Participatory engagement and social research: methods toolkit

A toolkit of methods available to assist developers, consultants, and researchers carrying out socio-economic impact assessments (SEIA).

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction

The purpose of this Toolkit is to assist developers, consultants, and researchers carrying out Socio-Economic Impact Assessments (SEIA) for different types of offshore marine developments, plans or interventions, to choose the most suitable methods for conducting participatory community and stakeholder engagement and social research to collect primary data that may be needed for the SEIA. The Toolkit draws on the principles of Social Impact Assessment, and incorporates a range of methods used for social research and community engagement.

The Toolkit is targeted at project-level SEIA for developments or interventions occurring in the sea such as offshore renewable developments or marine protected areas, but also considers methods which are appropriate to use at Plan level such sectoral, regional or national marine planning.

The objective of SEIA is to ensure that new developments or interventions are planned and continue to develop in a way that takes account of potential impacts and considers the views of those affected. To this end, the SEIA process has three main aims:

  • To gather good quality information and evidence that enables an accurate assessment of potential socio-economic impacts
  • To engage with communities and stakeholders to explain what the development or intervention might involve, and ensure that people are involved and have a say in the decisions that affect them
  • To use the information gathered through data collection and the relationships developed during engagement to manage any impacts generated by the development or intervention

Achieving these aims necessitates using methods that are rigorous, able to assess and measure change, and which are in line with the principles of SEIA (that are set out in Section 2). It is also important to recognise that different methods will achieve different aims, and to use methods which are most appropriate for the activity in question i.e. engagement, data collection .

The Toolkit therefore provides a categorisation of a wide range of participatory and social research methods, and analysis of the ability of different methods to meet the requirements of different stages of socio-economic impact assessment.

1.1. Overview of key points

The key points set out in the toolkit are:

  • Process matters: any method, however well intentioned, may not generate meaningful information if not conducted appropriately. Careful planning; careful consideration of the framing and scope of the exercise, and the form in which input from participants is required; and careful analysis of any data collected are all needed.
  • The scope of methods is key: the ability of any method to assess social change depends on how it is used and applied, for example, whether the scope permits a range of responses and participants are given the ability to explore what matters to them.
  • Multiple methods can add value: all methods have advantages and drawbacks. Using a combination of methods increases the possibility of capitalising on the valuable aspects and minimising the disadvantages (for example, participatory appraisal sessions to identify issues that matter, and then a survey to explore whether these findings have broader applicability).
  • A need for balance: choosing appropriate methods will inevitably involve weighing up the advantages that that method brings in terms of meeting the principles and objectives of SEIA, with the time and cost, and the level of expertise required.
  • Effort brings benefits: participatory and community engagement approaches are often time-consuming and challenging to do well, but bring numerous advantages, including: developing trust and positive relationships between communities and those leading the change (such as offshore developers or government policy makers), reducing any anxiety associated with a proposed development or intervention, and understanding important issues that lead to support and opposition.
  • Engagement should be ongoing: assessment measures should not be considered as a one-off exercise, but as part of an ongoing process of engagement and communication with communities.
  • Social research is a skill: the act of doing a SEIA can constitute a social impact in itself. If not undertaken sensitively, SEIA methods may end up doing more harm than good within a community. It is therefore strongly advised that a SEIA is undertaken in collaboration with universities or research organisations, who are trained in carrying out such techniques.
  • SEIA techniques are not public relations tools: the purpose of engaging with a community or a group of stakeholders for a SEIA is to empower them by giving them a space to provide their views. The purpose of these techniques is not to convince communities or stakeholders of the merits of a proposed development or intervention, or to inform them of a pre-determined course of action.
  • Methods can be adapted: although engaging with communities is important, and often done best in person, participatory methods can, and should, still be used at times when face-to-face interaction is limited.

1.2. Structure of the toolkit

The Toolkit is set out as follows:

  • Section 2 provides an overview of the key principles and challenges of SEIA.
  • Section 3 sets out the stages of SEIA with appropriate methods suggested for each stage. Methods that may be most appropriate at Plan level are discussed.
  • Section 4 provides an overview of each method, including what they involve, and how they can be used.
  • Section 5 is an analysis of methods, setting out the extent to which they meet the principles of SEIA, and facilitate participation.
  • Section 6 gives more information about each method, with a detailed discussion of the issues to be considered when applying the method.
  • Section 7 provides advice about ethics.
  • Section 8 identifies some limitations about the processes of conducting an SEIA.
  • Section 9 sets out references and resources.
  • Annex A set out how to adapt methods if there are restrictions on social interactions e.g., as there were during the Covid-19 pandemic.



Back to top