Detailed Description of SEA and EIA using Spatial Decision Support Tools


How sustainable are proposed development actions?

Ad hoc and often uncontrolled development initiatives can have undesired social, economic and ecological consequences. Rapid population growth, pollution, climate change, the exposure to hazards and disasters, and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services require effective assessment tools to assist sustainable planning and decision making.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) and Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) are basically procedures to support this process. EIA is a legalised procedure established to evaluate the impacts of proposed projects. Although by now EIA is acknowledged and legally embedded in most countries, practice has shown that EIA often occurs too late in the planning process. Since the nineties SEA for policies, plans and programmes evolved.

The key principles of SEA and EIA are the involvement of relevant stakeholders, a transparent and adaptive planning process, consideration of alternatives, and using the best possible information for decision and policy making. EIA and SEA therefore improve both the (spatial) planning process and the information used in this process.

For the effective implementation of EIA and SEA a wide variety of tools exists, such as social impact assessment, cost-benefit analysis, health impact assessment, life cycle analysis, multiple criteria analysis, but also tools specifically aimed to solve spatial decision problems. In this course you will explore how GIS, models and spatial decision support (SDS) tools can be used to help to identify and structure the problem(s), to find and compare possible solutions, and to monitor and evaluate the proposed activities. 

In many environmental assessments a wide range of environmental effects and indicators have to be considered, requiring the management and analysis of a large amount of information and data, both spatial and non-spatial. GIS is one of the techniques to visually illustrate the implications of (spatial) decisions. GIS can be an effective information and communication instrument. GIS can be applied in all EIA and SEA stages: from the acquisition, storage and display of thematic information, to impact prediction, evaluation, and finally, presentation. 

Moreover, most environmental assessments involve several alternative options and numerous stakeholders with different views and perceptions. An extensive and often qualitative assessment of alternative options and possible variants is carried out. The aim is to justify the choice of one or only a few 'preferred' alternatives and then carry out the EIA or SEA on those selected. Such an approach may easily overlook alternatives, which could be much more suitable, socio-economically and ecologically.

The application of SDS tools and particularly spatial multi criteria evaluation (SMCE) makes it possible to design and locate alternatives for a proposed activity as part of an environmental vulnerability assessment procedure, using a wide range of environmental and sustainability criteria. In such an approach highly vulnerable and risky areas can be avoided and the positive aspects of the proposed development enhanced.

Another positive effect of such an interactive modelling process is that stakeholders can actively be involved in the planning and decision-making process. 

An important advantage of such spatial decision support tools in EIA and SEA studies is the ease with which valuation criteria can be changed to visually illustrate the implications of spatial decisions.

This course provides a unique opportunity to integrate a multidisciplinary assessment of spatial policies, plans and projects. Hands-on experience with real EIA and SEA projects will be a major part of the course.


The course is part of the internet based programme ‘GIS and Earth Observation for Environmental modeling and Natural resource management’ (iGEON). The course is an elective course for the double degree: Master of Science in Geographical Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, Faculty ITC, the Netherlands and Master of Science in Geographical Information Science of Lund University, Sweden.

The language of instruction is English. The course is fully based on distance learning, with all material distributed over the Internet. It is flexible in the sense that students can study full time (100%), half time (50%), or with a 25% study tempo.
The same course is also given as an accredited distance course for M-GEO, University of Twente, Faculty ITC, Department of Natural Resources, the Netherlands.


On the completion of the interactive lecture series and the associated practical exercises and assignments, you should be able to: 

Each topic will have its own specific objectives and activities. A detailed description of each topic and related exercises is given in each topic section.


The course approach involves task-based learning that blends theory and practice, and exists of the following topics:

  1. EIA and SEA: concepts, principles, process 
  2. SEA: concepts and interaction with the planning process
  3. Scoping: key elements & plan objectives, key issues, SEA objectives and alternatives
  4. Environmental assessment methods (with focus on GIS & SDS tools)
  5. Assessment: baseline information, impact prediction, mitigation and comparison of alternatives
  6. Spatial decision support (SDS) tools
  7. Review, decision-making and monitoring


Teaching consists of interactive presentations, video presentations, practical exercises, individual assignments and self study.
The UT-ITC learning platform used in the course is Canvas, in which all materials will be made available.

Participants are expected to do all mandatory exercises and assignments and upload the results in Canvas. The following mandatory assignments must be complete and correct:

The final mark will be the sum of all weights/10.

The six mandatory assignments will in the end also be made available in AC.


The Grade center in Canvas will be used for the grades and final assessment grade (on a scale 0-10). 
If the mark for the final assessment is less than 6 out of 10 then the participant has to redo one or more assignment(s).


The following are required for admission to the course: Basic admission requirements of Faculty ITC, and basic GIS and remote sensing corresponding to  iGEON compulsory courses of semester 1 and 2 (35 ECTS).

8. LITERATURE        

Hand outs; interactive presentations and exercises; videos, case studies; digital data sets; web-links.

Recommended as background reading is the e-book on ‘Strategic environmental assessment in action’, by Riki Therivel. Earthscan, London, 2004.