Novel social impact assessment framework

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Bonilla Alicea, Ricardo Javier
Fu, Katherine
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Sustainability assessments provide methodologies to assess the environmental, economic and social impacts of products along their complete lifecycle. Relative to environmental and economic impact assessments, the social impact assessment field is the least developed. This has resulted in a lack of consensus and a fragmented field without standardization. The purpose of this research is to develop a novel social impact assessment (SIA) framework. The scope of the framework is limited to assessing social impacts of products using quantitative and qualitative indicators. The research plan is summarized in three steps: 1) systematic mapping and analysis of the social impact assessment field, 2) novel SIA framework development and 3) evaluation of the novel framework. A systematic mapping of the SIA field is presented, along with the identification of twelve recurring challenges to perform a SIA. The evaluation of the novel framework combines expert and novice user feedback with a case study application. The expert feedback was used to verify the relevance of the identified SIA challenges. Using the novice feedback data, the simplified SIA framework was modified to make it more applicable to capstone design students. The case study application involved the use of the novel SIA framework to describe the potential social impacts of rooftop solar panels in the state of Georgia. The results highlighted the dangers involved for the workers installing the solar panels and the need for regulation and plans to make the solar panels accessible to low-income community members. The feedback and case study learnings were then used to update the SIA framework, which resulted in the finalized version, presented in this thesis. There are four technical contributions from this work: 1) the identification of a recurring set of challenges to performing SIA, 2) a systematic mapping of academic and non-academic articles, methodologies and case studies of the SIA field, 3) the creation of an indicator database, and 4) the creation of a novel SIA framework. In addition to the technical contributions, there are three expected broader impacts from the use of the novel SIA framework. The first is the development of products with higher positive social impacts, as designers will have more information about the possible social consequences of their design choices. In addition, the use of the framework in a college level course enables students to learn the science of SIAs and how to implement them. Finally, the information obtained from the implementation of the novel SIA framework can be used to inform policy development. Such policy initiatives should aim to protect communities from unintended negative social consequences of products and new technologies.
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