Offshore renewables - social impact: two way conversation with the people of Scotland

Findings from a piece of participatory research into the social impacts of offshore wind farms (OWFS) in Scotland. It describes innovative methods used to develop a conceptual framework, based on social values, that enables a better understanding of the social impacts of OWFs.

1 Introduction

Collingwood Environmental Planning (CEP) Limited, in partnership with Pidgin Perfect, Nereus Environmental and University of Strathclyde, was commissioned by Marine Scotland in December 2014 to design and run a two-way conversation with people around Scotland about the social impacts of offshore renewable energy developments.

The central focus of this project was to get a better understanding of the things that members of the public value in their lives and how these might be impacted, positively and negatively, by the development of offshore renewable energy technologies. The project explored how these impacts might be better captured and assessed, by improving Social Impact Assessment (SIA) practice in the offshore renewables sector. The dialogue approach provided an accessible and engaging means for members of the public to discuss the things that they value in their daily lives. In conversation with specialists, public participants also considered the potential benefits and impacts from the development of offshore renewables.

The purpose of this Report is to describe the process and findings from the public dialogue and to draw out the implications of these findings. A framework is proposed for assessing the potential social impacts of offshore renewables plans. This framework takes as its basis a collection of clusters of social values that were identified and explored through the dialogue process. The Report puts forward suggestions for using the framework to improve future SIAs of offshore renewable energy plans. While the focus of the dialogue was on SIA at the plan level, the Report also draws out some implications for project-level assessment.

1.1 Background to the dialogue project

Marine Scotland has consulted on its plans for offshore wind, wave and tidal energy in Scottish waters and in doing so gathered many views from potentially affected communities. In addition, socio-economic impact assessments were carried out on the plans to provide data on the likely impacts[3], both positive and negative, for communities. However, Marine Scotland is concerned that current socio-economic impact assessments do not reflect important aspects of local communities’ concerns and that these may be overlooked or emerge late in the process when there is less room for changes within the planning cycle.

An important purpose of this public dialogue has been to explore new ways of assessing social impacts, which are understood as impacts on all issues that affect people, both directly and indirectly (Vanclay, 2003).

The motivation for change comes out of a critique of existing socio-economic assessment[4]. The focus of the dialogue was not on describing social impacts in different locations, but about identifying what people value and exploring how the ways in which these might be affected by offshore renewables could be captured, assessed and taken into account in future SIA practice.

Some aspects of methods and practice for assessing social impacts have been criticised for having an overly simplistic approach, a narrow focus on outputs that can be easily monetised and / or quantified (e.g. job creation / loss, demographic change, physical community infrastructure etc) and poor consideration of relevant aspects of social theory (e.g. the importance of place and social values)[5]. This is partly due to the lack of statutory requirement and guidance for SIA, as is the case in Scotland. This is in contrast to other impact assessment processes, such as Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and project Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which are underpinned by a robust legislative regime and supported by a plethora of statutory and non-statutory guidance.

The project ran two rounds of dialogue. The first consisted of six one-day events involving a total of 96 people; five events were held in coastal locations (Kirkwall, Islay, Helmsdale, Stranraer and St Andrews) and the sixth took place in Glasgow, bringing in the perspective of people not directly affected by offshore renewables projects. The second round event involved 10 round one participants, including at least one from each location, who reviewed how their inputs had been analysed to create clusters of social values, how these might be used to explore the social impacts of offshore renewables plans and techniques for including community perspectives.

The involvement of policy and technical specialists from Marine Scotland meant that participants could ask questions and examine issues in greater depth. There was increasing sophistication and complexity in the conversations as the dialogue progressed. In all the events there were rich discussions which led many participants to deepen their understanding and develop their views.

The project’s findings are based on a range of views from the participants. Given the relatively small number of people engaged overall, the findings should be regarded as an indicative reflection of public views; they are not statistically representative of the views of people in Scotland as a whole.

Reflecting on the above and drawing on an analysis undertaken by Howell and Haggett[6] who reviewed SIA methods and approaches, the following key issues have been highlighted and were addressed in this project:

  • The mismatch with “lived experience”: the results of recent SIA type assessments of offshore renewables plans have been criticised for not reflecting the experience of local people. This project has considered what is important to people in their own lives and mapping out how this builds a unique community. The project has enabled discussion between specialists and citizens on social impacts to help improve approaches to SIA.
  • Focus on easy wins: SIA practice focuses on outputs and impacts that are relatively easy to quantify or monetise. This project addresses this by looking at more complex issues such as changes in the relationships and networks that contribute to social capital[7], community and personal perceptions of place etc). The project has also explored how members of the public describe and value areas or topics included in SIA, such as culture, environment, health and community, in order to suggest approaches that move away from assessments based on expert judgement alone.
  • Narrow definition of social capital in terms of monetary values: socio-economic assessments and some SIAs use economic metrics of social capital such as social capital stocks[8]. However, definitions which focus on monetary measures can only provide part of the picture. This project explored the potential impacts of offshore renewables developments on communities’ networks, shared norms, values and engagement[9]. Through this broader definition of social capital, it is also possible to look at the ways in which trust and perceptions of fairness of the outcome may be affected by perceptions of unfairness in policy-development or planning processes.
  • Unable to consider cumulative and secondary impacts: individual impacts are currently considered in isolation and SIA methods for offshore energy infrastructure are not able to cope with cumulative and secondary impacts. This project has sought to understand ways in which offshore energy projects could impact sense of place whilst also impacting on processes and activities (e.g. fisheries, tourism businesses, etc.) and in turn on social capital (e.g. a proposed project could divide community opinion, damaging trust).
  • Generic assessments: current SIA practice does not provide the granularity which would allow the differences between coastal communities to be reflected[10]. The project has endeavoured to develop an understanding of the importance of impacts at the local scale, and how these can be taken into consideration in more strategic planning.

These issues are not specific to the assessment of the social impacts of offshore renewables and could be applied to any area of development. The focus of the dialogue was on the plan-making stage of offshore renewables development and the specialists who participated in the dialogue events were all from Marine Scotland. The results of the project are however relevant to wider debates across the Scottish Government on the efficacy of SIA practice and Impact Assessment (IA) practice and policy more generally, for example the consideration of more integrated assessment approaches such as the Scottish Government Environmental Assessment team’s current work on applying an ecosystems approach to SEA[11]. The Report’s findings will be relevant to the use of SIA in other areas of development and to assessment at the project level.

Table 1.1 provides a summary of the challenges that were defined in the original project specification as well as the objectives, desired outputs and impacts, and success criteria developed to address them and agreed with the Steering Group. This framework has informed the approach to all aspects of the project including the design of the dialogue events and the way in which the findings have been analysed and interpreted.

1.2 Structure of the report

This report has been structured to reflect the process followed in the dialogue project. This is illustrated in Figure 1.1. Further detail of what is included in each chapter of the report is provided in the bullet points below. Table 1.1shows where specific dialogue objectives and outputs have been addressed in the chapters of this report. It is recognised that this report will have different audiences and that every chapter will not necessarily be of immediate interest or relevance to every reader. Readers should therefore use Figure 1.1 and Table 1.1 and the bullet points below to navigate the report and identify specific chapters of interest.

Details of chapter contents:

  • Chapter 1 introduces the background to the dialogue project including the key challenges it sought to address and sets out the broad framework for the project in terms of its objectives, outputs, anticipated outcomes / impacts and success criteria. It also provides signposting to what else is covered in the report and especially where evidence is provided to meet each of the dialogue objectives.
  • Chapter 2 sets out the analytical or conceptual framework adopted in the dialogue. This is the suite of concepts and theories that have been applied in the development of the dialogue materials and in the analysis of data and information from the dialogue events themselves.
  • Chapter 3 outlines the governance arrangements for the project including the purpose of and relationship between the Steering and Oversight Groups and a summary of the governance activities and inputs to the project.
  • Chapter 4 explains the overall methodology adopted in the dialogue project including the process of developing the dialogue materials and process plans, recruitment of participants and analysis of data / information from the dialogue events.
  • Chapter 5 provides an outline of the process followed in the Round 1 dialogue events including an introduction to the materials used. Further information on the Round 1 process / materials is provided in Appendices 1–4.
  • Chapter 6 summarises the key findings from the Round 1 dialogue events including the social values identified by participants, the potential impacts (positive and negative) of offshore renewables development on these values and suggestions for how engagement between Marine Scotland and the public / affected communities can be improved, as part of plan-making and SIA.
  • Chapter 7 reflects on the Round 1 dialogue events and what was learnt, especially in relation to the dialogue objectives (Table 1.1). The chapter also explains how findings from Round 1 helped to shape and inform the process followed in the Round 2 event.
  • Chapter 8 outlines the process followed in the Round 2 dialogue event which was held with a small number of participants from each Round 1 event and describes the materials used. Further information on the Round 2 process / materials is provided in Appendices 7–8.
  • Chapter 9 sets out the analysis and key findings from the Round 2 dialogue event.
  • Chapter 10 presents the main findings and conclusions from the dialogue project including a framework for incorporating social impacts into offshore renewables assessment processes and lessons learnt for future dialogue projects.
Figure 1.1 Navigating the contents of this Final Dialogue Report
Shows how to navigate the contents of this ‘Final Dialogue Report’. Objective and challenges for the dialogue to address are covered in chapter 1. This leads on the next section on ‘Methods, governance and frameworks’ which is covered in chapters 2,3 and 4. After this is a section called ‘Round 1 dialogue process, events and findings’ which is covered in chapters 5, 6 and 7. ‘Round 2 dialog process, events and findings’ is covered in chapter 8 and 9. Finally ‘Discussion, conclusions and a framework for SIA are covered in chapter 10.

Table 1.1 Links between the project’s overall challenges, objectives, outputs, impacts

Challenges to address

1. Open Policy Making - giving the public the opportunity to participate and influence policy

Dialogue Objectives

To design and run a dialogue process that:

Enables individuals to participate freely without prejudice, where their input is listened to and respected.

Enables participants to identify and explore the things (both physical things as well as relationships and activities) that are important in their lives.

Gives participants the opportunity to examine realistic scenarios for the development of offshore renewables and consider how these might affect the things that they value.

Collects information in a way that is transparent to members of the public and which can be analysed and interpreted to inform Marine Scotland’s future decision making.

Explores how members of the public would like Marine Scotland, other decision-makers and developers to engage with them in the future, considering the most appropriate tools for engagement.

Dialogue Outputs

A structured way of describing the types of things that are important to members of the public (social values) and the ways that these might be affected, positively or negatively, by offshore renewables.

A process for assessing social impacts that incorporates social values and the ways in which members of the public feel that these could be affected, positively or negatively, by offshore renewables.

Dialogue Impacts

Marine Scotland has a structured way of describing the types of things that are important to members of the public (social values) and an approach for assessing how the social values of people in particular places might be impacted by offshore renewables developments.

Success criteria

Participants feel that they have been able to contribute their views and have their say and that the events will have an impact on policy (from Evaluation


Participants recognise that their views have been reflected in the proposed approaches for assessing social impacts.

Participants, policy-makers and scientists feel that the dialogue is a worthwhile and legitimate part of the policy-making process.

Challenges to address

2. Getting the right representation

Dialogue Objectives

To involve members of the general public who have not been previously engaged in marine development issues.

Dialogue Outputs

Public participants reflect a range of perspectives and interests and are able to articulate and reflect on both the differences and the points on which they are in agreement.

Dialogue Impacts

Marine Scotland has an understanding of how characteristics, locations and contextual factors may influence social values and resilience capacities.

Success criteria

The public participant and specialist perspectives are generally recognised to reflect a good crosssection of public and specialist viewpoints.

Challenges to address

3. Asking the right questions – assessing social impact

Dialogue Objectives

To develop new approaches to understanding and assessing social impacts that are able to account for complex social interactions and heterogeneous communities, reflecting lived experience.

Dialogue Outputs

Public participants’ descriptions of what is important to them in their lives and their reflections on how these important things might potentially be affected, either positively or negatively, by offshore renewables, are used to develop sets or categories of values and potential impacts that can be used in SIA.

Dialogue Impacts

A description and categorisation of the types of things that public participants value in their lives.

An approach to assessing social impacts (or impacts on things of social value) is developed.

Success criteria

Public participants recognise the proposed descriptions and categories of social values and the potential positive and negative impacts on them as reflecting their own experience and what has been discussed during the dialogue.

Challenges to address

4. Meeting multiple policy objectives

Dialogue Objectives

To understand the impact of development or change on things people value and factors that contribute to this impact.

Dialogue Outputs

Reflections by public participants on how they think about valued and important features in their lives. Reflections by public participants on wider societal aspects such as social equity, responsibility towards future generations, etc.

Dialogue Impacts

Learning from the development of new methodologies is applied to improve the identification and assessment of the social impacts of other policies and plans.

Success criteria

Use of learning from the project in other parts of Marine Scotland and / or the Scottish Government

Challenges to address

5. Interacting with other research

Dialogue Objectives

To carry out the project in the knowledge of other research, ensuring it is informed by relevant research and builds on the current knowledge base.

Dialogue Outputs

Public participants identify criteria or principles for assessing social impacts of offshore renewables.

Dialogue Impacts

Build on existing knowledge and approaches to SIA to increase understanding and develop improved assessment approaches.

Success criteria

Demonstrable academic rigour applied in the analysis of evidence and development of approaches.



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