Theory and Method in Social Impact Assessment*


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    The ideas presented here were developed in part while preparing a paper on social impact assessment in rangelands management for the U. S. National Research Council (Dietz, 1984). I thank C. Orsburn, R. Frey, S. Groth, R. Johnston, A. Kasper, P. Stern, S. Schwartz, W. Freudenburg, Sociological Inquiry's anonymous reviewers, and especially J. Cramer for comments and the Graduate School of George Mason University for research support.


Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is a method of policy analysis that offers great potential for integrating scientific policy analysis into a democratic political process. This potential has not been realized in large part because there has been no theoretical framework to guide SIA. In this paper I propose such a framework, using Habermas’(1970) pragmatistic approach to policy. The framework suggests heavy emphasis on use of SIA early in the policy process and on methods that emphasize impact identification and portrayal.