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E2n SEA theory and research

Olivia Bina, New University of Lisbon, Portugal
Tabatha Wallington, Murdoch University, Australia
Wil Thissen, Delft University, The Netherlands

Key issues to be addressed

Position Paper:

Since its inception more than fifteen years ago, the notion of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has drawn increasing attention at conferences, in the literature, and in assessment practice and policy regulation. This period has witnessed both illuminating and confusing progress, which this session seeks to explore in order to direct future theory and research in this field

The literature on SEA shows a growing variety of interpretations and practical approaches to both the purpose of SEA and the need to link SEA to the complexities and intricacies of real-world decision making—all of which is frustrated by a legacy of rationalist and technocratic discourses. The widely recognized need to design context-specific approaches to SEA has further contributed to the variety of approaches being put forward. Dominated by proponents attempting to find new ways to get their message across, the SEA debate is characterised by promotional and normative overtones, with little emphasis on reflexive analysis. Indeed, critics have called SEA a movement rather than a science or a craft. Partly as a result, new approaches such as Sustainability Appraisal and Integrated Assessment continue to be introduced without sufficient clarity in terms of their significant differences or overlaps with SEA

Against this background, we feel there is an urgent need to reflect more deeply on the essence of SEA. In order to achieve the celebrated purpose of contributing to sustainable development, and the role of improving policy-making processes, the implicit and explicit assumptions of existing models of SEA (both normative and operational) must be examined, and conventional wisdom about its raison d’être must be questioned. We invite contributions around three broad themes: the purpose, object, and strategic dimensions of SEA. Fundamental questions to be addressed include:

•  What is the ultimate purpose and role of SEA, and who are its proponents? How does SEA’s purpose relate to more general objectives and values such as the development of informed and democratic governance?

•  What, empirically, is the added value of SEA, and for whom? How do these empirical findings relate to theoretical (or ideal) notions?

•  What do we mean by the term SEA?

•  To what extent should SEA accept, or transform, the institutional and political conditions under which it must operate?

•  What are the consequences of these issues for the conceptual basis, as well as for the practice, of SEA?

Discussion streams and topic-related sessions

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