IAIA is the leading global network on best practice in the use of impact assessment (IA). This year’s conference on the theme of ‘Smartening impact assessment in challenging times’ aims to bridge the art and science of impact assessment to address the critical role of impact assessment in planning and decision making to enable greater community resilience against global challenges.

Royal HaskoningDHV was a key participant at the event along with a distinguished list of speakers, sharing insights into the state of the industry to explore how impact assessment can go the distance to influence decisions, strengthen collaboration and streamline processes.

We sat down with Paul Eijssen, Strategic Consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, and his team to share insights and explore some of the key trends that they took away from the event.

Are we moving in the right direction with IA where the integration of science and technology is concerned?

In recent years we’ve witnessed significant progress in digital technologies in many areas of our personal and professional lives. Coupled with increasing global environmental, social and health challenges, these developments call for reflections on the contribution of impact assessment and the use of its corresponding tools to anticipate and prepare us for such challenges. Our focus during the event was to explore and delve into how the impact assessment community is leveraging science and technology to influence decision making and facilitate collaboration, so that we can tackle environmental issues and enhance community resilience.

What were some of the team’s first impressions at the event? Are there any key insights that were gleaned from the event?

The virtual conference was a great opportunity to showcase many of the emerging digital technologies and opportunities in impact assessment.

While it was clear there is growing enthusiasm for the use of digital tools, we should not forget that these tools are essentially enablers that help us improve the stakeholder engagement process. Communication is key to strengthening collaboration and enabling resilient communities of the future.

What role does Royal HaskoningDHV play in the future of IA?

Since 2016, Royal HaskoningDHV has been an early pioneer in the development of digital IA. We must not rest on our laurels because there are still many challenges in the IA sector that we can be addressed with digital solutions. We must work together to accelerate and create seamless implementation that connects the stakeholder community by using digital tools such as the iReport. By creating transparent processes, it will enable us to better monitor and report on mitigation measures, ensuring benefits for local communities.

And finally, are there any challenges within IA?

We recognized that there are limitations to what digital tools can do. Remote engagement, for example, has inherent challenges since people like to sit next to one another sharing stories and inspiring each other. This need for interaction and engagement shouldn't be underestimated as a challenge, not only in terms of coordinating a conference but also in performing an impact assessment. It’s clear then that current digital technologies struggle to completely fulfill the desire for face to face and personal contact.

Some of the highlights include:

Digitalisation and technological development is just one of the priorities within the IA industry. Our delegates were also thrilled to see some of the highlights which are listed below:

  • Considering the many environmental and social challenges we’re facing, broad consensus that practitioners and impact assessment tools should be more focused on making a positive and sustainable difference in decision making rather than merely completing a formal procedure;
  • A need for a better integration of assessing and mitigating environmental and social impacts. Despite being largely connected, these impacts are assessed separately, by either environmental or social specialists from various areas of expertise – while the real world is not subject to such divisions. In order to move society forward in a more positive way, a holistic approach to considering impacts is needed;
  • A growing recognition of the need for Strategic Environmental Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment; especially regarding the planning of renewable energy projects (e.g. a hydropower plant in a river basin). The recurring question throughout the conference was doing the right things versus doing things right and that Strategic Environmental Assessment is the tool to determine at an early stage what is right; and
  • Recognition that having reliable information when making decisions is an ever-increasing point of attention. The NCEA has started a discussion about the importance of independent and unbiased information. We believe that this is an important subject for all actors in the field and IAIA can also play a vital role.

In short, there is plenty to be excited about as we are still charting new frontiers in IA.

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Paul Eijssen

Strategic Consultant Impact Assessment & Leading Professional digital reporting

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