Social Impact Studies

"Social impact assessment includes the processes of analyzing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, projects) and any social change processes invoked by those interventions. Its primary purpose is to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment." (International Principles of SIA)

Social Impact Assessments (SIA) first emerged in the 1970s in the U.S as a way to assess the impacts on society of certain development schemes and projects before they are implemented - for example, new roads, industrial facilities, mass transit projects, ports, airports, and other infrastructure projects. It has since been incorporated into the formal planning and approval processes in Hawaii in order to categorize and assess how major developments may affect populations, groups, and settlements. SIA is often carried out as part of, or in addition to, Environmental Impact Assessements.

SMS has been involved in SIAs for more than 30 years. It was a natural progression from our evaluation expertise. SIA overlaps substantially with the current interest in monitoring and evaluation (M&E). M&E is carried out after a project or development has gone ahead, to assess impacts and to see how well its goals were met. EISs are executed prior to the project’s implementation. Assessments and evaluations are particularly important in the areas of:

  • Public policy
  • Health and education initiatives
  • Development

In all these sectors, there is a case for conducting SIA and evaluations at different stages. There is a growing concern that projects of all types (from large highways projects to the work of small rural development NGOs), are efficiently conducted, do not disadvantage local people, and do not generate negative social and environmental impacts.

SMS's staff expertise is ideally suited to this work. SMS staff includes graduates in Psychology, Sociology, City Planning, and Social Sciences. SMS does not only use its expertise and data, but also ensures participation of local residents in the design and implementation of proposed developments or programs. This can be achieved in the process of doing an SIA through adopting a participatory and democratic research method. Some SIAs go further than this, to adopt an advocacy role. For example, several SIAs carried out by SMS showed real consequences of the projects evaluated but also suggested ways to mitigate these impacts. Such community input provides powerful insight into the project/program and its opportunities.

Client Testimonials

SMS did a great job in leading Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s evaluation development process…including identifying input, output and outcome measures to track progress toward HTA’s strategic goals. SMS also provided steps to guide us in integrating the evaluation process into our overall operations and planning. Our staff was actively engaged in the process and tracking the measures will ensure a focus on driving towards outcomes.

— Leslie Dance, former VP Marketing
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority

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