SEA generally assumes that the planning process that underlies a strategic action is an expert-driven rationalist planning process carried out by public-sector technocrats/planners, with relatively little public participation. It assumes that planners are analysers and regulators who convert their clients' (politicians', the public's) values into goals and criteria; collect "scientific" information; analyse plan options; and choose a preferred option based on the criteria. It also assumes that plan-making is an essentially objective process, and that it can be documented as being so. In such a case, SEA provides environmental information at each stage of the planning process, and this gets factored in as one of the criteria.
However planning systems can take a range of other forms (Healey et al, 1997), for instance:
- Negotiative planning focuses on enabling private sector activities, as opposed to providing state-funded services and infrastructure. The planner acts as a negotiator and adjuster with the private sector, for instance in bargaining over "planning gain": the benefits that the private sector must provide to balance out any negative impacts of its activities. This approach is much less transparent, with less public input; and it is harder to identify "decision windows" for SEA.
- Collaborative consensus-making, where the planner acts as a facilitator and mediator who aims to involve a wide range of stakeholders in the framing of goals/criteria, choice of alternatives, and 'ownership' of the resulting strategic action. The planner aims to find a solution that balances the stakeholders' competing interests, possibly through a process of "satisficing" - finding solutions that are "good enough" for everyone (as opposed to optimisation as in rationalist planning). This may involve a range of facilitated meetings with groups of stakeholders, 'visioning', 'planning for real', and capacity building.
- Neoliberal technical regulation, where the planner acts as a rule-maker and administrator who sets a structure for private sector enterprise through e.g. standards, zoning regimes, rule for developer contributions and fiscal measures. This approach primarily provides opportunities for environmental analysis and public involvement at the very strategic policy stage (development of standards, rules, regulations) where experts usually carry considerably more weight than the public.
The type of planning system matters when an approach to SEA is being developed, because it can influence the SEA tools used and the types of impact avoidance and mitigation measures that SEA can suggest:
|Type of Planning Systems||Possible SEA Approaches/Tools||Possible approaches to avoiding and mitigating environmental impacts|
|Rationalist planning||Cost-benefit analysis, Multi-criteria analysis, Modelling,
|* Technological improvements (e.g. energy efficiency requirements)|
|Negotiative planning||Risk assessment||* Environmental "planning gain", e.g. provision and management of green areas
* Insurance for environmental damage
* Constraint mapping
* Environmental management systems and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) packages for companies
|Collaborative consensus-making||Visioning, Roundtables, Interactive GIS maps||* "Win-win" approaches that promote social as well as environmental gains
* Capacity building, monitoring and public availability of environmental data
* Behavioural change
|Neoliberal technical regulation||
|* Environmental standards (e.g. air, water)
* Designation of environmentally sensitive areas (e.g. as national parks)
* Buffers around environmentally sensitive areas
* "Polluter pays" charging regimes
Planning in the private v. public realm
Privatisation essentially moves planning (and SEA) approaches from a unified and relatively transparent and consultative decision-making structure that integrated economic, social and environmental objectives, to a much more confidential system where economic objectives are primary and are subject only to the (environmental and social) constraints of the regulators. The clients of private companies are shareholders, who typically have narrower, more economically driven concerns than the "clients" of public sector organisations. It is much less likely that SEA processes will be carried out in these situations, except where required by law. Different SEA approaches may be needed for the public and the private sectors, reflecting the different priorities and decision-making techniques of public and private sector agencies.
SEA by its nature moves impact assessment - and decision-making - away from the private and towards the public sector. SEA takes decisions that had been made incrementally at a project level - reacting to developers' project proposals and their accompanying EIA on a case-by-case basis - to a more strategic, public realm. At the same time, through "tiering", SEA can significantly reduce the scope of matters that need to be considered at the lower, private sector led, stages of assessment: for instance, an SEA of a minerals plan could lead to the identification of a dozen 'approved' sites for minerals extraction, essentially removing the others from consideration by developers.