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.

2 Analytical Framework

This section sets out the analytical framework used to develop and deliver the dialogue events and the methodology used for the analysis of results[12]. There are many definitions of SIA. In this report SIA is understood as a process for managing the social issues associated with planned interventions (projects, plans, programs and policies). A social impact is something that is experienced or felt, whether in a perceptual or a corporeal sense at the level of an individual, unit (family / household), social group or by community / society (van Schooten et al, 2003).

The framework adopted took Vanclay’s process and list of impact categories (2002) as a starting point. The impact categories from Vanclay (2015:2) and Burdge (2004a; 2004b) are conceptualised as impacts on:

  • People’s way of life – how they live, work, play and interact with one another on a day-today basis;
  • Culture – shared beliefs, customs, values and language or dialect;
  • Community – its cohesion, stability, character, services and facilities;
  • Political / decision-making systems – engagement, democracy;
  • Environment – the availability and quality of resources and exposure to environmental hazards or risks;
  • Health and wellbeing;
  • Fears and aspirations; and
  • Personal and property rights.

The SIA impact categories shown above are not altogether coherent. Some categories describe different kinds of things: for example, ‘community’ includes relationships (cohesion), qualities (stability), activities (services) and physical assets (facilities). Further, the categories do not cover all types of relationship that people see as important. The project therefore used the evidence from the public dialogue to examine how these relationships can be expressed in ways that reflect people’s experience.

In order to develop and improve existing SIA practice, we have drawn on other concepts and theories along with associated empirical evidence that come from sociology and social psychology which have been developed to express what might broadly be termed ‘social issues’, e.g. values, social networks, identities etc. These types of issues are known to be important in maintaining a positive everyday functioning of social groups and communities but they do not fit exactly with the SIA impact categories listed above. The main relevant concepts are:

  • Social Capital; and
  • Resilience capacities[13].

2.1 Social capital

One important focus of the analysis of the dialogue data and evidence is on social capital, highlighting “community strength, social cohesion, and resilience” (Howell and Haggett, 2014: 22) rather than a narrower interpretation of (economic) ‘capital’ (resources that can be given monetary values, whether these are physical assets or social functions / activities that can be valued, such as volunteering). Social capital can usefully be understood as the “glue” that binds communities together. Understanding how possible plans impact on these aspects of communities is vital to getting a full picture of social impact. Social capital has a number of different definitions and origins (see Andriani (2013) for a good overview) and critiques. We draw on Putnam’s (2000) definition of bonding, bridging and linking Social capital[14]. It is important for the concept to have good explanatory power to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of social capital; i.e. the way that strong ties between people can also act to exclude and isolate those who are considered different or ‘outside’.

Social capital is a key part of the social issues that need to be expressed within SIA. Impacts on all three types of social capital (bonding, bridging and linking) have been considered. In a sense, the dialogue itself was an exercise in developing linking capital. CEP has used measures of social capital within SIA (Twigger-Ross et al, 2010) and within the evaluation of the Flood Resilience Community Pathfinders (Twigger-Ross et al, 2015).

2.2 Resilience capacities

There is a plethora of definitions of resilience used in the contexts of communities, disasters and systems (see Twigger-Ross et al, 2014 for a brief overview). Many authors (e.g. Cutter, 2010; Norris et al, 2010; Armitage et al, 2012) note the change in concept from a narrow engineering, structural definition of resilience to this more interdisciplinary concept focussed on the interrelationship between social and ecological systems.

Much of that work is located within a socio-ecological systems approach, which takes concepts grounded in ecology. Resilience is conceptualised as a dynamic property of a system enabling it to maintain its structure and function in the face of change:

“...a highly resilient system would be able to maintain or recover key functions through transient and exogenous shocks. If a stress or disturbance does alter the ecosystem, then it should be able to bounce back quickly to resume its former ability to yield a service or utility rather than transform into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes” (Dawson et al., 2010: 2847).

Translating this to communities (Twigger-Ross et al, 2011), this relates to social networks and quality of life being maintained in the face of change.

Considerable work on the concept of resilience within a systems theory perspective has drawn out those principles that enable resilience to be developed. For example, within the ENSURE (2009) project the principles of robustness, adaptability and transformability are considered to be key to a resilient system. These principles are useful not only in understanding if a group structure is resilient but also the extent to which wider networks are resilient.

With respect to SIA we focused on the characteristics and capacities that communities have that make them resilient and how these might be enhanced or diminished by offshore renewables development. Drawing on Cutter et al (2010) and Twigger-Ross et al (2014a) identified the following capacities: social, economic, infrastructure and institutional resilience capacities as well as community capital.

Bringing in understandings from social capital and resilience approaches made it possible to look more deeply at the SIA categories proposed by Vanclay and others, to see how these are used by people, how meaningful these categories are for people and whether other types of ‘valued things’ are identified. Here our analysis was particularly interested in understanding how people talk about capacities, networks and relationships, in order to test the relevance of a framing that gives greater weight to resilience capacities, including social or community capital. We suggested that there could be a ‘read across’ from many SIA impact categories to resilience capacities, but also that in carrying out this exercise, it might be possible to enrich and give greater coherence and explanatory force to the impact categories themselves.

In the context of this project, public dialogue was the method used to enable members of the public to freely explore the things that are important to them, without starting from a pre-established framework, and then explore the ways in which these things might be impacted by different scenarios for the development of offshore renewables.

Our aim was to develop an analytical framework that enables the consideration of the full range of impacts and actively engages citizens in the impact assessment process throughout the process in the identification and assessment of impacts.

Whilst the dialogue process was not an SIA, it involved people early on in the process of developing an SIA approach. It was therefore also relevant to use the process as a way of testing some of the techniques that could be useful for engagement within future SIA approaches. The overall approach was seen as being of relevance to all SIAs of plans and strategies, although the detailed discussion of types of impacts focuses on marine offshore renewables. The dialogue did not consider how to improve project level SIAs or the kinds of engagement techniques and approaches that are currently being used by developers.



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