Flaws and weaknesses of EIA as event evaluation methodology

Introduction

This essay serves to first explain the rationale for event policy and economic impact assessment (EIA) and then explore the event evaluation literature seeking critique concerning the adequacy, suitability or effectiveness of EIA as legitimation for event policy. In doing so it aims to identify the flaws and weaknesses inherent within traditional event evaluation techniques. A review of the literature will identify these flaws and weaknesses and note evidence of recent efforts to address them. Then a discussion of models, multipliers and their potential misapplications follows leading to a brief conclusion before which key data from three prominent academics are tabulated to summarise key themes, variables and factors warranting closer attention in event research, policy and practice.

Rationale for event policy

Globalisation and deindustrialisation have seen many governments come to recognize tourism and events as catalysts for economic development (Chalip & Leyns, 2002; Masterman, 2009; Getz, 2012). The rationale for public policy concerning the expenditure of public funds on events is that they foster numerous and notable, tangible and intangible socio-economic and socio-cultural benefits to the host community. Although there is much contention about the credibility of certain evaluation methods, these benefits and approbations are repeatedly cited throughout the tourism and events, public policy, and wider literature (e.g., Ritchie & Beliveau, 1974; Ritchie, 1984; Chalip, 2003; 2006; Masterman, 2009; Getz, 1997; 2012; Foley, McGillivray & McPherson, 2012).  Resultantly, event policy is becoming increasingly embedded into public policy objectives (Foley, McGillivray & McPherson, 2012; Dredge & Jenkins, 2007). Leading economist, Dr. Peter Abelson (2011, p.49) identifies four principal event policy objectives as, maximising; gross domestic product (GDP) or gross state product (GSP), net income or consumption of households within the destination, employment within destination and net welfare benefits to residents within the destination.

Rationale for EIA

The conceptual thinking that underlies the need for legitimation of investment of public funds in festivals, events and facilities can be contextualised as follows. Residents of a community contribute to public funds through taxation and rates and the local council uses amounts from this revenue to subsidise or sponsor production of a festival or an event, or to develop event infrastructure or amenities. These events and/or facilities attract visitors who are not residents of the funding community and ipso facto inject new money into the funding community (Crompton, 1995). This (new) money is purported to create income and jobs for the funding community and, therefore, represents return on investment. In the context of events, economic impact can be considered the take-home economic revenue of a host community resultant from spending directly attributed to a specific event or facility (Turco & Kelsey, 1992). The rationale for an EIA is therefore, to measure these economic benefits (Crompton, 1995) in order to legitimate the expenditure of public money (Foley, McGillivray & McPherson, 2012) and realise wider policy objectives (Abelson, 2011).

 As awareness and interest in events as an economic catalyst has increased, so have the number of related economic impact studies (Delpy & Ming, 1997). These studies are often commissioned by a variety of stakeholders including not only academics and researchers, but event organisers, sponsoring government and non-government organisations. EIA are sometimes undertaken for differing and potentially compromising objectives (Kumar & Hussain, 2014). The next section will examine some of the flaws and weaknesses of EIA identified in the literature.

Flaws and weaknesses of EIA

Reviewing the literature, there is no paucity of critique toward EIA as an effective instrument for event evaluation. Papers citing flaws and weaknesses of the methodologies, economic models and multipliers used for conducting EIA are abundant. For example; inappropriate use of impact multipliers (Archer, 1976; 1984; Wanhill, 1988; Crompton & McKay, 1994; Crompton, 1995; Harris, 1997; Chang, Kim & Petrovcikova, 2015; Andersson, Armbrecht & Lundberg, 2016), duplicity of economic models (Frechtling, 1994; Dwyer & Jago, 2015; Dwyer, Jago & Forsyth, 2016), data collection methods (Ritchie, 1984; Getz & Frisby, 1988;  Delpy & Ming, 1997; Breen, Bull & Walo, 2001; Kumar & Hussain,2014; Chang, Kim & Petrovcikova, 2015), lack of defined objective (Armbrecht & Anderson, 2016; Dwyer, Jago & Forsyth, 2016; Tindall, 2011), failure to factor opportunity costs, intangible costs, welfare and benefits (Dwyer & Jago, 2015), reliance on assumptions (Crompton, 1995) and the non-academic nature of many of the studies (Testa & Metter, 2017; Armbrecht & Andersson, 2016; Kumar & Hussain, 2014; Janeczko, Mules & Ritchie, 2002). These themes are prevalent throughout the event evaluation literature and, according to Delpy and Ming (1997, p. 230), it seems that the complexity of conducting economic impact research, the wide-ranging scope of event tourism, and the plethora of variables requiring consideration, has resulted in many EIA to be flawed in design and almost always result in exaggerated and inaccurate conclusions as to the economic impacts of events to a community.

Models, multipliers and misapplications: Muddles or misnomers?

An EIA requires the use of an economic model and appropriate multipliers. These models differ considerably in intricacies such as quality and accuracy of results, data requirements, and basic assumptions (Klijs, Heijman, Maris & Bryon, 2012). Models are, however, often selected without reflection of these differences (Crompton, 2006; Dwyer, Forsyth & Spurr, 2004). The economic models most commonly selected are input/output model (I-O) (Crompton, 2006) and, but to a lesser extent, computable general equilibrium (CGE) (Dwyer, Forsyth & Spurr, 2006). However, the frequency of cost/benefit analysis (CBA), which goes a step further than EIA in attempting to place a monetary value on environmental impacts (Pearce, Atkinson & Mourato, 2006), are increasing in recent years largely since I-O and CGE (and hence, EIA) have proven inadequate in data collection for evaluating the fourth policy objective identified by Abelson (2011); i.e. maximising net welfare benefits to residents within the destination. Although Blake (2005) notes that CGE can contain measures of welfare and Dixon (2002) rightly points out that some CGE are designed specifically to measure welfare, Dwyer, Forsyth and Spurr (2006), Dwyer and Jago (2015), and Dwyer, Jago and Forsyth (2016) are adamant that neither EIA nor CBA are alone adequate in methodology for holistic evaluation of events. These authors note the relative paucity of CBA case studies in the literature as opposed to the abundance of EIA and argue that CBA and EIA are mutually opposing anyway. They go further to state that EIA will always show a positive result whereas CBA often yields the opposite and that, since economic impacts are not the same as economic benefits, the two evaluation methods need to be somehow synthesised. Of note, is that Andersson, Armbrecht and Lundberg (2016) have made some real and recent progress in this direction through field testing a new model (triple impact assessment) for measuring impacts of a major sporting event (in this case, the 2013 European Athletics Indoor Championships). This evaluation was conducted totally from sustainability perspectives and factors diverse data in a common monetary metric. The model provides a sincere and comprehensive shift towards holistic event evaluation and should inspire future evaluation research that closely reflects Elkington’s (1997) ‘Triple Bottom Line’ accountability.

Although the traditional EIA may prove adequate for evaluation of three of the four principal policy objectives identified by Abelson (2011), Weisbrod and Weisbrod (1997) explain the quid pro quo involved in selecting the right kind of techniques available for assessing economic impacts, and how best to match the appropriate methods for different contexts. Their peer reviewed paper for the Economic Development Group highlights ‘seven deadly sins’ regarding EIA. Frechtling (1994) states that criteria for selection of economic models for EIA need to address relevance, coverage, efficiency, accuracy and transferability. This statement is echoed by Delpy and Ming (1997, p. 249) who write “…[when] evaluating an economic study, one needs to consider the study’s relevance, scope, efficiency, accuracy and verification”. Without careful consideration and objectification of these crucial factors and their inevitable trade-offs, the scope for misapplications of EIA are staggering. Crompton (1995) names eleven common misapplications of EIA and both his data, along with Weisbrod and Weisbrod’s (1997) ‘seven deadly sins’, are shown respectively in tables 1 and 2 below as they serve to succinctly summarise the collective, thematic and key grievances with EIA identified throughout the literature.  

Table 1 – Eleven sources of misapplication of event EIA (Crompton, 1995)

      1.    Using sales instead of household income multipliers

      2.    Misrepresenting employment multipliers

      3.    Using incremental instead of normal multiplier coefficients

      4.    Failing to accurately define the impacted area

5.     Including local attendees

6.     Failing to exclude ‘time switchers’ and ‘casuals’

7.     Using ‘fudged’ multiplier coefficients

8.     Claiming total instead of marginal economic benefits

9.     Confusing turnover and multiplier

10.  Omitting opportunity costs

11.  Measuring only benefits and omitting costs

 

 Table 2 – ‘Seven deadly sins of EIA’ (Weisbrod & Weisbrod, 1997, p.11)

      1. Confusing the economic role (gross effect) of a facility or project from its net impact on the economy of an area;

      2. Adding together different measures of the same economic change (e.g., changes in business        sales and personal income);

      3. Confusing study areas (e.g., neighbourhood, citywide, state and national effects);

      4. Confusing time periods (e.g., immediate and eventual effects on economic growth);

      5. Assuming that a facility’s capacity and its actual level of activity are the same;

      6. Applying multipliers in situations where they don’t apply; and

      7. Ignoring market effects on wages and land/building costs, which can also affect the economic competitiveness of an area

 

Conclusion

This essay has examined the rationale for event policy and the use of EIA for event evaluation. It has identified many weaknesses and flaws of EIA cited throughout the event evaluation literature. It has perhaps shown why academic response in addressing these flaws and weaknesses manifests slowly due to the complexities and challenges of objectifying data and selecting appropriate models and multipliers. It has explored and discussed the concepts of models and multipliers and highlighted the potential for misapplications of EIA. The contention surrounding EIA for effective event evaluation underpins the literature and highlights that the setting is ripe for research which answers the call of prominent academics in the field, and uses methodologies which foster a more holistic triple bottom line accountability.

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