The core of the proposed methodology for SIA is based upon an analysis driven by interaction with stakeholders and posing a series of questions that enable the discovery of varying views on impacts.  This enquiry is divided into six different aspects of societal impacts as shown in the  figure below, and the enquiry is completed in an approach commonly used in curriculum design[1] (moving from basic questions to increasingly more complex ones as more is learned, cycling or spiraling back through the same topics multiple times).

SIA spiral methodologyFigure 2: Methodology (source: Barnard-Wills, Wadhwa & Wright)

The various aspects of societal impact that are evaluated include those suggested by Vanclay (2003: 7) attributed in part to ideas developed by Armour), which have been combined here into six main groups (Vanclay separates culture from community as well as way of life from fears and aspirations):

  • Way of life, fears and aspirations (how people live and interact with each other on a daily basis, their perceptions about their safety and that of their communities, and their aspirations for future, including the future of their children);
  • Culture and community (people’s shared beliefs, customs, values and languages, the cohesion, stability and character of their communities);
  • Political systems (participation in the decisions and processes that affect people’s lives, the nature and functioning of democratic processes, and the resources available to support people’s involvement in these);
  • Environment (access to and quality of air, water, and other natural resources,  the level of exposure to pollutants and harmful substances, adequacy of sanitation);
  • Health & well-being (physical and mental wellbeing, not just an absence of infirmity);
  • Personal and property rights (economic effects, civil rights and liberties, personal disadvantage) (2002).

The assessor should start the SIA evaluation process by looking at any one of the above aspects in three different dimensions:

1)      First examine whether the security research project meets the needs of society;

2)      Iterating a second time through the same six aspects, review the potential externalities or costs to society, enumerating risks and identifying ways to mitigate them;

3)      Finally, pass through the six societal impact aspects a third time to identify potential benefits to society.

With each re-evaluation of the six aspects, the assessor and stakeholders have the opportunity to rethink answers to previous questions based upon answers across each of the earlier assessments, providing an opportunity to go back and rethink impacts where new information has been brought to light or where new ideas have emerged.

The following set of questions provides a basis for examining the social needs, potential costs and risks, and potential benefits of security research. The questions are based upon the societal impact checklist for R&D developed by the Societal Impact Expert Working Group in their report to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry (McCarthy 2013).

Meets needs of society?

  1. Which documented societal security need(s) does the proposed research address? (e.g. life, liberty, health, employment, property, environment, values).
  2. How will the research output meet these needs? How will this be demonstrated? How will the level of societal acceptance be assessed?
  3. Is the research project aware of challenges to these needs?
  4. Does addressing the documented societal needs through the proposed research require any trade-offs with other documented societal needs? How is this trade-off decided? Is this trade-off still valid if the research is less effective than anticipated?
  5. What threats to society does the research address? (e.g., crime, terrorism, pandemic, natural and man-made disasters).
  6. How is the proposed research appropriate to address these threats?
  7. What other measures could be adopted to address these threats?


Ensuring security research does not have negative impacts on society

  1. How could the research have a negative impact on human dignity?
  2. … on the right to life?
  3. … on equality before the law?
  4. … on freedom of thought?
  5. … on freedom of opinion and information?
  6. … on privacy?
  7. … on protection of the family?
  8. … on freedom of movement?
  9. … on rights of ownership?
  10. … on freedom of assembly?
  11. … on freedom to choose an occupation?
  12. … on working conditions?
  13. … on collective social rights?
  14. … on social welfare?
  15. … on rights to an education?
  16. … on the principle of democracy?
  17. … on rights of access to information?
  18. … on rights of access to the courts?
  19. … on access to public space?
  20. If implemented, how could the research have a negative impact on this aspect (culture and community, way of life, etc.)?
  21. How could the research impact disproportionately upon specific groups or unduly discriminate against them? How could the research increase discrimination?

Could the research have impacts upon vulnerable groups (including, but not limited to: women, the elderly, disabled people, children and young adults, homeless people, economically disadvantaged people and people in precarious situations, immigrants or non-citizens, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ+) identifying people.

Ensuring security research benefits society

  1. What segment(s) of society will benefit from increased security as a result of the proposed research?
  2. How will they benefit?
  3. Are additional measures required to achieve this benefit?
  4. Are additional measures possible to extend these benefits to other segments of society?
  5. In what contexts might this benefit be lacking or not be delivered by the research project?
  6. How will society as a whole benefit from the proposed research?
  7. Are there other European societal values that are enhanced by the proposed research, e.g. public accountability and transparency; strengthened community engagement, human dignity; good governance; social and territorial cohesion; sustainable development.


Table 2: Assessment questions (source: Barnard-Wills, Wadhwa & Wright)

[1] “Spiral Curriculum” was originally suggested by Jerome Bruner. See Bruner, Jerome, The Process of Education. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, 1960.

McCarthy, Sabhbh (2012) Report of the Societal Impact Expert Working Group: EC DG ENTR Report.

Vanclay, Frank (2003a) ‘International Principles for Social Impact Assessment ‘. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 21(1):  5-12.