Who should carry out the SEA?
The bulk of the SEA process is normally carried out by individuals in the competent authority, environmental consultants, or a combination of both. The table below weighs the pros and cons of SEA being carried out by the different players.
|One person in the competent authority||Ownership of SEA results by competent authority; and
Can be fast and cheap
|SEA results are not necessarily taken on board if others are making the decision(s);
Results can be biased, limited to only one person's views; and
The individual may not have comprehensive knowledge of SEA and/or the subject being assessed.
|Several people in the competent authority (including people from other departments)||Ownership of SEA results by the competent authority;
Enhances intra-authority understanding of, and support for, the strategic action and its consequences;
If plan-makers are involves, likely to result in improvements to the strategic action; and
Most likely to draw on comprehensive understanding of area/subject being appraised.
|Resource implications: more people = more expensive;
May be biased, especially if all the assessors are on the decision-making team; and
Team may not have SEA expertise.
|Consultants or separate SEA unit within the authority||Ensures experience with SEA and "benchmarking" with other strategic actions and SEAs;
Helps to reduce bias in appraisal; and
May be (perceived to be) faster/ cheaper than doing it in-house: it is a neat little package that can be farmed out.
|Consultants are unlikely to have good knowledge of the local area;
They can still be biased... reflecting only the consultant's view;
Can be perceived as an adversarial approach where the consultant critiques the strategic action; and
Lack of ownership of results by the competent authority.
|SEA consultants and people from the competent authority||Brings together SEA expertise, understanding of the local area, and understanding of the strategic action;
Ownership of results by competent authority; and
Learning process should enable competent authority to carry out next SEA, and prepare the next plan, better.
|Time and resource implications. More people = more expensive.|
A survey of UK planners carried out one year after the SEA Directive was implemented (Walsh, 2005) suggested that all of the combinations above led to roughly the same amount of changes to the plan - a rough sign of an effective SEA process - except for the single planner, who was much less likely to lead to changes.
Wide participation (through SEA) broadens decision-makers' perspectives
Although only a limited number of planners and/or consultants may carry out the bulk of the SEA work, consultation with other individuals and groups is key to a good SEA process. For instance, Stirling (1999) notes that:
"serious theoretical and methodological difficulties, including those related to the selection and framing of 'problems' and 'options', the treatment of deep uncertainties and the impossibilty of aggregating in analysis the divergent social interests and value judgements which govern the prioritisation of the different dimensions of 'sustainability'... render fuile any attempt to develop an 'analytical fix' for the problems of appraisal. In this light, systematic public participation is... not just an issue of political efficacy and legitimacy, but also... a fundamental matter of analytical rigour."
In the absence of SEA, a competent authority generally develops a policy in its traditional subject area (housing or agriculture, for example) by focusing on specific sets of objectives and constraints. The competent authority ('proponent') works through the policy development cycle, then presents their preferred outcome to decision-makers for approval. Once approved, the proponent implements the policy outcome. Within this cycle proponents develop their own objectives and develop the policy proposal which most efficiently and effectively meets this set of objectives.
SEA provides a mechanism by which the objectives and policy outcome are based on a much broader set of perspectives, objectives and constraints than those initially identified by the proponent (Harvey, 1992; Brown, 1998). The figure below shows how strategic actions are traditionally developed and how SEA can influence the decision making process to achieve a more sustainable outcome.
The other perspectives and objectives are provided by other players and other information sources. SEA is likely to result in the addition of new objectives, the consideration of a wider range of alternatives for achieving the objectives, and the identification and clarification of conflicts, compromises or interlinkages between different objectives. SEA provides an opportunity to internalise externalities often not adequately considered in much sectoral policy formulation and decision-making. The overall effect is one of moving the strategic action towards sustainability.
SEA is thus a process directed at providing the proponent (during policy formulation) and the decision-maker (at the point of policy approval) with a holistic understanding of the environmental and social implications of the policy proposal, expanding the focus well beyond the issues that were the original driving force for new policy.
Involving the public and stakeholder groups The other groups typically involved in SEA are:
- Formal/expert environmental bodies, for instance a country's Department of the Environment or Environment Agency. There may be a range of these, responsible for different environmental, social and economic issues. Typically these will legally need to be formally consulted at one or more stages of the SEA process.
- The public, particularly the residents of the area covered by the plan.
- Other stakeholder groups, for instance non-government organisations, political/government/tribal groups, quasi-government organisations. These are often consulted as representatives or proxies for wider public opinion.
Broadly, whilst the views of consultants and the competent authority will reflect national and regional-level interests (designations, regulations, standards), those of the public and their representatives will represent the local level. The public will identify perceived impacts whilst the experts will identify "actual" impacts; but in many cases the acceptance of the strategic decision will depend just as much on perceptions as on reality. The results of public participation exercises should thus be seen as a complement to the findings of the professionals.
Wider involvement in SEA, by the public and other stakeholder groups, can:
- bring local knowledge that can improve understanding of baseline conditions and problems/constraints;
- bring in a wider range of views that reflect the plurality of interests and environmental values involved in the development of strategic actions;
- ensure clear and unambiguous wording of the strategic action;
- identify alternatives and mitigation measures that address peoples' real concerns;
- help to ensure the effective implementation of the strategic actions, and set a positive framework for discussions about projects resulting from the strategic action; and
- educate all those involved.
On the other hand, wider involvement has cost and resource implications, can lead to the usual NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon, and can be dominated by vocal, educated interest groups to the detriment of the wider community. Perhaps more importantly, most people find being involved in SEA even less inspiring than being involved in EIA because it is too strategic and fuzzy, with too little detailed information about how it will look on the ground: this is particularly true about regional/national-level strategic actions, and policies. There is often concern by the public that their views will be manipulated and used selectively. It is often easier and possibly more appropriate to involve representatives of the public (elected representatives, non-government organisations, local councillors etc.) than the public themselves in the SEA process.