Fully Funded Studentship Embedding uncertainty in impact assessment: a strategy for increasing effectiveness

School of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science

20 January 2014.

Supervisory Team:
Dr A Bond

The Project:

Impact assessment aims to predict the outcomes of project, plan or policy interventions that involve considerable uncertainty. The impact assessment field is currently subject to debate about the effectiveness of this decision-making tool and this research aims to contribute to this debate by taking a different theoretical perspective.

Two decades ago Funtowicz and Ravetz argued for the application of post-normal science to situations where either uncertainty, or decision stakes (or both) are high (see, for example, Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994a; Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994b). The fundamental argument being that quantifying hazards is an inadequate approach for dealing with complexity because people will react to hazards, and the realisation of hazards in different ways. The concept of post-normal science was explained by Ravetz (1999) as being based on the concept of both science being post-normal where ‘normal’ is conceived as being straightforward scientific problem-solving, and of policy-making being based on a straightforward (‘normal’) transfer of objective scientific knowledge into policy. For the former, ‘normal’ science cannot be applied to uncertain problems as cause and effect are not clear; for the latter, the inadequacies of this model stem from the different beliefs and values that characterise the debate and subsequent policy-making.

Davoudi et al. (2012) introduce the concept of evolutionary resilience whereby uncertainty in systems is acknowledged and no equilibrium state is accepted as being ‘normal’. The argument can be made that impact assessment needs to adopt post-normal science in order to more effectively inform decision makers. This research aims to understand how best impact assessment processes can be modified to embed evolutionary resilience thinking, as a post-normal strategy for improving the effectiveness of impact assessment; this would involve broadening the scope of assessment to include social and economic responses to induced change rather than simply minimising the risk of that change.

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The project will rely on case study approaches and engagement with a series of stakeholders. The validity and usefulness of such an approach will be explored with a range of stakeholders, making use of interviews and focus groups. The ultimate aim is to explain how impact assessment practice could be altered to better reflect the uncertainty associated with prediction into the future, accommodating environmental change, including climate change.

This research approach will help to develop the following skills:

  • Literature review and analysis
  • Focus group organisation and analysis
  • Interview techniques
  • Competence in use of software analysis packages including NVivo and the use of R for statistical analysis
  • Theory development

The research will be embedded in the 3S (Science, Society and Sustainability) research group (http://www.3s.uea.ac.uk/) within the School of Environmental Sciences, benefitting from cross fertilisation of ideas with researchers exploring similar problems.

Entry Requirements:

First degree (2.1) in a relevant subject such as environmental science, geography, or related subject, and social science subjects.

Funding is available for this project. For full details click on the ‘Apply’ button below.

To discuss the application process or particular projects, please contact the: Admissions Office, email: pgr.enquiries.admiss@uea.ac.uk or telephone +44 (0)1603 5

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