What is an Impact Assessment?
Impact Assessment helps us consider the actual or potential effects of our activities on communities, local economic conditions, individuals, vulnerable/potentially vulnerable groups and the environment in one exercise. It also ensures that we deliver better value for money, by focusing on the issues that are important to people in Devon and making sure that what we provide is effective, sustainable and accessible.
It’s what used to be called an “EINA” (Equality Impact and Needs Assessment). We revised the “EINA” paperwork to include economic and environmental impacts so we can make better, more joined-up decisions about delivering services or making changes.
The assessment gives us the opportunity to do things better by:
- Taking advantage of positive impacts to improve the service we provide.
- Avoiding or reducing negative impacts by making small changes earlier in the process, and flagging up issues that would be very expensive to fix later.
- Increasing public trust by showing how we make decisions.
- Finding the best way of making an improvement.
There are also a number of statutory duties for local authorities that need to be met:
- We have to consider the impact on all people, including vulnerable or often excluded groups, before we make significant changes to policy or practice. If we
fail to do this, and operate policies and practices that adversely affect a section of the community disproportionately, we could be subject to legal challenges and financial penalties [Equality Act 2010].
- Environmental duties include a requirement to consider the conservation of biodiversity whilst performing our duties [Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006], have regard to the most recent energy measures report published by government [Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006] and take into account the desirability of conserving water [Water Act 2003].
- Public authorities must consider economic, social and environmental well-being in
connection with public services contracts. This must be done before the procurement process begins. The authority must consider how it might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area and how, in conducting the process of procurement, it might secure that improvement. [Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012].
An Impact Assessment is not ‘just a form’; it’s a process we use to make sure we have considered the most effective way to use our resources to advance equality and reduce inequalities between groups, to reduce environmental harm and support the economy.
The things we consider during impact assessment are all the things we should do anyway when we debate the options for a strategy, service or policy such as market research, analysing data and evidence about service users and their needs, consulting, weighing up the risks and the costs, considering how we can meet the desired outcomes in the best way, providing recommendations to decision makers.
The form is just a way to record what we considered and what evidence we used to come to a recommendation or decision. Under the Equality Act we have a legal duty to publish information about the way people are affected by our policies and practices. We must also bring it to the attention of decision makers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to do an impact assessment?
It’s not always necessary – check the guidance on the Toolkit page first. If a decision is going to Cabinet or Full Council then the impact assessment must be brought to the attention of the decision makers (if the decision is delegated to a Member or Officer the assessment must be provided to them). It must also be carried out to inform procurement and commissioning exercises. Typically, changes to services and policy, or new services or policies require an assessment. It can also be used to inform reviews, such as a scrutiny review.
If you are running an event and you want to make sure it’s as accessible as possible, use the Equality checklist for events.
And if you’re creating reports, web pages, newsletters or any other written communication and you want to make it accessible, use the pointers in our Accessible Communications Guidelines.
How long will it take and how much work is involved?
The amount of work needed to carry out the Impact Assessment should be proportionate
to the potential impacts. This is judged by the severity of the impact, and not necessarily
on the number of people who will be affected. The more severe the possible impacts, the
more investigation will need to be done and the more consultation and evidence will need
to be gathered. The information you gather about impacts, both negative and positive, and the measures you will take to address them, needs to be captured in a report. The report itself will be published on the website, along with any supporting evidence and consultation, so keep in mind that the final document will be in the public domain. This mainly means making it accessible, readable and free of jargon. Devon County Council’s Communications Toolkit contains guidance to help with this.
My service has ten policies to be reviewed – do I have to do an Impact Assessment for each one?
No. In fact it makes more sense to review all the policies together to judge their cumulative
impact. What you are looking to establish is how those different policies, as well as the
way the service is delivered in practice, are affecting people, the economy or the environment. If it would be more practical to review a large policy or policy framework on
its own, then you can complete a separate impact assessment – the choice is yours; whatever makes the process manageable and meaningful.