4. Timing of the SEA

Unless the SEA process keeps up with the strategic action decision-making process, and provides the environmental information to the right people at the right time, it will not influence the strategic action.  A 'retrospective' SEA has all the costs and none of the benefits of a well-timed SEA.

The figure below shows the results of a UK survey of local authority planners (Walsh, 2006).  The planners were asked:

  1. whether they had integrated the SEA into the plan-making process or carried out the SEA after the plan was mostly completed, and
  2. whether the SEA process had led to any changes in their plans. 

Clearly, many more plan changes - a sign of an effective SEA system - were made where the SEA process started early.

Integration into Decision-Making [No. LPAs] 

'Decision windows' 

In its report "ANSEA - Towards an Analytical Strategic Environmental Assessment", Tau Group et al. (2002) recommended the use of 'decision windows' as a way of ensuring that SEA influences decision-making.  This could provide a useful structure for describing the decision-making process, and identifying how SEA can best help to inform it:

"In order to understand the decision-making context a functional description of the decision-making process needs to be made.  This is a description of the sequence of all different sub-decisions in the decision-making process and the functional relations between them.  In order to be comprehensive and realistic, the description should be preceded by an understanding of the legal and institutional context, the actors and stakeholders involved, the links to other [strategic actions], and the key environmental issues associated with the overall decision...

Decision windows are moments in the decision-making process where critical choices are made which have environmental implications.  These windows, which vary in type and number in different decision-making processes, are thus windows of opportunity for integrating environmentally relevant information and values...  An example of a Decision Windows [in] Spanish urban planning is the classification of land use preceding the decision-making stage of identifying different options.  It was found that a high degree of discretion was used in the classification and that it was not based on adequate information about future demand and environmental variables.  Because the land use classification is far from uncontroversial and has potential environmental implications, this moment in the decision-making process qualifies as a Decision Window...

A Decision Window consists of three componeents: Inputs, Analysis and Outcomes.  Inputs refer to data and information as well as values and opinions.  In the Analysis, the inputs are considered either formally (e.g. cost benefit analysis and modelling) or informally (e.g. expert judgement and group discussions).  The Outcomes can be both formal and informal, and will act as inputs to subsequent Decision Windows...

Procedural Criteria are prescriptions on how a decision should be taken in a particular Decision Window in terms of Inputs, Analysis and Outcomes...  The following ANSEA principles of good decision-making constitute a generic list [of Procedural Criteria]:

  • comprehensiveness
  • timeliness
  • transparency
  • participation
  • credibility.

If a decision complies with these criteria it can be assumed that environmental values are incorporated.  In addition, due to their generic character these principles could be used for other forms of process assessments (e.g. social and gender assessment." 

September 3, 2006 Uncategorized — riki @ 3:22 pm

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