International Association for Impact Assessment

Reflections on IAIA24

  • Guest post by Urmila Jha Thakur, Editor of IAPA

    IAIA24 in Dublin has been the highlight of this year so far for me! My first IAIA conference was way back in 2004 in Vancouver. However, this year was special since it was my first conference as editor for IAIA’s journal, Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal (IAPA). With 1,109 attendees from 85 countries, 130 sessions, 488 presentations/speakers and 26 posters, the conference was invigorating, intense, insightful and inspiring! It was also the biggest conference we have had so far -- my heartfelt gratitude to the local organizing committee for achieving this tremendous success.

    The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Impact Assessment for a Just Transformation’. I was impressed with the thoughtfulness, care, and creativity that had gone behind selecting the conference symbol of the butterfly, depicting how nature teaches us about transformation – from caterpillar to butterfly! Furthermore, the symbol hinted at the important role biodiversity plays in this transformation as the butterfly ‘is the only Irish insect protected under the European Habitats Directive’. 

    The conference theme was also put forward in an opportune moment. With the time-bomb of climate change ticking, countries are pledging their commitment in reducing carbon emissions. The changes involved to enable a transformation in greening our economies and delivering net zero are leading to new approaches, tools, implications and uncertainties. The stakes are high as not being able to transform quickly may have dire consequences. Hence, as we race to gird ourselves and adopt new ways, delivering such changes in a fair and equitable manner poses further challenges and uncertainties.

    As a starter, the changes will have different effect on different communities and regions and evidencing such impacts will hold clue in finding solutions that will help us in delivering just transformation. Consequently, the role of IA in enabling just transformation is manyfold:
    • First, IA has the potential to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of climate change.
    • Second, IA can be integrated with existing and emerging approaches, such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Circular Economy (CE), and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) in evidencing the extent to which the desired targets are being met.
    • Third, IA can help in democratisation of the decision-making process by incorporating stakeholder opinions, overcoming inequalities and ensuring all communities and age-groups are represented in a fair and just manner.
    • Furthermore, as decisions will invariably involve trade-offs for targets and for stakeholders, IA will play a pivotal role in making these trade-offs transparent.
    The above four points are not exhaustive but merely indicative of the huge potential that IA can play in this journey.

    The conference explored the challenges for IA in delivering just transformation at a great depth. Some of the highlights that emerged in the discussions revolved around: meaningful and inclusive community engagement; early consideration of impacts in the planning process; collaboration and joint thinking in decision making by relevant stakeholders; importance of quality data to inform decision-making, connecting the different scales and tiers of decision-making, learning from the experience with effective follow-up; keeping the full picture in view from project to strategic levels.

    However, the key message that resonated deeply with me was to be open and not defensive about the future. Yes, it is uncertain and there are things we don’t understand. But just like the caterpillar, we need to evolve and transform and be receptive to the potential of what lies ahead. With so many of us working towards this end, I am hopeful and motivated to make a positive difference to our tomorrow through our concerted efforts in the present.  

    IAIA truly imbibes this spirit by grappling the uncertainties with sincere effort and good intentions. This is reflected in the theme for next year’s conference of ‘Impact Assessment in the Age of Artificial Intelligence’. I am looking forward to seeing you in Bologna! Until then, please do connect with me if you want to publish your work which has already been presented in IAIA24 or if you are developing ideas for IAIA25. For the latter, please look out for the special issue on ‘Artificial Intelligence’ currently being advertised in IAPA


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