<p>Guest post by IAIA member Charles Kelly</p>
IAIA recently released the second of a series of surveys on how COVID-19 is affecting the policy and practice of impact assessment. The survey drew in the views of over 700 individuals involved in impact assessment across the globe.
The survey provides a considerable insight into how impact assessment has been changed by the pandemic, and how the response to the pandemic has affected lives around the world. A summary of key points from the second survey can be found by clicking here, and the first survey can be found by clicking here.
One significant point raised in the survey is that the physical distancing measures used to slow the spread of COVID-19 have had a dramatic impact on how impact assessments are conducted. In many ways, impact assessment is a traveling profession. Practitioners travel to the field to collect samples or to monitor implementation of migration measures. Community engagement, a core to the impact assessment process, requires travel, and in the past, a range of community meetings, workshops, key informants and other types of surveys and team meetings to collect, analyze and present information on impacts were necessary.
The survey indicates that much of this travel-related work has stopped or takes place on a very limited basis. Impact assessment team meetings have now shifted to Web-based meetings. The survey shows that Web-based methods (e.g., online meetings) are also being used to fill the gap in community consultations.
But it is not yet clear how effective these methods are at replacing the field work and meetings of the past. Significantly, Web meetings and other forms of digital communication do not reach those who do not have smart phones, tablets or computers, excluding those with the least means from the impact assessment consultative process.
The issue here is whether pandemic-induced changes in the field component of impact assessment still lead to a product that complies with the legal and professional standards set for impact assessments. Particularly in the case of environmental impact assessments, any variation from legal requirements, or well-established data collection and consultation procedures, will result in legal challenges. More importantly, doing less than set out in well-established impact assessment procedures may produce results which are not accurate.
Changing professional standards and regulations is fraught with challenges and pitfalls, not the least of which is temporary changes becoming permanent. But unless, at the least, professional standards for impact assessment in a time of pandemic are established, the profession risks producing results that are of questionable accuracy and unsupportable based on well-accepted standards of reference.
The COVID-19 crisis has created new conditions for how we live and work. Impact assessment professionals need to look deeply and broadly at how the pandemic has changed the practice of impact assessment and develop professional standards and practices which reflect the current reality. Unless it changes to meet this new reality, impact assessment, as practiced before the pandemic, risks becoming irrelevant and a relic of the pre-pandemic past.
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