As EIA requirements are worldwide spread, so do IA professionals and IA practice. Nowadays, environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment and other forms of impact assessment are taught at many Universities in every continent and textbooks are available at major languages. In addition, there are regular or occasional training programs in several countries.
Education: teaching future professionals
In spite of the worldwide dissemination of impact assessment academic teaching, Stelmack et al. (2005) found professional training on EIA to be much better documented than academic education.
Gazzola (2008) reviewed 64 master programs related to environmental assessment in nine European countries and Stelmack et al. (2005) identified 40 universities in Canada offering environmental assessment courses.
Gazzola hypothesized that "the existence of common environmental assessment policy and legal frameworks [in the European Union] and of the methodological suggestions portrayed in the international environmental assessment literature do not ensure a common understanding of environmental assessment." She concluded that the way in which environmental assessment is taught in Europe is related to how it is practiced and understood in different countries, rather than its practice and understanding being dependent on environmental assessment (EA) education. She also found different approaches to teaching EA in Europe, broadly based on social sciences or on physical sciences. In Europe, most IA courses at master's level are hosted by engineering, environmental science and planning departments. Most of the Universities surveyed feature EA courses or modules as part of broader master programmes. "Master programmes with EA as the principal subject were found in four countries - Italy, Spain, France and the UK".
In the 2008 IAIA Conference held in Perth, Australia, eleven lecturers from ten countries shared their teaching experience. Prof. Larry Canter, formerly from the University of Oklahoma, United States, and one of the pioneers in formal environmental assessment teaching, synthesized many aspects relevant to impact assessment education:
- topics covered ranged from fundamental process to advanced analysis of specific impact issues, whereas new emphasis related to cumulative effects assessment and adaptive management emerged;
- teaching modes now involve e-learning and topical webinars
- there are fundamental principles which transcend country or regional boundaries; both analysis and synthesis are needed for the preparation of impact assessment documents; communication of impact assessment information to a wide variety of audiences is a special professional challenge to practitioners
- case studies along with the results of litigation can be useful tools for teaching about EIA practice.
As put in the report of the IAIA 08 education session: effective IA requires well qualified professionals. Educators have a key role in enhancing impact assessment effectiveness.
Training: impact assessment for professional development
Training has been associated with impact assessment since its beginnings. Introducing new legal requirements and new tools to practitioners is often carried out by training or continuous education programs, and IA is no exception.
Short courses on EIA were offered as early as in 1970 in the United States, following NEPA approval. Nowadays, the US Army Corps of Engineers, a Federal government agency deeply involved with environmental impact assessment is an example of a government agency which features a number of training programs.
When the European Directive on EIA came into force in July 1998, the European Commission estimated that at 2000 people, among then decision-makers, EIA project managers and technical specialists, needed to be initially trained (Clark, 1999).
Changing laws and regulations often call for training programs. For example, when the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was introduced in 1992, the then newly constituted Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) prepared training packages in order to inform government officials and impact professionals by “training the trainers”. The CEAA website regularly features training opportunities.
A similar approach is used to disseminate impact assessment requirements in other jurisdictions or procedures adopted by financial agents such as the International Finance Corporation, whose environmental and social “Performance Standards” became a benchmark for the environmental and social review of many private investment projects worldwide.
Capacity building sessions have been featured in several IAIA Conferences. Several organizations promote capacity building in developing countries, including bilateral development agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency and the German GTZ, and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. Training contents may be generic and introductory or cover specific fields of impact assessment such as health impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment.
Learning and training opportunities are offered by a number of organizations. Besides offering short courses at every annual conference, IAIA has been running since 2004 its “Capacity Building in Biodiversity and Impact Assessment” program, aimed at promoting good practice in biodiversity and IA. In addition, IAIA maintains an EIA Training Course Database, an information sharing tool about training courses and programs from around the world.
Clark (1999) sees three types of professional training in EIA: short courses, on the job training and training the trainers, the latter aimed specifically at developing countries.