International Association for Impact Assessment

Where do I find the integration in integrated impact assessments?

  • Guest post by IAIA Board Member Susan Joyce.

    Where do I find the integration in integrated impact assessments?

    I have been working for the last 8 years now in the field of human rights and business, for which carrying out a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) is an important tool for identifying and managing business risks to human rights. I want to talk about a related issue that has been brought into sharper focus for me by doing HRIAs:  the question of what does integrated mean for impact assessments? My concern about this question has undoubtedly been sharpened because HRIAs do not get integrated into ESHIAs submitted to government. In those cases in which HRIAs are required to be “integrated,” such as by corporate or international standards, I’ve been forced to look hard to find that integration. For HRIAs there are many reasons for this and it’s worth a separate posting, so I won’t be discussing that here.

    This question about what it means, or what is required of the practitioner, for an ESIA to be integrated is largely undefined. And to clarify, I am not talking about whether the output of ESIAs are integrated into project management decisions; I’m concerned about integration of issues and impacts across the various disciplines. I had to dig hard to find some discussion of it—perhaps in part because it has come to be taken for granted. For examples, the IFC Performance Standards from both 2006 and 2012 require carrying out an “integrated Environmental and Social IA,” (1) but nowhere in either set of standards or their guidance documents is that defined or explained. I have reviewed, and too often written up my isolated components, of ESIAs that contain a multitude of parallel studies but limited if any treatment of interconnections and inter-relationship between the component parts.

    So I looked up the definition of integration. One definition is “to put together parts or elements and combine them into a whole,” (2) or for the term integrate “to combine one thing with another to form a whole,” (3) or this one: “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole: unite.” (4)

    My experience is that in practice, “integrated” ESIAs range across what could be seen as a spectrum, from compiling unrelated specialist sections into one document through to systems-based approaches blending diverse components into a unified whole. In the course of the review, I clarified my own thinking on this issue, which is that to be effective at dealing with the complexity of interconnected impacts, an integrated IA does something different or more with the assessment process than a “compiled” approach.

    We know we need to have integrated studies given the interconnectedness of impacts. Similarly, we talk about human right being indivisible and interconnected because of the intricate and multileveled ways that changes to “enjoyment” of one right will affect the enjoyment of others. So as practitioners we know this to be true, and it is in many of the methodologies (see IAIA’s recent SIA Guidance document (5) as an example). But we seldom see this done very well in practice.

    From my social IA perspective, I see Human Rights and Ecosystem Services as two new fields that are inherently integrative. Recently I’ve been exposed to social determinants of health in Health Impact Assessments, which also provides me with examples of where integration is being done. All of this comes back, for me, to looking at impacts from a systems perspective. I’m at the start of this journey, to see what I can learn and do differently to address this concern for myself. I will be taking the cumulative impacts assessment course at IAIA17 so that I can understand how integration is handled in CIA work, and I am looking at how Integrated Resource Management (IRM) as a systems-based approach might give us tools for managing impacts in a more “integrated way.”

    And I’m looking for other ideas….

    (1) See International Finance Corporation’s current and 2006 Performance Standards and Guidance Notes at

    (2), accessed 20 January 2017.

    (3), accessed 20 January 2017.

    (4), accessed 20 January 2017.

    (5) Vanclay, Frank, A.M Esteves, I. Aucamp & D.M. Franks. 2015. Social Impact Assessment: Guidance for assessing and managing the social impact of projects. IAIA., accessed January 20, 2017.

    Susan Joyce, On Common Ground Consultants Inc., Canada, currently serves as a Director on the IAIA Board of Directors.

    Do you have thoughts after reading this post?  IAIA members, login to join the discussion at IAIAConnect in the Members group.

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