Dissertation Title: Social Impact Assessment in Rural and Small-town British Columbia
Abstract: Social impact assessment is the primary ex-ante tool for achieving socially sustainable outcomes and for ensuring the equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits associated with major development projects. The objectives of this research project were to evaluate the social impact assessments that are conducted as part of mandatory environmental assessments for proposed major projects in rural and small-town British Columbia (BC), Canada and to recommend practicable changes for improving social impact assessment practice and policy. I addressed these objectives by analyzing the content of social impact assessments, interviewing interested parties with technical knowledge, and conducting a multiple case study evaluation of assessments undertaken for mining projects in Northwest BC. Although my findings show that excellence is possible under the current BC Environmental Assessment Act and supporting guidelines, there is little consistency in the methods, measures, approaches, and overall quality of assessments conducted in BC. A major shortcoming that emerged was the lack of attention to issues of equity, a fundamental principle in sustainable development and social impact assessment. Further, the social impact assessments being conducted in BC are generally not supported by conceptual frameworks or grounded in theory. Ultimately, it is recommended that the provincial government provide greater guidance regarding social impact assessment and examine what appears to be an ad hoc system of professional reliance. Finally, the practice of social impact assessment would benefit from a transparent discussion regarding what constitutes a qualified social impact assessment practitioner and a more in-depth examination of the theoretical foundations of social impact assessment.