Social Assessment and Community Consultation
Social Assessment is one of the primary services offered by Taylor Baines. Social Assessment involves facilitated assessment activities carried out using participatory techniques. It emphasises social processes as an integral part of an assessment, and is grounded in scientific theory and empirical method.
Social Assessment is a practical approach to:
- Project development, management and evaluation
- Policy development, implementation and evaluation
- Strategic planning
- Integrated social and environmental impact assessment
- Facilitating and monitoring social change
- Community-based investigations
Nick Taylor, of Taylor Baines, has been at the forefront of developing the theory and practice of Social Assessment internationally. He has co-authored a book entitled "Social
Assessment: theory, process & techniques" and regularly runs training courses both in New Zealand and overseas. He has delivered numerous papers at conferences of the International Association of
Impact Assessment (IAIA) since the mid-1980s.
James Baines has led developments in applying social assessment to the important fields of ex-post assessment of social effects, cumulative social effects and integrated assessment (see below). He also has designed and run social assessment training courses in New Zealand and overseas and is a regular contributor of papers at conferences of the IAIA. While Section leader of IAIA’s SIA Section, James initiated the practice of Round Tables on SIA methods and issues at the annual conferences.
Soft Systems Methods
Since 1992, Taylor Baines has been involved in putting Soft Systems theory into practice in its New Zealand consultancy work and overseas development projects. Soft Systems methodologies are used as part of the social assessment approach, to ensure that there is wide and effective participation focussed on the goal of feasible change towards sustainable development.
Project/policy Development and Evaluation
This is a particular application of Social Assessment procedures. A key objective in applying the participatory approaches of Social Assessment in this context is to ensure the relevance of projects to recipient communities, adaptable implementation procedures, and acceptance of evaluation results by those who have to act on them. Because of the importance of the social and political context to project/policy success (so often overlooked) it is often appropriate that the consultancy is actually led and managed by the social assessment expert, to ensure that other skills are integrated and applied in the most appropriate manner. Gender analysis is an integrated dimension of this approach.
Integrated Impact Assessment
This is a further application of social assessment procedures. It is usually set in the context of resource consent requirements or overseas aid and development projects. As with project development and evaluation, a leadership role for the social assessment consultant is often appropriate. Integrated impact assessment recognises the key principle that all issues faced in environmental change are social issues. While many impacts will require specialist technical analysis, they must also be examined from a social perspective. Interested and affected parties may also have local knowledge or non technical information that can be brought into the assessment. Impact assessments must be focussed on issues that are relevant to those who will have to carry the responsibility of on-going management.
Furthermore, interdisciplinary work and the integration of various contributions is rarely achieved without deliberate attention to project team management.
Mediation is a conflict resolution tool that has considerable potential for assisting in the resolution of environmental and resource management disputes. The approach implies greater involvement of the intermediary (mediator) in the process than it does in facilitated negotiation, for example. It is based on a principled consensus approach to problem solving and can help parties avoid the need to enter into litigation. Environmental mediation is recognised as being appropriate to New Zealand's specific cultural environment. The potential for its use in the Resource Management Act is not being realised at present.
Needs Assessments and Strategic Planning
Needs assessments are usually most effective when conducted in association with a strategic planning exercise. Particular needs of a community or organisation, or for a service provided, are assessed using a mix of techniques. These include social profiling, social surveys, analysis of change and scenario development. Emphasis is placed on involvement and consultation of interested and affected parties, and building support for feasible change.
Principles and Practice in Sustainable Development
Sustainable development is a process of change, not a blue-print for the future. It is a process for avoiding or mitigating outcomes that are judged to be unsustainable in the sense that they are:
- Physically or ecologically unsustainable
- Socially unacceptable
- Politically untenable
Sustainable development recognises the primary responsibilities of individuals and communities and the ultimate responsibilities of society and government. Sustainable development involves the use of science in support of the precautionary principle, the development of anticipatory and adaptive resource policies, and the implementation of participatory practices in resource management and social change.
Taylor Baines has been active in the field of social change and resource policy directed at sustainable development. Their involvement has included work on concepts and interpretation for the New Zealand Resource Management Act, post-graduate courses, and consulting using social assessment as a practical approach to social and institutional change. James Baines has taught a post-graduate course in sustainable development at Lincoln University, New Zealand, for several years.
Public submissions have become a common feature of many public consultation exercises. For submissions to be useful in public consultation they must be summarised and analysed effectively and quickly. It is also important to the wider process of public consultation and involvement that the results of the analysis are circulated to those who wrote submissions. Taylor Baines and Associates has considerable experience in analysing public submissions over a wide range of topics and response numbers.
This experience is based on several key factors:
- Close consultation with the client;
- A systematic analytical approach to summary and analysis;
- Flexible, computerised software for sorting text, focussed around key issues;
- And the ability to assemble and manage teams capable of performing large-scale analysis.
Applied Social Research
An important difference between applied social research and applications of social research methods as part of a social assessment is the more open-ended nature of the enquiry in applied social research. Both applications benefit from a phased, multi-method approach and utilisation of both qualitative and quantitative data. They also benefit from participatory techniques. Applied social research also benefits from the progressive and iterative development of a conceptual understanding of the research problem and usually results in recommendations in respect to social or natural resource policy.