skip to main content

SciTech ConnectSciTech Connect

Title: A review of uncertainty research in impact assessment

This paper examines uncertainty research in Impact Assessment (IA) and the focus of attention of the IA scholarly literature. We do so by first exploring ‘outside’ the IA literature, identifying three main themes of uncertainty research, and then apply these themes to examine the focus of scholarly research on uncertainty ‘inside’ IA. Based on a search of the database Scopus, we identified 134 journal papers published between 1970 and 2013 that address uncertainty in IA, 75% of which were published since 2005. We found that 90% of IA research addressing uncertainty focused on uncertainty in the practice of IA, including uncertainty in impact predictions, models and managing environmental impacts. Notwithstanding early guidance on uncertainty treatment in IA from the 1980s, we found no common, underlying conceptual framework that was guiding research on uncertainty in IA practice. Considerably less attention, only 9% of papers, focused on uncertainty communication, disclosure and decision-making under uncertain conditions, the majority of which focused on the need to disclose uncertainties as opposed to providing guidance on how to do so and effectively use that information to inform decisions. Finally, research focused on theory building for explaining human behavior with respect to uncertainty avoidance constituted only 1%more » of the IA published literature. We suggest the need for further conceptual framework development for researchers focused on identifying and addressing uncertainty in IA practice; the need for guidance on how best to communicate uncertainties in practice, versus criticizing practitioners for not doing so; research that explores how best to interpret and use disclosures about uncertainty when making decisions about project approvals, and the implications of doing so; and academic theory building and exploring the utility of existing theories to better understand and explain uncertainty avoidance behavior in IA. - Highlights: • We identified three main themes of uncertainty research in 134 papers from the scholarly literature. • The majority of research has focused on better methods for managing uncertainty in predictions. • Uncertainty disclosure is demanded of practitioners, but there is little guidance on how to do so. • There is limited theoretical explanation as to why uncertainty is avoided or not disclosed. • Conceptual, practical and theoretical guidance are required for IA uncertainty consideration.« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [1] ;  [3] ;  [4]
  1. Department of Geography and Planning, University of Saskatchewan, 117 Science Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A5 (Canada)
  2. Department of Geography and Planning, School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan, 117 Science Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A5 (Canada)
  3. Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve W., Suite 1255, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8 (Canada)
  4. (Canada)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Environmental Impact Assessment Review; Journal Volume: 50; Other Information: Copyright (c) 2014 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, All rights reserved.; Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Country of Publication:
United States