SEA normally applies to public sector (government) decisions. The (government) body that makes the decision is called the competent authority. SEAs can be produced by the competent authority, independent consultants, non-government organisations (NGOs), other government bodies or a combination of these, but it is the competent autority that makes decisions on the strategic action.
Although policies, plans and programmes (PPPs) are generally all described as strategic actions, they are not the same things, and may require different levels and types of analysis in SEA. The following table provides some definitions and examples of strategic actions:
|Strategic action||Wood and Djeddour definition||Examples||From Wood and Djeddour (1991)|
|policy||inspiration and guidance for action||whether or not to promote the development of nuclear power in country A||whether to institute a carbon or CO2 tax||whether to promote genetically modified organisms in country A's agriculture|
|plan||set of coordinated and timed objectives for the implementation of the policy||how much nuclear power to produce by 2025||who should be charged how much carbon tax starting when||a staged approach to testing and introducing genetically modified foods|
|programme||set of projects in a particular area||four new nuclear power stations with X capacity in area Y by 2025||
||a series of test sites for genetically modified foods|
However this terminology is not consistently used in practice: for instance a set of projects might be called a 'plan' or guidance for action might be called a 'strategy'. And no, it is NOT possible to get out of doing SEA by renaming a plan as a strategy!
What is clear from the definitions is that some ("higher-tier" or strategic) decisions influence and set the context for other ("lower-tier" or more detailed) decisions. This is called tiering. Normally, policies set the context for plans, and plans in turn set the context for programmes and then projects. National-level PPPs often set the context for, in turn, regional and local-level PPPs. The figure below illustrates the concept of tiering.
In the US, tiering is widely used as a way of concentrating on the issues specific to the action being evaluated, and streamlining "lower-tier" documents.
As a rule of thumb, the level of detail of an SEA should be proportional to that of the strategic action. For instance, an SEA for a national level strategy will be more broad-brush than an SEA for a local level programme.