Beyond impacts : Contextualizing strategic environmental assessment to foster the inclusion of multiple values in strategic planning

Abstract: Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) has the potential to improve strategic planning. However, meeting this expectation is a major challenge since SEA practice still constraints itself to assess the impacts of strategic planning initiatives. To advance the role of SEA beyond impact assessment, it has been argued that SEA needs to adapt to strategic planning contexts. Yet, there is a lack of consensus on how SEA should adapt to strategic planning contexts as these are complex, vary considerably and carry high levels of uncertainty. Against this background, the aim of this thesis is to contribute to the development of SEA by creating knowledge on ways in which it can be contextualized to different strategic planning situations. Three case studies addressing different values and strategic planning contexts were designed from which experiences on SEA conceptualization were drawn. The results show that developing strategic focused SEA frameworks that enhance dialogue, collaboration and knowledge generation on multiple values can address issues such as: the lack of data and objectives in developing planning contexts; gaps in knowledge and uncertainty associated to environmental monitoring in transboundary contexts; and the recognition of the importance of ecosystem services and their needed green qualities in urbanizing contexts. Based on the gained case study experiences, it is argued that SEA contextualization can mean addressing strategic planning intentions, identifying and engaging actors, deriving and prioritizing key values, collaborating to generate knowledge on key issues, and using this knowledge to shape strategic planning. Due to the complexity of the issues involved, contextualizing SEA is considered to be challenging to achieve and requires time and resources. However, based on the SEA case studies, it can be argued that the value added to strategic planning outweighs these requirements. Continuing to study the practice of context adaptable, strategic focused and participatory based SEA processes may contribute to advance SEA’s role beyond impact assessment and enable reaching its expected potentials.