Digital Impact Assessment is the use of digital technologies and approaches in Impact Assessment.

More than just reporting

Recent discussions have commonly focused on digital reporting in the EIA process (i.e. Digital EIA Scoping Reports and Digital ES). However, digital practices widely underpin any effective digital reporting and present greater opportunities than the format of presentation.

For example, in addition to the presentation of final reports in a digital format, making use of multimedia and digital methods can also be used for data collection, surveys, modelling, visualisation, remote-sensing, databases and calculations, to inform the IA.

Furthermore, Digital IA can be utilised throughout the project lifecycle and continue through discharge of conditions, construction, operation and decommissioning of projects. Therefore, it is important to separate out the meaning of digital reporting from the wider adoption of Digital IA practices and techniques.

This is illustrated in the diagram below and the Outlook Journal articles.

Not just EIA

The majority of discussion to date on Digital IA has focused on EIA. However, Digital IA methods have a much wider application and can be applied to SEAs, Cumulative Effects Assessments (CEA), HRAs and a wide range of other international and national assessments required by legislation and policy.

Digital IA can also be used on a voluntary basis and on a range of activities that fall outside statutory requirements, including research projects, feasibility studies, route and site selection analysis, and a host of monitoring and reporting purposes.

For more information, see the Outlook Journal articles for examples of how digital technologies and approaches are being applied across forms of IA and its related processes and tasks. 

Why is Digital Impact Assessment needed?

Current IA practice, notably in EIA, predominantly utilises hardcopy recording, storing and presentation of data and assessments. Due to the need to produce a robust assessment and reduce the scope for legal challenge (e.g. adopting the precautionary principle and risk-aversion of the applicant to challenge), the IA process can often struggle to be proportionate and easily navigable, with key messages often poorly defined. The large volume of material produced can also be a barrier to communication, and the development sector is further behind than some other sectors and practices for communicating information in an easily accessible manner. Furthermore, the development sector, along with many traditional professional services and wider industries, is failing to maximise the use and value of the underpinning data.

Digital Impact Assessment can provide solutions to these and other challenges and help us deliver more efficient and effective Impact Assessment.

Current Situation – see the Primer for more detail on the current situation relevant to why Digital IA is needed and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

Opportunities and Challenges – a summary of the opportunities of Digital IA and challenges to its implementation can be found here.

In Practice – also see the Outlook Journal articles for how these opportunities are being realised and challenges overcome in practice.