IEAs are designed to generate information on the status and dynamics of the environment and its interaction with human well-being. They are typically known first and foremost for their products: reports, websites or databases. However, in order to produce such information and expect it to have both high levels of scientific credibility and policy relevance, an IEA also must have a well-planned and well-managed process.
The ultimate success of an IEA process depends on who is in charge of and who participates in the process, in what specific role, how the process is structured, and how it allows for flexibility to adapt to local cultural, administrative, legal and other conditions.
The design of IEA processes can learn from the experience of UNEP’s global GEO program, its regional sub-assessments, and the growing number of national and sub-national IEA efforts. Based on this experience, we have identified key IEA process attributes that can help guide planning of new initiatives at the national and sub-national levels.
- Participatory. This means that different stakeholders are involved in an interactive process that promotes knowledge and information exchange, and makes clear their position and interests on issues. Engaging participation helps identify IEA issues that truly matter, strengthens the analysis of the observed change, and builds ownership of the IEA’s findings among audiences who are supposed to follow up with action.
- Multidisciplinary and multisectoral. IEA is multidisciplinary because the analysis takes into account different branches of science in such a way that the process of discussion, construction and analysis from different disciplines enriches the assessment. It is multisectoral because environmental issues have many economic and social interlinkages, so participation of different sectors (public and private) is necessary to carry out a sound assessment as well as to ensure that results of the assessment lead to articulate responses and actions from different sectors.
- Integrated. In the IEA designation, integrated refers to a number of aspects of the assessment:
- linking state of the environment analysis with policy analysis;
- incorporating global and sub-global perspectives;
- incorporating historical and future perspectives;
- covering a broad spectrum of issues and policies; and
- looking at dynamic and complex interactions between the environment and human well-being in place-based contexts (e.g., particular countries, ecosystems, cities, regions, watersheds).4
- Multi-product. IEAs typically generate a family of products targeting a wide audience. The products range from simple posters through fact sheets, data compendia to comprehensive IEA reports and executive summaries.
- Institutionalized. IEA involves assessing and reporting on the environment and its interaction with human well-being as an integral part of sustainable development. IEA needs to be built with a long-term perspective in mind where assessment is cyclical, and where periodic products and continuous interaction among participants in policy and science communities and other elements of the public are part of the process.
IEAs are instruments for social learning where society at various levels builds knowledge about human interactions with the environment, and the resultant risks and impacts, and in the process builds capacity to better adapt to the challenges ahead. 5 Along the process, the IEA contributes to a better understanding of the links between environment and development, strengthening the capabilities of participants to identify upcoming issues, to evaluate alternative options for action, to agree on common goals, to promote informed decisions by policy-makers, and to set future national environmental agendas. So, an IEA is an instrument for advancing the development of public policy incorporating stakeholder participation.
The IEA process is made up of a number of activities including:
- Establish an institutional framework for collaboration and organization of the IEA. Identify and enter into formal or informal cooperative agreements with different organizations with interest, capacity and/or mandate concerning the environment. Discuss and agree on objectives and roles to be adopted in the production of your IEA outputs.
- Establish and maintain an information base (i.e., set up information system, gather and update the required data). The information-gathering process during the assessment provides an opportunity to analyze the quality and usefulness of information provided by monitoring systems. It is also an opportunity for improving data sharing and harmonisation mechanisms. Also, during this activity, it is possible to identify new themes and information needs, as well as data gaps. This step further allows identification of indicators of key environmental issues.
- Discussion forum. An IEA represents an opportunity for discussions on topics such as common assessment methodologies, trends of the driving forces, pressures, and key environmental issues, policies, policy options and scenarios. These discussions may involve the public, private sectors and decision makers. Also, this provides an opportunity to analyze environmental policy and practice with involvement of different stakeholders.
- Capacity-building. The IEA plays a capacity building role in two ways. First, the IEA process emphasizes a learning by doing approach based on interactive workshops and other non-workshop based interactions such as distance learning, Internet fora or technical and scientific collaboration. Second, the IEA can help identify capacity building needs and address them through targeted action, such as training, staff exchanges, the provision of data and technical equipment or through other means.
- Define and implement a communication and impact strategy. From the beginning of the process, it is necessary to understand who your various audiences are, so you can establish an efficient and effective communication and impact strategy. Strategies should include implementation plans as well as evaluation measures.
- Identify the main organizations that use an integrated approach to lead participatory processes focused on environment-development interactions in your country. Explain briefly the main activities that were/are involved.
- What key initiatives are ongoing in your country that could be strengthened by the IEA?
- What opportunities do you see in your country to help drive the IEA process?
4. See Module 1 for details.
5. Social Learning Group, et.al. (2001). Learning to Manage Global Environmental Risks. Vol 2.