What is the purpose of the strategic case phase?

The strategic case phase is when the strategic case – part of the five-case model – is undertaken as a standalone phase, before the business case progresses to a programme business case (PBC), indicative business case (IBC) or single-stage business case (SSBC) phase. It is rarely used, but the situations where you might consider using it are outlined below.

Strategic case

The strategic case is about defining and understanding the problem and/or opportunity and showing there will be substantial enough benefits to justify investment to investigate the problem and/or opportunity further. It is the foundation on which the rest of the business case is built and, essentially, it asks ‘Is there a case for change?’

The strategic case phase, when used, is a quick, low effort, minimal-cost phase and should use existing evidence and internal resource. It is not the time to explore options or solutions or formulate an implementation plan.

Where used, the strategic case phase follows the PoE phase, and is completed before any other development phases.

How do I decide whether to use a standalone strategic case phase?

While uncommon, in some circumstances it is useful to develop the strategic case as a standalone phase to clarify the case for change, before committing significant resources to develop the business case further.

You’ll decide whether to use a standalone strategic case phase as part of your PoE. There are no hard and fast rules, and you will need to use your critical thinking and judgement, and work in consultation with your Waka Kotahi investment advisor.

Situations when it may be appropriate to develop the strategic case as a separate, stand-alone phase of business case development include:

  • complex investments, where carrying out work to understand of the case for change will help to scope the work needed to develop the rest of the business case
  • where it is clear at the PoE phase there are significant risks or uncertainties involved – using a strategic case phase allows some work to be done to better understand these, before confirming the scope of work needed to develop the rest of the business case
  • when you want a no-surprises approach, by bringing decision-makers and/or key stakeholders into your thinking early on – this can be helpful if you want to understand the views of one or more key stakeholders and take them into account in defining the case for change.

When deciding whether to use a strategic case phase, remember that a strategic case phase can help avoid wasted effort where agreement is not reached, or where stakeholders agree that the case for change is not strong enough to proceed at this time. This decision can be made at any point during development of the strategic case – whether that is developed as a stand-alone phase, or as part of another business case phase.

The five-case model and the strategic case phase

The Waka Kotahi BCA is based on New Zealand Treasury’s Better Business Cases (BBC) methodology, which is a five-case model.

Five-case model

You can see below which case relates to this phase of the BCA.

Strategic case
What is the compelling case for change?
Economic case
Does the preferred option optimise value for money?
Commercial case
Is the proposed deal commercially viable?
Financial case
Is the investment proposal affordable?
Management case
How can the proposal be delivered successfully?





Begin developing

Developed in later phases

Developed in later phases

Developed in later phases

Developed in later phases

Under the five-case model, the purpose of the strategic case is to determine whether there is a valid case for change.

Strategic case

What is included in a strategic case phase?

Under the five-case model, the strategic case uses four key actions to establish the strength of the case for change:

Key action When completed

Develop the strategic assessment (the problems to be addressed and the benefits to be achieved) 

Included in a strategic case phase

Determine the strategic context within which the investment is being considered, including whether addressing the case for change is well aligned to strategic priorities

Undertake an initial assessment of risks and uncertainties

Develop the investment objectives that will inform decisions about the best-value option

Normally completed early in the next phase of development (eg PBC, IBC or SSBC)

The strategic case phase focuses on the first three of these key actions. Investment objectives are usually developed in the next phase, after any specific evidence-gathering or analysis has been carried out and the problems and benefits have been thoroughly tested.

The strategic case phase also sets out the scope of the next phase of development, including a brief rationale for why that is the appropriate next phase.

Developing your strategic case

Strategic assessment

A key action in developing the case for change is to carry out an assessment of what is driving the need for investment. This strategic assessment centres on understanding the problems and benefits that have been developed with stakeholders (see Defining problems and benefits’ below) and testing of those against the evidence base.

It’s important to think about how you will need to engage with partners and/or stakeholders before you start planning your approach to problem and benefit definition. This is especially true for business cases where there are opportunities to collaborate with or involve stakeholders, with the aim of giving stakeholders a greater ability to influence the direction of the investment.

Engagement throughout the BCA is guided by the BCA engagement principles. For more information on how you should follow these principles for your business case, see our guidance.

Engagement and the Business Case Approach

Defining problems and benefits

Strategic cases all look and feel slightly different, but it is essential that your strategic case includes a clear and concise description of the problems that the investment will address, and the benefits that can be expected. 

As a minimum, your strategic case should provide a clear understanding of:

  • the problem (or problems) which the investment has to address, including clear a cause and a consequence for each problem
  • the benefits that can be expected, if the investment is successful in addressing the problem(s), including how each benefit will be measured.

For more information, see our detailed guidance on defining problems and benefits.

Defining problems and benefits

Collaborating with stakeholders to agree on the problem and/or opportunity and the benefits of addressing it is at the heart of the strategic case. Depending on the complexity of the problem and/or opportunity, you could achieve this by:

  • a series of conversations
  • a workshop
  • a formal ILM process.

We strongly recommend the ILM process, especially for more complex issues. It involves a series of structured workshops with stakeholders, and the creation of investment logic maps and benefits maps.

Investment logic mapping

Waka Kotahi has developed the Land Transport Benefits Framework to guide the identification of benefits for investments seeking funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF). For more information on benefit management, see our detailed guidance.

Benefits management guidance

Strategic context

The strategic case must also establish how the investment fits within the existing strategies of the partner organisations, including existing and future operational needs.

The strategic context includes the strategic alignment, which establishes how well the proposal aligns to strategic priorities, such as any specific goals or objectives. As a minimum, for NLTF funding Waka Kotahi needs a clear indication of the main Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) priority outcome that the investment will contribute to, and an indication of the strength of that contribution.

Government Policy Statement on Land Transport(external link)

The strategic context also includes a description of the environment within which the investment will be made, including any key interdependencies, or potential sources of risk or uncertainty.

For more information on developing the strategic context, see our detailed guidance.

Developing the strategic context

Assessing risks and uncertainties

Risks and uncertainties are a key consideration in each of the cases in the five-case model.

The strategic case needs to identify key risks or uncertainties that relate to the case for change. These are risks or uncertainties which, if they are realised, could affect:

  • the need for investment, or
  • decisions about the best value option.

Consistent with the principle of progressive development, an understanding of risks and uncertainties needs to be built up as development of the business case develops. It’s important to try and identify critical risks and uncertainties as early as possible, however there is always a possibility that new risks or uncertainties will come to light as the business case progresses.

For these reasons, it’s important to set up risk and uncertainty registers early in the development of the business case, and continue to update it as you progress. For a detailed overview of how risks and uncertainties are treated throughout the five-case model, including definitions, see our detailed guidance.

Risk and uncertainty in the five-case model 

Writing your strategic case document

The findings of the strategic case phase, including the case for change and scope of next steps, are summarised in a strategic case document. Your strategic case should be written clearly and concisely. The desire to tell a compelling story that will convince investors to commit limited public funds must be balanced against the need to be objective and maintain the integrity of the business case.

It can be helpful to structure your strategic case document around these components, as follows:

  • the strategic assessment
  • the strategic context
  • an assessment of risk and uncertainty
  • the scope of work and preparation for funding the next phase of the business case.

We have developed an information guide to help business case authors write fit-for-purpose strategic case documents.

Strategic case document information guide [DOCX, 37 KB]

It is also important to put your investment story in a national context. Your strategic case will be assessed along with many others seeking investment from a contestable national fund that has a finite amount of money. What is it about yours that will make decision makers want to invest in it?

Compiling the document should not be an onerous job. While there is no absolute page limit, you should aim for between 10–15 pages, with any supporting evidence as appendices. Strategic case documents that are significantly longer will most likely undermine your ability to communicate the case for investment.

The strategic context needs to establish how well the proposed investment aligns with your organisation’s priorities, regional and national priorities, other programmes, activities and strategies and other organisations’ priorities, if relevant.

Evidence in the strategic case phase

For the purpose of a strategic case phase, you are expected to pull together and considering existing evidence only.

Evidence can be found from a wide range of sources, including:

  • existing strategies, monitoring data, previous studies and reports
  • current organisational goals and outcomes sought, such as Arataki, the Waka Kotahi long-term view for the transport system. Be clear about the relevance of any existing information to the problem and/or opportunity being considered.
  • monitoring data that is routinely collected, for example data used for the continuous improvement of an activity management plan (AMP)
  • the Crash Analysis System (CAS) maintained by Waka Kotahi
    Crash Analysis System
  • other data sets held by Waka Kotahi, including those accessible through the Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • census data.

You also need to consider all strategic plans, including spatial plans, but be mindful that spatial plans may have an insufficient focus on the economic drivers. A spatial plan provides high-level direction or vision for future urban and economic growth and indicates the location and timing for delivering infrastructure over a 30-year timeframe. It will set the overarching strategic objectives for an area.

In addition, National Energy and Efficiency Conservation Strategy (NEECS) and Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) policy documents, which are core requirements of a regional land transport plan (RLTP), must be considered as part of the business case.

The strategic case should outline the evidence that supports the problem and/or opportunity identification analysis, and reflect on:

  • how the evidence relates to the problem and/or opportunity
  • how significant the problem is
  • whether the problem is unique to the locality or more widespread
  • which problems have a good evidence base
  • where there are gaps in the evidence and what areas were identified for further analysis to support the investment story
  • how the problem compares nationally, where appropriate.

A review of the evidence base will highlight the quality of existing evidence and where there are gaps. It is important that the review describes succinctly how the existing evidence either does or doesn’t support the problem statements, providing detail to support the cause and consequence. This will be important for scoping any subsequent phase of the business case, when any relevant information or data not currently available could be obtained.

To keep the strategic case focused, you should reference supporting documents, rather than repeating detailed content. However, when doing this, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the reference is specific enough for an interested reader to easily find the relevant content without having to read large documents in their entirety.
  • The source must be readily available to readers, especially stakeholders and decision makers. Think about how long online references will be available for, and if there are any limitations on access.

Check and circulate

As a final test of the content in the strategic case document, check if it is concise and free of unnecessary detail, and whether it could be easily read and understood by someone with no involvement.

Send the draft strategic case document to all the participants for comment and evaluation. A peer review helps ensure that the case for investment is robust, technically sound and delivers the agreed outcomes.


Summarise the key findings from the evidence review and feedback from key stakeholders.

It is crucial to have locked in the strategic assessment and context with all stakeholders before making a decision to proceed, and especially before beginning to consider the second part of the strategic case – the project plan and funding application.

Remember that a decision not to continue can be made at any point if the case for change and evidence do not support further investigation. You may determine that there is no significant problem and/or opportunity after all, based on a robust examination of initial thinking. That is a perfectly good outcome and demonstrates the BCA principles at work.

Equally, the strength of evidence to support a problem or opportunity may be inconclusive but the potential consequences may be significant enough that further work is required to make an informed decision about whether action is necessary at this time.

Whatever the decision, it should still be written up and saved where it can be easily retrieved for future reference.

Project plan and funding application

If the strategic case determines there is a case for change, and it is necessary to investigate the problem(s) and/or opportunity(ies) further through subsequent business case phases, you will need to develop a project plan for the next steps, along with a funding application. The plan is an opportunity to clearly set out how you will move on to the next phase in a way that would enable someone else to pick up the project from here.

The depth of analysis for project planning and the funding application should be fit for purpose, depending on the relative size, impacts, complexity, risks, uncertainty and cost of the proposal.

If there is a risk that stakeholder organisations might not support progressing to the next phase, think about spending time seeking indicative support for the strategic assessment and context section first. This could avoid the potential waste of effort producing a funding application that isn’t supported.

Planning for the next business case phase also helps with the scope for procurement. For example, what will you need to do for the programme business case or appropriate next phase, and how will you do it?

The scope should include:

  • key dates, types of work to be done and the composition of a project team
  • key challenges and how they will be mitigated
  • the work needed to better inform problems and/or opportunities and outcomes, better define benefits, develop investment objectives and close gaps in the evidence base
  • key stakeholders, how they will be engaged and what public engagement is proposed
  • how complexity, risk, uncertainty and cost will be managed, including any risk management issues
  • estimated funding required to develop the next phase of the business case, and the rationale for the level of funding requested
  • links to other related business cases.

You can use our guidance on determining the pathway through BCA phases and the BCA Q&A tool to guide your critical thinking about the phase of the BCA you should progress to next.

Determining your pathway through the business case phases
Business Case Approach Q&A tool

How do I know if my strategic case phase is complete?

Before approaching Waka Kotahi for a formal assessment of your business case, you should make a self-assessment to check the document is ready.

How you answer this will depend on how complex the investment is, and how much risk or uncertainty is involved.

A key question to ask is: how strong is the case for change?

There are a few things that can help you answer this question, including:

  • Talk to your Waka Kotahi investment advisor. It’s important to work with your investment advisor throughout the strategic case. They will be able to help you get the level of detail right and avoid missing any important steps.
  • Check against the 16 questions, which have been developed to help business case practitioners understand when they have done enough. The first eight questions relate to the strategic case, and are designed to test:
    • whether the problems and benefits are clearly understood and are supported by evidence
    • the level of stakeholder agreement.

You should be able to answer most of the first eight questions as a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’, but remember that the strategic case phase is not about answering all of the questions definitively. Often the strategic case phase will identify gaps in evidence or understanding that need further work to address. This is usually accepted, as long as the scope of work for the next phase clearly includes steps for the outstanding gaps in the strategic to be addressed.

How to self-assess your business case

What does Waka Kotahi look for in a strategic case, when completed as a stand-alone phase?

When assessing applications to fund business case phases from the NLTF, Waka Kotahi will seek assurance that the strategic case has been adequately developed.

As a principles-based approach, there is no checklist of specific actions to follow to ensure that Waka Kotahi’s expectations regarding the strategic case are being met. However, when assessing funding applications for subsequent business case phases, there are some general questions that assessors will consider to ensure that the principles relating to the strategic case are being followed, including:

  • Are there clear descriptions of one or more problems, which:
    • identify the underlying cause of each problem
    • identify the end consequence or effect of the problem, and
    • accurately reflect the evidence?
  • Are there clear descriptions of one or more benefits that can be expected if the problems are successfully addressed, which:
    • are consistent with the Waka Kotahi benefits framework
    • are accompanied by one or more measures
    • can reasonably be attributed to the solution (when known)?
      Benefits management guidance
  • Is there an assessment of the degree to which the benefits align with strategic priorities? Waka Kotahi will look for a clear indication of the main GPS priority outcome to which the investment will contribute.
  • How does the strategic alignment compare to the criteria set in the Investment Prioritisation Method (IPM)?
    Investment Prioritisation Method
  • Is there evidence that stakeholders have been engaged at an appropriate level when developing the strategic case?
  • Note that investment objectives are not required for a strategic case phase, as these will usually be developed as an early action in the next phase.

Request for support

When the problem owner concludes the strategic case is ready for assessment by Waka Kotahi, a request for support needs to be made via the Transport Investment Online (TIO) system.

Transport Investment Online(external link)

What happens next?

Waka Kotahi assesses the completed strategic case and determines whether a robust business case approach has been followed, and the proposed investment aligns with the IPM.

Investment Prioritisation Method

If progressing

If the assessment indicates the strategic case will progress to the next business case phase:

  • submit the strategic case, and a funding request for the next phase if seeking Waka Kotahi funding, to TIO
  • seek funding approval for the appropriate next phase of the business case from other investors, as appropriate
  • begin the next phase.

If not progressing

If the decision is to not progress the strategic case for now, or the IPM assessment indicates that the problem and/or opportunity does not align with current priorities and therefore the proposal will not be funded, no further action is required from Waka Kotahi.

Make sure the strategic case document is filed where it can be retrieved easily for future reference. Also make sure you communicate with key stakeholders about the reason for the decision.

If Waka Kotahi doesn’t support the case for change, the problem owner may choose to continue to explore the proposed investment with funding from other sources.

Funding the strategic case phase

Development of the strategic case through a stand-alone phase cannot be funded through the NLTF.

The strategic case phase is funded by the problem owner’s organisation. The cost is relatively minor and will mainly consist of professional services fees for support from workshop facilitators. You will need to identify a funding stream and resources for any workshops and development/authoring of the strategic case.

Resources and further information



Information sheets

Need support?

It’s important to talk to Waka Kotahi at an early stage. Contact your Waka Kotahi investment advisor or email the Business Case Process team at businesscaseprocess@nzta.govt.nz