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Title: Social impact assessment as a vehicle to better understand and improve stakeholder participation within urban development planning : the Maltese case
Author: Vella, Steven
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 2687
Awarding Body: Birmingham City University
Current Institution: Birmingham City University
Date of Award: 2018
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Environmental decision-making situations are typically complex and chaotic, with confused political messages, conflicting agendas and limited account taken of the wider social contexts in which decisions are made and play out. Many different types of knowledges from diverse social actors, sometimes with different epistemological and ontological backgrounds, must be taken into account. In environmental and urban planning, these challenges are increasingly being addressed through the integration of public participation in Social Impact Assessments (SIA) to inform Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). Research on environmental governance suggests that direct public participation and integration of stakeholder concerns in the environmental decision-making process could reduce the potential for conflict and lead to "better" decisions. However, the mechanisms through which participation benefits decision-making processes are unclear and contested. Previous attempts to understand "what works" in participation have been confounded by the multifaceted interactions that exist between the different components of social-ecological systems and the often-unacknowledged influence of context. The context of participation includes the social norms of society at large, and of different social units or communities of practice, the political context in which participation is performed and integrated into practice in urban planning, and the environmental context in which decisions will play out. Most of the disciplines that have traditionally sought to understand stakeholder engagement in environmental decisions struggle to recognize or analyse the role of these underlying dynamics and context. However, without a better understanding of these deep dynamics and the contexts in which participation takes places, it becomes very difficult to explain why some processes meet their objectives while others fail, or produce unintended consequences. This doctoral thesis makes empirical contributions to our understanding of stakeholder participation in urban development in Malta, and uses this case study research to generate methodological insights into best practices in stakeholder and public engagement and inter-professional collaboration in SIAs. Grounded in the analysis of the empirical data produced from the ethnographic experience of an applied anthropologist working as an SIA practitioner on three proposed urban development projects in Malta, the thesis differentiates between descriptive and explanatory factors to develop a typology and a theory of stakeholder and wider public engagement. The typology describes different types of public and stakeholder engagement based on agency (who initiates and leads engagement) and mode of engagement (from communication to co-production), while the theory explains much of the variation in outcomes from different types of engagement. This typology and theory is tested using empirical evidence from three Maltese SIA case studies, and then is further developed based on insights from case study findings and literature. It emphasises the roles of context and scale (especially temporal) in determining the initial choice of engagement type, and moves from an initial linear theoretical framework to one where the factors determining the outcomes of participation are framed as an interdependent, loosely nested set of factors, influencing one another along the planning life-cycle. This stresses the dynamic nature of the planning and decision-making process over time and across changing macro, meso and micro socio-cultural, political and geo-spatial contexts. Finally, the thesis shows how applied anthropology and its practitioners can effectively combine critical social theory of complex systems with its application and pragmatic engagement with the contemporary problems of the social and physical environment, working and collaborating across disciplinary borders and blurring the lines between theory and practice. Anthropology and its methods can offer an alternative way to look at the world and the range of methodological approaches that anthropologists are trained in, especially qualitative data collection based on participant observation and ethnography provide that extra 'edge' to the analysis of the complex systems that urban and environmental conservation projects investigate, while building relationships that help increase positive outcomes of stakeholder involvement within such initiatives and projects.
Supervisor: Reed, Mark ; Carter, Claudia Sponsor: University of Aberdeen ; Birmingham City University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: K400 Planning (Urban, Rural and Regional) ; L400 Social Policy