Recognising 'learning' as an uncertain source of SEA effectiveness

McLauchlan, Anna and João, Elsa (2019) Recognising 'learning' as an uncertain source of SEA effectiveness. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 37 (3-4). pp. 299-311. ISSN 1461-5517 (

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Strategic environmental assessment’s (SEA’s) capacity to profile significant environmental effects is thought to help make public-sector decision-making more sustainable. Acknowledgement is growing that ‘learning’, that links to but transcends individual assessments, is a key source of SEA effectiveness. Such learning is largely positioned as wholesome, moral, as ‘good’. The Scottish Parliament went further than the European Commission to require all public bodies to engage with SEA. More than 14 years of evidence–including from the Scottish Government SEA Database (an online registry), a survey and interviews–provides a unique opportunity to study the role of learning in SEA. The paper argues that application of SEA requires systematic reinforcement and maintenance of learning. But the learning fostered by SEA is not guaranteed to prioritise or protect ‘environment’–for that to happen SEA must also be embraced as disruptor of the prioritisation of economic goals.