Key challenges and opportunities of Digital IA as identified in the Primer are summarised below.
- Ensuring there are no legal barriers to adopting digital approaches.
- Digital reporting may, at first, supplement rather than replace paper copies. However, this duplication should be avoided if possible as it can potentially lead to inconsistencies and removes many of the benefits that digital reporting provides.
- Digital approaches are already being used successfully to support planning applications.
- Digital IA has the potential to offer improvements to the examination of information and to aid better-informed decision-making. Improvements arising from Digital IA, therefore, present an opportunity to provide beneficial outcomes for the environment.
- There are further opportunities for Digital IA innovations in the post-consent phase of IA to support the management of mitigation, conditions, monitoring and post-project reporting.
- Potential barriers to Digital IA are expected to further recede over time.
- Data underpins Digital IA, and effective management of data is required if Digital IA is to be fully adopted and to evolve.
- There is a need to engage data specialists early to set digital strategies and efficiently manage data.
- Under normal IA practice, data ownership and assurance is already necessary to ensure data is fit for purpose and auditable. However, under existing practice, much of the data is not accessible to stakeholders. For Digital IA, it is important to ensure ownership and assurance of all data is transparent and accessible.
- Practice needs to make better use of the ever-increasing open sources of data.
- Data availability continues to increase, driven by a wide range of factors including government initiatives, non-government actors, technology and market trends.
- Guidance and standards are needed to drive consistency and efficiencies of data use.
Technology and tools
- Digital technology and tools can assist throughout the EIA and other forms of IA, both for internal working practices and outward-facing deliverables.
- There will be opportunities to promote collaboration, improve efficiency and drive down costs over time.
- There is a need to ensure that the technology and tools used are future-proofed and can retain function for the required duration of the IA reporting.
- Development of generic tools (and standards) may be beneficial to improve efficiency for all involved in the IA process. However, without industry consensus and standards, there is a risk of a proliferation of competing standards and formats being adopted without a ‘common language’ for users to adopt.
- Using digital tools (including infographics, maps, illustrations and digital media) for reporting can help to promote proportionate and concise reports which aid understanding of complex issues on a spatial level.
- Digital IA reporting may support more-effective engagement but also needs to ensure that those with less-developed digital skills (or with specific needs) are still able to interact with the process effectively.
Culture and approach
- Training staff in digital working (and updating as required) and defining digital roles in the early stages of a project are key to adopting a Digital IA approach.
- There is a need to develop cultures and behaviours that encourage digital working across all levels of the organisation undertaking Digital IA.
- It is equally important that a culture of digital engagement and reporting are promoted across the stakeholders involved in Digital IA and planning, such as statutory and non-statutory consultees, local and national authorities, legal and planning professionals, IA surveyors, subcontractors and supply chain, and the wider public.
Time and costs
- There will be initial up-front costs to adapt processes and skills to Digital IA. However, Digital IA has the potential to result in substantial time and cost savings in the longer term.