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Title: The role of social factors in complex decision-making processes
Author: Sinclair, Samuel Pelham
ISNI:       0000 0004 8504 5653
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2018
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Conservation proponents worldwide have recognized the important role that government decision making processes have in determining our impacts on the environment. Attempts to engage with and influence them however, have achieved only mixed success and have been hampered by our poor understanding of their complexity. My research focuses on an empirical examination of the undocumented social drivers of a government decision making process. I begin my thesis with a global survey of the design and use of spatial conservation prioritisations, a tool often used to inform decision making. I demonstrate that prioritisations are being developed in line with the recommendations of the peer-reviewed literature and are translating to implementation. For the main body of my thesis, I examine decision making within an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process in South Africa. I begin with a study of the flow of applications through the process. I demonstrate that whilst authorisation is granted at the final stage, decisions about mitigation efforts are made earlier, and often confidentially. I also demonstrate that conservation agencies influence decisions. Guided by this insight, I use an interview-based approach to study the social dynamics of the EIA process and understand the realities of decision making. I find that scientific evidence is treated with high regard but that the process is a negotiation and as a result the rationale behind outcomes is not always transparent. I demonstrate that reputation plays a central role in determining negotiations and, as a result, environmental impacts. Finally, I apply these insights to a specific policy issue and explain the mechanisms behind globally encountered issues in biodiversity offsetting. If we, as a global society, are to make informed decisions about our environment, we will need to understand the complex social mechanisms which inform the decision-making and the interpretation of scientific advice.
Supervisor: Milner-Gulland, E. J. ; Knight, Andrew Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral