The Future of Social Impact Assessment in NSW

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Thursday 19 November 2020
4.00 - 5.30pm

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Online (Zoom)


Macquarie University

This event brings together a panel of experts to discuss the implications of changes to New South Wales’ Social Impact Assessment (SIA) Guideline, and some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the practice of SIA more broadly.

Social Impact Assessments (SIA) are supposed to tell us what social impacts matter when it comes to proposed developments, where the impacts will be felt, by whom and how. SIA should also deal with how impacts will be managed, or, indeed, if they can be managed at all. At the heart of SIA is the idea that planning authorities should be making informed decisions about developments, and that the public good – and indeed, those most vulnerable – should be protected. At the very least, SIA should ensure that social inequalities are not made worse and in the best of worlds, SIA should, in fact, contribute to the reduction in social inequalities.

SIAs, and the planning decisions that follow, should be informed by who and how people will be affected by a new mine; if a new light rail corridor will benefit some whilst adversely impacting others; and what kinds of social benefits and impacts can we expect from a new school or hospital. SIA is not about convincing a community or the public that a development is, or is not, in their best interest. It is about transparently, independently and robustly assessing the social facts so that everybody can participate in, or contribute to, the decision making process on an informed basis.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, (DPIE) has recently released its new SIA Guideline, which will now apply to all State Significant Projects (and not just resource projects). This means that the number of social impact assessments being required by DPIE will increase significantly, and the standard for the way these SIAs will be assessed is now formalised.

This online event will bring together a panel of leading SIA experts to discuss the implications of DPIEs SIA Guideline, and some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the practice of SIA more generally.


Rebecca Lawrence has worked in the field of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for over 15 years as both an academic and SIA practitioner. Rebecca was the social impact expert for the Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE) in the Rocky Hill case; has trained DPIE staff in the 2017 SIA Guideline; has recently undertaken an internal evaluation of DPIE’s implementation of the Guideline; and provides pro-bono advice to NGOs on SIA.  She has a joint PhD in Human Geography (Macquarie University) and Sociology (Stockholm University) and has published in inswternational academic journals regarding SIA in the natural resource sector.

Fiona Miller is a human geographer who conducts research on the social equity dimensions of environmental change. She specialises in social vulnerability, society-water relations and climate change adaptation. She has taught into the social impact assessment (SIA), planning and human geography programs at Macquarie University since 2012. She has experience designing and delivering specialised training on SIA, including to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, as well as providing training on vulnerability assessment to NGOs. She has supervised PhD students undertaking research on SIA and has recently published on the role of SIA in the transport sector.

Susan Park (Chair) is Professor of Global Governance at the University of Sydney. She focuses on how state and non-state actors use formal and informal influence to make the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) greener and more accountable. She is a Senior Research Fellow of the ESG, an affiliated Faculty member of the Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab at the University of Toronto, an External Associate of the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation at Warwick University, and a research affiliate of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney. Susan is the Research Lead on The Global Shift to Renewables and Environmental Disasters and Just Governance.

Richard Parsons works to build community, social, and cultural wellbeing through sound research and effective frameworks for action. Since 2016, he has been leading the NSW Government’s development and implementation of social impact assessment (SIA). He has published work on SIA, social licence, and community engagement, focused particularly on extractive industries. He has a PhD in organisational communication from the University of Queensland, investigating discourses of community engagement.

Alison Ziller PhD is a consultant social planner specialising in social impact assessment (SIA). She is the author of several publications relating to the role of public sector agencies in commissioning and reviewing SIAs, and has extensive experience reviewing SIAs for councils and state government departments. She recently prepared two SIAs for the NSW Environmental Defenders Office working with members of the SEI, and has assisted other community groups and non-profit agencies address SIA issues for a number of years. Alison lectures on social impact assessment in the Macquarie School of Social Sciences at Macquarie University.