Health and Social Impact Assessments

Queensland, Australia. Photo: Copyright © Cathy Baldwin 2020.

My work on HIAs and SIAs

Since 2011, I have worked on various health and social impact assessments of infrastructure and energy developments in the UK, mining in Australia, a multipurpose stadium in Japan, and an emergency response aid programme for infectious disease outbreaks in Africa among others. See CV for full details.

I have led on, and contributed to baseline scoping exercises, desk-top evidence reviews, made recommendations for protecting and mitigating adverse impacts on mental health and social cohesion, and designed and led community engagement processes via telephone surveys, interviewing community members at public meetings and information days, and a participatory workshop using asset-based community development methodologies.

I have published four journal papers which outline new approaches to mental health in HIA, a psychosocial model and methodologies for measuring the health effects of public understanding of risk from industrial developments. See Psychosocial Health for details. I have carried out research on HIAs using case studies from the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia.

What is a Health Impact Assessment (HIA)?

A health impact assessment (HIA) is a way of identifying the social and environmental factors, or determinants that shape our health and well-being in daily life, and assessing the effects of changes to determinants caused by policies, plans, programmes, and projects on our health status. Such changes can effect our physical and/or mental health and well-being. The impacts can be positive, i.e. our health status is enhanced, or they can be negative, i.e. our heath status is adversely effected.

Health Impact Assessment (HIA) uses quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques to assess the health impacts of policies, plans, programmes and projects. It provides an evidence base from epidemiology and public health, and of local community views and experiences to support recommendations for mitigating, managing or eradicating negative health impacts, and promoting positive ones. It helps decision-makers to make informed choices about development alternatives or alterations to prevention disease/injury and intentionally promote good health. It also helps to reduce health inequalities by identifying where there is an inequitable distribution of health impacts on vulnerable populations – where they are subject to a higher level of negative effects and denied an equitable share of positives ones – due to their socio-economic status, locality, existing health status (i.e. poorer health), degree of empowerment and political mobilisation, education, employment status, ethnic and religious identity, and other factors.

For example, industrial emissions into the atmosphere can pollute the air that we breathe, and change its quality to make it worse, with potential negative effects on our respiratory health. Or a loss of green space due to a building development may effect our ability to walk or exercise outside, spend time with friends and family, and cause some psychological distress if we are very attached to the landscape where we live, work and play. All of these changes can have negative health effects, as physical activity, social networks and connection, and the calming effects of nature or emotional attachment to familiar places are all conducive to good health and well-being.

Photo: Windfarm in the Borders, Scotland.
Copyright © Cathy Baldwin 2o2o.

HIA is supported and promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) and many national governments. It has different statuses in law around the world.

What is a Social Impact Assessment (SIA)?

Social Impact Assessment (SIA) follows a similar procedure, but is focused on potential changes to all the factors that directly effect people when changed, and primarily through changes to social processes. The International Association of Impact Assessment identifies a range of areas where changes to social processes have the potential to cause social impacts:

  • people’s way of life – that is, how they live, work, play and interact with one another on a day-to-day basis;
  • their culture – that is, their shared beliefs, customs, values and language or dialect;
  • their community – its cohesion, stability, character, services and facilities;
  • their political systems – the extent to which people are able to participate in decisions that affect their lives, the level of democratisation that is taking place, and the resources provided for this purpose;
  • their environment – the quality of the air and water people use; the availability and quality of the food they eat; the level of hazard or risk, dust and noise they are exposed to; the adequacy of sanitation, their physical safety, and their access to and control over resources;
  • their health and wellbeing – health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity;
  • their personal and property rights – particularly whether people are economically affected, or experience personal disadvantage which may include a violation of their civil liberties;
  • their fears and aspirations – their perceptions about their safety, their fears about the future of their community, and their aspirations for their future and the future of their children.

SIA is also driven by concerns for equity, poverty reduction and human rights. It is summarised by the IAIA (see above) as:

“the processes of analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Its primary purpose is to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment”

International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA).