What is social impact assessment?

Social impact assessment (SIA) is the process of identifying and managing the social impacts
of industrial projects. SIA is used to predict
and mitigate negative impacts and identify opportunities to enhance benefits for local communities and broader society. This paper explains the core principles of SIA and the SIA requirements of selected international instruments. It also considers some of the key challenges to implementing SIA in practice.

Topics covered include:

  • how affected indigenous communities and other stakeholders can be involved in the process;
  • how SIA should inform decision-making by government and companies from the earliest stages of a project;
  • the role of SIA in the ongoing management of social issues throughout the whole project cycle until decommissioning and closure;
  • the role of SIA as the foundation for community agreements and in processes of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).


• SIA needs to be integrated effectively into wider assessments and decision-making processes.

• Community engagement and analysis of social issues should start early, and government legislation should incorporate a requirement for community consultation at the phase of exploration.

• The social element of impact assessment needs to be taken as seriously as the environmental element, both in funding and in its status for policy planning and decision-making.

• Indigenous communities need greater control over SIA and related decision-making processes, and they should also be able to commission their own impact assessments.

• Transparency and accountability are essential elements of an SIA process. Information must be made freely accessible in local languages, with both written documentation and face-to-face meetings.

• Transparency also applies to commitments made in an SIA, so that affected communities can later hold companies and governments to account.

• We recommend Norway to assess its domestic needs for more learning and application
of SIA, by analysing best international legislation relating to social and cultural impact assessment, as well as lessons from the following: international industry good practice in SIA; guidelines and practice on cultural impact assessment, including the Akwe:Kon guidelines produced by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Russian practice of socio-cultural impact assessment
(anthropological expert review, see paper 6); as well as other national experience (e.g. Canada, Australia). This experience should all be analysed comparatively with Norway’s current legislative base and practical experience. On this basis, Norway should consider developing legislation specifically relating to social and cultural impact assessment, taking advantage of international good practice. This may also help address some of the gaps in Norway’s implementation of
ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

The paper is 19 pages long and contains 1 table, 3 boxes, 1 annex listing SIA project documentation available online, a list of acronyms and abbreviations, and lists of legal documents and standards, papers and reports.