Step one: explain the strategic context

This page provides details of the first step of the economic appraisal process.

Rationale for government intervention

2.1.1 When appraising a policy or a programme, it is important to establish clearly the rationale for government intervention, and to consider whether that intervention will be cost-effective - that is, that the benefits will exceed the costs. Section 3 explains this in more detail (see para 3.1.5).

2.1.2 When considering an individual project, it is not usually necessary to review the rationale for the policy or programme to which it belongs, but it is still necessary to assess the specific need and objectives in view (see steps 2 and 3 ).

Strategic objectives

2.1.3 Public expenditure (PE) strategy is reflected in the Programme for Government (PfG) and in numerous policies, strategy documents, and statutes. Departments have PfG commitments covering the outputs that they are to deliver in pursuit of strategic aims. Departments, agencies and other bodies have their own specific strategic aims and objectives.

2.1.4 In larger cases, the relevant strategic considerations may reflect not only local Northern Ireland considerations but also wider issues such as, for example, national welfare reforms or EU policies and directives.


2.1.5 Establishing the degree of strategic fit is a crucial first step in appraisal. Appraisal reports should therefore begin by explaining the strategic relevance of the proposed policy, programme or project, taking account of relevant local, national and EU considerations. For example, they should indicate the particular strategic aims, objectives and priorities of the NI Executive to which the proposal will contribute, with very brief explanation of how it is expected to do so. Brief reference to relevant statutes or strategy or policy documents should be included, without replicating large sections from those documents.

Strategic context sections should be very short and normally no more than two pages of any business case.

2.1.6 An independent review of the business case process in Northern Ireland in 2013 concluded that one factor which is adding unnecessary length and little value to business cases is the disproportionate amount of information provided in the strategic context section. Further, the type of information being provided has not, in general, been showing the decision-maker whether, and to what extent, the proposed project will contribute to the desired outcomes/priorities of the NI Executive.

2.1.7 The review recommended that NIGEAE step one should be revised to stress that the evidence needs to be presented in a concise manner and demonstrate very sharply how, and to what extent, the proposal contributes to the key priorities and outcomes the Executive intends to deliver.

2.1.8 Accordingly, documentation of the strategic context should be kept very brief and focused as indicated above. Key relevant policy documents may be listed briefly but resources should not be wasted on long lists and lengthy descriptions of every relevant policy. Anything more than a couple of pages in total will be considered too long.

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