Impact assessment in governments: literature review

This report reviews literature regarding five types of policy level impact assessments (environment, equity, health, regulatory, rural) in five countries (Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden & Wales). It was commissioned by the Scottish Government to inform their approach to impact assessment.


1. There are many instances of one-off assessments or pilots, and of assessments that are legally required at the plan/programme level: these are not covered in this report.

2. New Zealand embeds impact assessment in a number of its decision-making processes. Policy or budgetary decisions of any significance are considered by Cabinet and must include an analysis that includes impact assessment including, specifically, Climate implications assessment; Population implications assessment (distributional impacts for different population groups including rural communities); and assessment of human rights implications, along with cost/benefit and other impact analysis. Proposals for legislation or regulation must also have a Regulatory Impact Assessment which is provided to Parliament.

3. Interestingly, in May 2019 New Zealand reinstated the purpose of local government to be "to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities" through its Local Government (Community Well-Being) Amendment Act. This was the original purpose set out in 2002 legislation, which was changed in 2012 to provide for "local authorities to play a broad role in meeting the current and future needs of their communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions". The 2019 act reinstates the 2002 version.

4. The link between SEA/EIA, health and equality is particularly pertinent at the moment, with COVID-19. The disease arose from human-wildlife interactions, minority populations have been disproportionately affected by the disease, and measures to control the disease have shown the importance of green spaces.

5. We have not found literature that refers to stakeholders' responses to impact assessments not being carried out, i.e. whether policy-makers are 'getting away' with not carrying out impact assessments. It is likely that this is because policy development is not as keenly scrutinised by the public as (say) the preparation of local development plans which have a more readily identifiable bearing on individuals' quality of life. At the plan and project level, there have certainly been many legal challenges against poor and missing SEAs and EIAs (e.g. EPA, 2020).

6. Further information on the Scottish Government's Strategic Environmental Assessment

7. US Environmental Protection Agency's environmental impact statement database

8. Verloo (2007) does not explain this further, but subsequent co-authored work suggests that 'gender blind' policies apply equally to men and women, but may have indirect gender-related impacts. For instance, welfare policies that differentiate between employed and non-employed people, or that penalise interruptions in participation in the labour market, tend to perpetuate a male breadwinner – female caregiver model that promotes the feminisation of poverty (Lombardo et al., 2016). A 'feminist frame' would consider these indirect impacts whereas a 'gender blind' frame would not.

9. An Australian example is "the high level of democratization in the health sector, and the infrequent use of consultations more characteristic of sectors strongly influenced by engineering, such as transportation" (Molnar et al, 2016).

10. An intriguing win-win identified during the literature review (not related to the countries analysed) was between gender equality and land degradation neutrality (Collantes et al., 2018)

11. Sophie Howe (the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales)

12. The message is made more powerful by its personal tone – the auditor cares.

13. Owens et al. (2004) subsequently argue that appraisal practices should not seek to depoliticise policy controversies, as this is practically impossible, but rather to improve opportunities for deliberation in which open dialogue about difficult choices can occur. However they acknowledge that this can lead to a "morass of system complexity and issue intractability… Deliberative and inclusive processes… seem difficult, expensive, time consuming and (to the discomfort of decisionmakers) potentially inconclusive."



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