This section has highlighted how SEA approaches need to reflect how the strategic action is developed. The right people need to carry out the SEA: those that know the locality, know the subject of the plan, and understand SEA. The SEA timing needs to keep up with the plan-making timetable and focus on key 'decision windows'. The SEA techniques need to be compatible with those used to develop the strategic action, focus on the needs of the key stakeholders, and be relevant to the type of strategic action being assessed. Once these contextual issues have been identified, then the SEA proper can begin.
In addition, effective SEA needs to be supported by a wider framework of SEA regulations and guidance, environmental data etc. Partidario (2000) summarises the 'institutional (SEA) context' needed for effective SEA:
- refer a policy framework that requires SEA;
- ensure accountable decision-making systems;
- enable decision-making processes to be adaptive;
- be integral and/or well-coordinated with policy-making;
- ensure simple, interactive and flexible approaches;
- focus on "paths" (the process) not on "places" (the site);
- integrate approaches regarding scope and cross-interaction of relevant factors, ensuring interdisciplinarity;
- establish objectives, criteria and quality standards framework;
- ensure guidance and a minimum regulatory context;
- enable access to information;
- ensure resources availability;
- enable a participatory process, including multiple agents and consideration of public priorities and preferences;
- contribute to changing attitudes, overcoming prejudices; and
- enable new routines in decision-making.
The figure below shows guidance for SEA practice - essentially a test of whether SEA is effective - developed by Verheem and Tonk (2000). Although their principles are structured according to the stages of SEA, they do not specify how the work should be carried out (which is often specified in SEA guidance documents), nor what the output should look like (which is often specified in SEA regulations). Instead the test is phrased in terms of objectives that the SEA should fulfil. This list can act as an ongoing checklist as the SEA is being carried out.