Concerns have been raised about the competent use of geographic information for decisionmaking
in environmental impact assessments (EIAs). However, such competencies have not
been categorised, nor have they been assessed before. Effectiveness studies on the quality of
environmental assessments have also not been undertaken on the geographic information
competencies for review of the EIA report submitted for decision making. This is a poorly
researched topic on the boundaries of EIA and geographic information systems (GIS) and
therefore worthy of research.
This study describes and categorises the geographic information competencies required for
reviewing EIAs. As a first step, literature was reviewed to understand the use and value of
geographic information for environmental management, as well as related work on
geographic information competencies, competency management, and the use of taxonomies
to categorise or classify information.
Next, surveys and semi-structured interviews, based on a taxonomy of the use of geographic
information, were conducted with officials who review EIAs from all the provincial
environmental departments across South Africa as well as the national environmental
department. Analysis of the responses confirmed the invaluable contribution of geographic
information in decision-making for EIA. EIA officials understood the importance of geographic
information competencies. However, optimal use has been affected by a number of factors
such as a lack of access to up-to-date geographic information required for the reviews, the
costs of associated resources, and that some EIA officials lack technical expertise in GIS.
These results informed the development of another taxonomy for geographic information
competencies. It categorises and structures competencies into different domains of
competence: geography, environmental science, GIS software knowledge, field work
expertise, critical thinking, and related courses. The description of competencies in the
GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION COMPETENCIES: DECISION-MAKING IN IMPACT ASSESSMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA
taxonomy was based on the EIA review work as specified by the participants, and its structure
was guided by the literature. The element of subjectivity in the taxonomy approach was
countered through the rigorous application of a mixed-methods approach. It is recommended
that the taxonomy guides capacity-building efforts to facilitate optimal use of geographic
information for decision-making in environmental impact assessment.
This thesis has contributed by categorising and assessing the geographic information
competencies required in EIA reviews. The results of this research can guide curriculum
development, even beyond the borders of South Africa. As geospatial information
technologies evolve in future, there will be a need to reassess and possibly revise the
Thesis (PhD (Geography))--University of Pretoria, 2022.