Framing effectiveness in impact assessment: discourse accommodation in controversial infrastructure development
Rozema, Jaap G.
Bond, Alan J.
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There is ongoing debate about the effectiveness of impact assessment tools, which matters both because of the threat to future practice of the tools which are frequently perceived to be ineffective, and because of the disillusionment that can ensue, and controversy generated, amongst stakeholders in a decision context where opportunities for meaningful debate have not been provided. In this article we regard debate about the meaning of effectiveness in impact assessment as an inevitable consequence of increased participation in environmental decision-making, and therefore frame effectiveness based on an inclusive democracy role to mean the extent to which impact assessment can accommodate civil society discourse. Our aim is to investigate effectiveness based on this framing by looking at one type of impact assessment – environmental impact assessment (EIA) – in two controversial project proposals: the HS2 rail network in England; and the A4DS motorway in the Netherlands. Documentary analysis and interviews held with key civil society stakeholders have been deployed to identify discourses that were mobilised in the cases. EIA was found to be able to accommodate only one out of four discourses that were identified; for the other three it did not provide the space for the arguments that characterised opposition. The conclusion in relation to debate on framings of effectiveness is that EIA will not be considered effective by the majority of stakeholders. EIA was established to support decision-making through a better understanding of impacts, so its ineffectiveness is unsurprising when its role is perceived to be broader. However, there remains a need to map discourses in different decision contexts and to analyse the extent to which the range of discourses are accommodated throughout the decision process, and the role of impact assessment in those processes, before recommendations can be made to either improve impact assessment effectiveness, or whether it is simply perceptions of effectiveness that need to be improved