Step 1: Initial Scoping

Step 1: Identify the Main issues and Impacts on the Ground

To begin, conduct some preliminary scoping to identify the main impacts of the project. This initial scoping is necessary to design an appropriate assessment framework. This framework will help you design the data collection tools you will use when speaking to local communities and/or their representatives.

To start scoping out the issues, talk to a few people in the community about their experiences. Read media reports about the case. Try to find as much information as possible about the project, including, if available:

  • The business model of the project. For instance, if it’s an agriculture project, is it a large-scale plantation or a contract farming scheme?
  • Maps of the area that show the project’s location, boundaries and size. Does it overlap with land that is owned or used by local communities?
  • The type of project being developed and how it will affect the local environment and people. For instance, if it’s a mine, how will it affect the soil, local water sources and the environment?
  • Chemicals used or created. For instance, with a mining project, where will waste byproducts be disposed?

This type of information will help you start reflecting on the sorts of issues that are likely to arise in the implementation of the project. It helps to think about processes, gains, losses and local impacts.

Processes include things like when and how affected people first found out about the project; whether they were consulted and able to participate in the design; and other decisions about the project.

Gains include things such as access to infrastructure, water or economic benefits, such as new jobs.

Losses include things such as the land and natural resources taken or blocked by the company, in addition to houses, forests and crops destroyed.

Local impacts are the effects of the project on people’s lives, which might be linked to gains or losses, such as changes in:

  • the amount and quality of food they eat or are able to store;
  • livelihoods, income, savings and debt levels;
  • physical and mental health;
  • personal safety and security;
  • children’s lifestyles, including school attendance and play; and
  • the ability to practice cultural or spiritual traditions.

Local impacts can be both positive and negative. For example, the incomes of some households may have dropped because of land loss and the destruction of crops or natural resources that they depend upon. At the same time, other households might have increased their incomes as a result of new jobs created by the project.

It is also important to find out about attempts by the community to express their opposition or concerns about the project, and the responses they received, including any compensation. There may have been intimidation, threats, violence or arrests directed at community members who expressed their opinions or tried to defend their land and resources. These should also be recorded.

It is important to understand if there has been any support for the project and why. Communities may in fact be divided over an investment project. Some may be against it, some may be for it, and others may not be opposed to the project but want to ensure that they benefit from it and are not harmed. Although the purpose of conducting this research is to support affected people in their advocacy (whether to stop the project, redesign it, or demand redress for harms suffered) it is important to have an idea of the different perspectives that may exist among those affected. This will help you anticipate how widely supported the community’s advocacy campaign will be, as well as possible responses and defences put forward by actors along the investment chain.

At this stage, you do not need detailed data about the impacts of the project, just a general idea of what the main issues and impacts are or are likely to be.

Important Point

Make sure the community is on board. When you speak with community representatives during the scoping process, use the opportunity to explain your intention to conduct further research and what this will involve. Make sure community members want your team to conduct this research and understand how the findings can be used to support their advocacy.

You should agree on a timetable for conducting interviews, including setting dates and selecting a time of the day that is convenient for them. It is also important to discuss any security measures that will be necessary for conducting the interviews. For example, if local authorities are likely to be hostile, you may decide to conduct the interviews in a private location or outside the community.