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Jasanoff, Sheila, Clark Miller, and James McCarthy. 1998. "Impacts Working Group Theme Paper: Assessing Impacts: Framing, Communication, Credibility." 1997-1998 GEA Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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Impact assessments have emerged as one of the most theoretically engaging as well as practically challenging topics in global environmental assessment. As the salience of global environmental issues rises, demand grows for high-quality impact assessments that will enable policymakers to make more informed, efficient, and equitable policy choices. Considerable intellectual and societal resources accordingly are being invested in impact assessments, at both national and global levels. Yet, experience suggests that impact assessments are often deeply contested and routinely fall short in their efforts to inform, let alone meaningfully steer, policy decisions.

This workshop seeks to advance our current understanding of the problems besetting impact assessment by drawing on theoretical resources from the GEA Project and related areas of the social sciences and by applying these to actual assessment contexts. In the first part of the workshop, our primary focus will be on the issues of framing, knowledge communication, and credibility. More specifically, we will explore how impacts are framed so as to highlight certain aspects as being worthy of greater attention than others, and how such frames are redefined over time. We will ask how impact framings come to be communicated among disparate social actors and how they are institutionalized in social practices and belief systems. Finally, we will examine why impact assessments become controversial and how credibility is secured in processes of impact assessment.

In the second part of the workshop, we will explore some of the practical consequences of the previous discussion for the design and conduct of impact assessments. Specifically, we will consider: (1) methods of valuation in impact assessment, and how they incorporate or reproduce tacit problem framings; (2) procedural mechanisms that institutionalize particular ways of framing or conceptualizing impacts; and (3) processes through which impact assessments are communicated to, and taken up by, wider publics.


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