determine the efficacy of visual communication. All stakeholders expected visual communication to be employed in EIA, but proponents and public were found to have low visual literacy. Proponents had pre-conceived notions for visual communication, without considering the needs of their audience, resulting in complex content being delivered inappropriately – too fast, without opportunity for reflection and dialogue. Frustrated public recipients tended to distrust proponents and be opposed to their projects, an unintended emotional response arising from cognition challenges with visual communication, combined with insufficient time for explanation, interpretation, and dialogue. This paper seeks to trigger reflection by practitioners and researchers on how and by whom visual communication in EIA should be designed, and what inhibits their comprehension and understanding. Considering visual literacy levels of EIA stakeholdersand tailoring the mode and style of delivery accordingly is critical for effective visual communication.
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