Social Assessment and Social Impact Assessment


 The terms "social assessment" and "social impact assessment" are often used interchangeably; however, for the purpose of this Web site, the following definitions are used:

Social Assessment
A social assessment (SA) may help determine various types of social structures, processes, and changes within a specific group or community. Social assessments also encompass a review of political, social, and economic trends that may affect the group or community of interest and provide information about the social environment in which natural resource management occurs.

SA may identify the principal stakeholders, the roles that age, race, and gender play in the community, and the history and level of resource use.

Social Impact Assessment

A social impact assessment (SIA) helps managers attempt to predict what the social impacts of a program or policy would be on stakeholders or to the local economy. Laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) require the federal government to conduct SIAs.

SIA may identify the geographic area and stakeholders affected, the history of the area, the impact of industry, and the roles that age, race, and gender play in the community.

SA and SIA each require the use of a variety of social science tools. The size and scope of assessments vary greatly depending on factors such as time, level of analysis needed, and the availability of data. Both of these types of assessment, SA and SIA, have the flexibility to focus on specific resources or examine overall trends.


social assessment conducted in a resource management area helps managers characterize the social environment through identifying and understanding past, present, and potential social conditions. This process of identification and understanding can apply in many ways, such as understanding causes and consequences of conflicts and impacts, analyzing potential management strategies, or developing a framework for public participation.

social impact assessment conducted in a resource management area can help answer who is impacted and who gains and loses as a result of specific programs or policies. In answering these types of questions, managers and staff members can gain a better understanding of how their decisions influence and impact communities.


  • Identifies significant problems and issues

  • Identifies stakeholder groups and relationships

  • Helps familiarize staff with important social concerns

  • Helps set priorities for action


  • Can be time-consuming and costly

  • Can be controversial and may be met with resistance

  • Helps identify factors that cannot be directly observed

Expertise Needed

Managers generally require assistance from experts specializing in social impact assessment for design, data collection (when needed), and analysis.

Related Partners

NOAA is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. It plays several distinct roles within the Department of Commerce.

Resources: Books and Publications

  • Burdge, R. J. 1998. A Conceptual Approach to Social Impact Assessment. Middleton, WI: Social Ecology Press.


  • Finsterbusch, K. 1980. Understanding Social Impacts: Assessing the Effects of Public Projects. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

  • Finsterbusch, K., L. G. Llewellyn, and others. 1983. Social Impact Assessment Methods. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

  • Finsterbusch, K. and C. P. Wolf. 1981. Methodology of Social Impact Assessment. Stroudsburg, PA: Hutchinson Ross Publishing Company.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). NOAA Fisheries Guidelines for Assessment of the Social Impact of Fishery Management Actions. NMFS Operational Guidelines: Fishery Management Process.

  • Taylor, C. N., C. H. Bryan, et al. 2004. Social Assessment: Theory, Process and Techniques. Christchurch, New Zealand: Taylor Baines & Associates.

Resources: Websites