Sociologist from Malta

Friday, May 31, 2019

Feedback re Social Impact Assessment public consutation

Feedback re Social Impact Assessment Public Consutation

To Planning Authority, SIA Procedures Consultation -

I am pleased that my proposal to mainstream social impact assessments in PA procedures is being taken up.

A social impact assessment reviews the social effects of development and social change, both intended and not.

The International Association for Impact Assessment defines an SIA as the process of analysing, monitoring and managing the intended and unintended social consequences, both positive and negative, of planned interventions and any social change processes invoked by those interventions.

Such changes may range from natural disasters to population growth and from policy interventions to singular development projects. Consequently, SIAs investigate the effects on people’s everyday lives in terms of culture, politics, community, health, well-being, aspirations, needs, rights and responsibilities, to name a few.  They provide data for policymaking, which is based on evidence.

Social impacts under assessment should include all those things relevant to people’s everyday life. This may include one’s culture, community, political context, environment, health, well-being, personal and property rights as well as fears and aspirations.

Social impact assessments can help verify the consequences and impacts of development proposals in relation to the communities involved. Hence, a basic starting point for such assessments should be the compilation of a community profile. A social impact assessment that does not understand the society in question is practically worthless.

This can help bring about genuine processes of engagement between communities, developers and authorities as well as identify and implement mitigation measures and compensation mechanisms. As things stand in Malta, various developers do quite the opposite, often causing huge inconvenience to residents and leaving a mess behind in surrounding infrastructure.

Various methods, both quantitative and qualitative could be used within social impact assessments. The former refers to generalisable data especially through numbers, while the latter produce in-depth data on matters.

Research methods in SIAs may therefore include surveys of concerned populations who are asked questions on their perceptions of the change in question. Ethnographic methods may involve a deeper look into everyday practices of people, while elite interviews may verify the advice, concerns and interpretations of persons who are experts or who have experience in the respective field under analysis.

Methods may also involve the analysis of discourse on the subject in question, for example by looking at what is being pronounced in the public sphere, whether by the public, civil society, political actors, the media and the like.

SIAs should involve the participation of different stakeholders, ideally through mixed research methods.

Some other factors which should be included in social impact assessments include the consideration of reasonable alternatives to development proposals as well as comparative analysis of similar development proposals and related good or bad practices.

Analytic indicators should be provided and the entire process should be subject to peer review by independent experts in the field.

Social impact assessments should not be one-off exercises which are rubber-stamped by authorities without any sense of critical engagement. To the contrary, they should be ongoing processes which engage with various stakeholders and which report back so as to ensure effective policy processes. They should also use complementary research methods so as to ensure reliable and valid data.

Recommendations and mitigation measures could therefore be in place, and these would be based on social-scientific evidence.

It is also important that SIAs are peer-reviewed. This means that if a study is being carried out by a team of social scientists, this should be scrutinised by other independent social scientists. This could help identify shortcomings, conflicts and possible improvements to the same SIA.

As things stand, there are no national guidelines on the need for SIAs in Malta. The conducting of such studies on development projects is at the discretion of the Planning Authority.

When exceptionally carried out, they are one-off studies on major development projects. This effectively means that smaller-scale development projects with bigger cumulative impacts are not subjected to SIAs.

Such ongoing processes should also take account of changes in the social context in question, such as cumulative impacts of other developments. For example, a social impact assessment that focuses on one development but ignores another development in the region is not realistic.

If one looks at other policy interventions, SIAs are practically absent. Just to name a few: the dynamics of agriculture, the cost of living, social cohesion and integration, urbanisation, the commercialisation of public land.

Indeed, there are so many areas where SIAs could be introduced in Malta: government consultation on new legislation, proposals in the national budget, the adoption of EU directives, parliamentary committees and local councils are just some areas. For example, the latter could carry out SIAs to establish community profiles, cultural commonalities and differences, social needs, demographics, impacts of development and so forth.

The University of Malta and other educational institutions are currently producing graduates in different social sciences who are equipped to carry out SIAs and who are sensible to the need for evidence-based policymaking.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept – Michael Briguglio

Change does not happen unless people demand it. If we ever needed a reminder that we cannot afford to walk past standards that we should not accept, recent events in Malta have given us a multitude of such reminders - the murder of an immigrant, the assassination of a journalist and the mugging of an elderly couple in broad daylight. A society where inequality is growing and people are treated as human resources rather than human beings is not something we can just walk past and forget. How can we change? What can we do? These are questions I ask myself every day, and I am sure many of you do too.

My experience in civil society has taught me that it is not those in power who lay the foundations for meaningful change, but the people and communities who start the drive towards a better society. Time and time again, people in power have failed to do this. They have walked past and accepted lower standards than we deserve. My belief in the power of the voice of the people has informed my activism during the past 25 years, and it has led me to contest the European elections, because the European Parliament directly represents all European Union citizens and has made such change happen.

Everyone in our society deserves to live without fear, in a safe and just society where clean air and open public spaces are not an electoral promise but a basic reality. Those in power are walking past these standards every day. Political endeavour needs to happen both in Brussels and in Malta, putting the person at the centre, free from behind-the-scenes donors, to ensure the interests of all are honestly represented.

Rather than walking past these issues, I will do my utmost to listen to all the people in our communities: people of all ages, of different genders and sexualities, of all social classes and backgrounds, workers, the unemployed, those with precarious jobs, those experiencing poverty, illness, or loneliness.

Over the past year the PN has been on the ground like never before and has shaped a manifesto based on the aspirations, wishes and concerns of the people, speaking about a caring society and presenting concrete proposals on decent wages, quality education, public healthcare, environment, quality of life, human rights, governance and democracy.

On my part, I pledge to fight the real issues – to fight for clean air and sea, for green, open spaces, for climate justice, for the protection of our endangered biodiversity and ecosystems, to secure our children’s future, for social justice, for workers’ rights, for sustainability, for the dignity of the poorest and weakest in our communities, for the safety of those who seek protection and find themselves in danger. These issues need to be consistently integrated into the policy and legislation that shape our Union and our lives.

Our particular challenges and vulnerabilities as a small island state need to be understood and recognised in the EU, providing an opportunity for Maltese MEPs to become a European voice for small islands around the world, especially in the fight against environmental destruction and climate disaster.

 During these 25 years I have been active at the forefront of various successful campaigns, fighting for EU membership, defending agricultural land, striving to keep stipends in place, advocating for divorce and LGBTIQ rights, stopping unsustainable development proposals and organizing the biggest civil society demonstrations in recent Maltese history: the call to defend Żonqor and the call for justice for Daphne.

I have done this because I love my country, and I wish that all those who live in it experience a society which is truly democratic, inclusive, decent and kind. I believe in the European project, and wish to work so that it truly stands for social justice, environmental sustainability and democracy, leaving no one behind. We owe it to those who have suffered, or are suffering and humiliated among us.

The coming election will not change those who govern us, but our vote can surely send them a clear sign of the standards we want.