Regional Assessment Practice in Canada 2000-2020


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Knowledge Synthesis Grant (2019-current)

Project Team

Jill Blakley, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan, Principle Investigator

Bram Noble, Professor, University of Saskatchewan, Co-Principle Investigator 

Jerome Marty, Project Director, Council of Canadian Academies

Karen Vella, Queensland University of Technology


Regional-scale environmental impact assessment is increasingly viewed by governments, industry, non-government organizations and the public as a viable means to better understand and proactively address cumulative environmental impact issues such as carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, and watershed pollution in light of proposed development programmes. Regional assessment (RA) is now a discretionary component of project-based impact assessment (IA) legislation in Canada (GoC 2017, 2019). However, there is limited research on the scope of recent RA practice in Canada or elsewhere, or on identifying lessons to support RA implementation. The purpose of this Knowledge Synthesis (KS) project is therefore to characterize RA practice drawing on both academic and grey literature published between 2000 and 2020 and identify some of the emerging good practices that can render RA as helpful as possible to decision-making about natural resources development and conservation.  


To identify:

  • Key characteristics of RA practice (an inventory of initiatives; partnership models; impetus, and so on); 
  • Promising methods, tools and approaches commonly used in RA practice; and 
  • Lessons, opportunities and challenges, as well as critical knowledge gaps in RA research and practice. 

Analysis and Results 

A total of 42 Canadian and 10 international cases of RA were analyzed. Regional assessment in Canada is not evenly spread: practice is concentrated in western and northern provinces and territories. Nearly-three quarters of RA final reports were released within the last decade; nearly half within the last five years. The rising number of RA initiatives in Canada indicates increasing interest in this form of assessment, despite the lack of regulatory or legislative requirements to employ it. Of the 42 Canadian cases examined, 28 (67%) have a strategic component and 14 (33%) do not. Thirty-seven cases (88%) included a significant focus on cumulative environmental effects. Twenty-four cases (57%) contained both a strategic element and focused on cumulative effects assessment. Government is typically the lead proponent of RA initiatives in Canada while eight cases (20%) are Indigenous-led. Methodologically, RA is diverse: dozens of methods and tools are employed to assess impacts to a wide range of valued components. Public engagement and engagement with Traditional Knowledge are very commonly used in RA practice while scenario analysis is significantly less common. Internationally, RA practice appears to be widespread and very diverse in terms of motivations and goals ranging from facilitation of nationally important industries, to expedient approval of infrastructure investment programs, to establishment of science-policy advisory partnerships. Various arms of the United Nations are especially active in promoting strategic forms of RA.  

We also analyzed 64 academic articles on RA published between 2000 and 2020. Of these, just 12 (19%) offer case specific evaluations of RA practice. Other themes in the literature include concept and framework development; integration of principles; integration of RA with planning and policy-making; promising methodologies, tools and techniques; and so on. It appears that the emphasis of regional-scale assessment has gradually shifted away from simply facilitating project approval toward also addressing key issues of governance, a focus on institutional capacity building including relationship building across institutions, socio-political dimensions, innovation and collaborative science and management. 

Key Messages 

  1. In general, we find that the academic literature is quite divorced from the RA practice record and that there is a significant gap in reporting and analyzing case experiences, especially for early attempts at RA which were completed up to 20 years ago or more.
  2. Regional assessment as a practice (not necessarily as a concept) is generally in an early stage of development. At present, it is likely possible to identify the inputs of an RA exercise (impetus, goals, scope, valued components, inputs/resources, assessment activities, assumptions and uncertainties, audience, and so on) for many cases, as well as immediate outputs in the form of case documentation and programs (including scoping reports, draft and final reports, action plans, public commentary on the reports, and so on). However, for the vast majority of cases it is likely too early to be able to verify predictions or determine outcomes (either mid-term or long-term, expressed as changes in knowledge, awareness, practices, or conditions).
  3. Cumulative effects assessment is central to RA practice, although building in a strategic element to the assessment is not necessarily.
  4. Very few academic papers on RA touch on topics considered important to the evolution of IA and future of IA in Canada such as: climate change; gender; equity and fairness; trade-offs; Indigenous and northern
  5. It would be premature given the small number of in-depth cases analyses within academic literature and the early state of RA outcomes in many instances to attempt to judge what RA can or cannot realistically accomplish at present.
  6. Clearly, the diversity, ambition, and momentum displayed among all RA cases examined, coupled with rising incidents of practice in Canada and elsewhere, is strongly indicative of widespread belief in substantive procedural and transactive benefits.

Research Evidence Brief (English version)



SSHRC KS Ottawa Forum Presentation




Team Profile

The following people are responsible for leading, researching and collaborating on the above research project.


Guidance for Food Security Evaluation in Regional Assessment


International Association for Impact Assessment (2021-current)

Project Team

Jill Blakley, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan, Principal Investigator

Juan Carlos Tejeda-Gonzalez, Professor, Universidad de Colima, Mexico, Co-Principal Investigator

Veronica Rohr, MA, University of Saskatchewan, Research Associate

Sara Rocio Vasquez Uribe, Universidad de Colima, Mexico, Research Associate


This project provides members of the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) with guidance about how to incorporate food security evaluation in impact assessment (IA). The project supports the IAIA’s vision for ‘a just and sustainable world for people and the environment’ by spotlighting food security—a globally important policy issue—and the role IA can play in addressing it. Food security evaluation in IA serves vulnerable populations (often Indigenous), underscoring their rights to survival, dignity, and well-being as they face industrial development. Food security, highlighted in SDG 2 “Zero Hunger”, is one of the top worldwide policies to achieve, thus, considering food security in IA is paramount to practice innovation worldwide.


Together, we are creating:

  • An IAIA FasTip and a Primer detailing how to integrate food security evaluation in impact assessment, and
  • An internationally accessible webinar to facilitate discussion among interested practitioners and academics.


A draft of the FasTip is now under peer review and the Primer is partially drafted. These will be published online in both Spanish and English. If you wish to participate in the upcoming webinar, please contact