Spatial information in public consultation within Environmental Impact Assessments
Angela N. Mwenda
Established in the United States of America in 1970, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an interdisciplinary approach that considers the anticipated impacts of development on the environment, and proposes timely mitigation of these impacts to the extent possible. Since then, EIA has continued to be established in countries worldwide, with modifications being made to suit regional and local requirements. Essential to EIA is an attempt to balance environmental concerns with social, economic and other human needs, which has led to partnership with society, to the extent that public participation is deeply incorporated into EIA. Also central to the EIA process is information related to the natural and human environment. Sources of this information, particularly those that contain spatial elements, are valuable due to their ability to provide information on location. Sources of spatial information are numerous, and may include photographs, maps, satellite images, orthophotographs, verbal descriptions, animations, and virtual reality, among others.
Despite its innovative presentation of project-relevant information and communication function during public participation, debate exists on the value of spatial information to EIA. For example, high levels of visual realism may hinder the interpretation of spatial information, while high costs, and technical demands may cause certain types of spatial information to be inaccessible to a large number of stakeholders. These challenges are not unique to any one country, and have also been observed in developing countries, where, in addition to a deficiency of information, less developed and poorly enforced legislative, administrative, institutional and procedural frameworks for EIA intensify the challenges. For example, despite an official recommendation for the use of spatial information during public participation within EIA in Kenya, whether this happens, and the extent, was largely undocumented. In view of this observation, an investigation into the use and status of spatial information during public participation within EIA in Kenya was considered.
The main objective of this research was to establish whether spatial information is used in public participation within EIA, and if so, the extent of its use. Three specific sub-objectives were developed, namely: to confirm the presence and extent of public participation within EIA in Kenya; to establish the extent to which spatial information is used in EIA in Kenya; and to evaluate, using case studies, the use of spatial information during public participation within EIA in Kenya. Combined methods of surveys and case studies were used to address the sub-objectives earlier developed.
In response to the first sub-objective, namely, to confirm the presence and extent of public participation within EIA in Kenya, five dimensions for the evaluation of public participation within EIA were identified from legal and best practice requirements. These five dimensions were: notification, participation methods, venue, language used, and type of participants, which were then constituted into a Consultation and Public Participation Index (CPPI), developed within this research to analyze a sample of 223 EIA Study Reports submitted to the Environment Authority between 2002 and 2010. EIA Study Reports record activities during the EIA Study Stage, where public participation activities are most intensive, hence their choice as a source of data for the survey. Following analysis of the five dimensions presented in the CPPI, public participation was found to be relatively low, with the highest score of 1.65 out of a possible score of 5. The dimensions of ‘participation methods’ and ‘type of participants’ scored the highest, followed by ‘venue’, ‘notification’, and ‘language used’, in that order. Variations within the dimensions was also evident during the study period. Despite a 95% mention of public participation in the EIA Study Reports, the low CPPI scores were attributed to gaps in reporting and limited choices per dimension.
In response to the second sub-objective, namely, to establish the extent to which spatial information is used in EIA in Kenya, survey methods similar to those used to address the first sub-objective were employed, where a sample of 434 EIA Study Reports submitted to the Environment Authority between 2002 and 2013 were analyzed for the presence/absence of spatial presentations, levels of visual realism exhibited, and content presented in the spatial presentations. Almost all (95%) of the EIA Study Reports sampled displayed a variety of spatial presentation types, with preference for the combined use of spatial presentations with low and high levels of visual realism. On the content, information depicting a combination of project location and project activities/details was most popular.
In response to the third sub-objective, namely, to evaluate, using case studies, the use of spatial information during public participation within EIA in Kenya, two case studies were conducted, the first in Katani, in the Eastern Province of Kenya, and the second in Kericho, in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya. Both case studies were based on a conceptual framework developed in this research to assess the interplay between EIA, public participation, spatial information and type of participants. In both studies, EIA stages was limited to the EIA Study stage, levels of public participation was limited to ‘inform’, and categories of participants was limited to ‘affected persons’. Seven aspects of spatial information were deemed relevant to public participation, namely: availability, accessibility, content, appropriateness, language, translation, and technical support. In the first case study, all the seven aspects were evaluated, using a cadastral map, where it was established that the requirements for accessibility, language, translation and technical support were met, but those for availability were unsatisfactory, and unconfirmed for content and appropriateness. Out of the 7 aspects of spatial information that were deemed relevant to public participation, the second case study was limited to the aspect of ‘content’, and specifically distance perception. It was argued that distance perception is critical when determining potential benefits or threats from a proposed project. Three types of spatial presentations with different levels of visual realism were used, namely a topographic map, overlay map and aerial map. From this case study, preference was noted for topographic maps, indicating that higher levels of visual realism in spatial presentations were not always preferred. On whether maps improve distance perception, the results indicated that they encourage Euclidian distance perception. The unique point of the case studies was that they were conducted in ‘real-life’ settings, similar to those in which actual EIAs are carried out, as opposed to highly controlled and laboratory-like set ups.
Two main innovations are evident: the consultation and public participation index (CPPI) and the conceptual framework developed in this research. The CPPI brought together, for the first time dimensions that are specifically relevant to public participation within EIA, that is, notification, participation methods, venue, language used, and type of participants. These dimensions offer the opportunity for deeper and more structured analysis of public participation within EIA, and the opportunity to improve practice. The second innovation, the conceptual framework, brought together the elements of EIA, public participation, spatial information and types of participants. The novelty of this conceptual framework was the combination of these elements and their placement within the framework of EIA, which will encourage in-depth investigation on their quality and effectiveness to EIA. Still related to the conceptual framework was the emphasis on ‘affected persons’, who often face direct impacts from development projects, yet are often not included in EIA public participation activities due to their low socio-economic status and challenges in accessing them, e.g. poor infrastructure and insecurity. It is due to their increased stake in any decision made that we specifically sought their opinions in this research.