Improving the Investment Case for Digital Inclusion

Building an investment case for digital inclusion is exactly what we should be doing but it takes time. I have tried to create a summary of an approach here but it’s difficult to summarise a complex process in under 1000 words (or two sides of A4). My hope is that participants will take up the cudgel and add to it by commenting or linking their own posts with their own ideas. This is cross posted from the Social Digital Ning.

At the third Social Digital Research Symposium we heard a proposal for an investment case for the continuing promotion of digital inclusion as a social, financial and economic benefit. I blogged previously  that there might be more to it that the proposal suggested but this is something that we can and should subscribe to and support through the knowledge base that has been collected over the last ten years of academic focus on the digital agenda. As the investment case stands I believe that we can add to it and make it a stronger case. In my experience it’s rare to find a politician that “gets” digital anything though the simpler concept of “faster internet” will be something to which they can ‘sign up’ however we must also keep in mind that those same politicians also signed up to a “faster railway line” and they did that with a very dubious investment case. The High Speed Train project is currently mired in controversy because of the understandable planning concerns but also because of the way the investment case was presented.

An investment case needs a clear statement of intent: too narrow a statement and the business case will not stack up; to wide a statement and there will be too many options. Time spent on the initial statement at the beginning will make the later analysis more thorough, easier and more convincing. Just as an example what we have here is:

“To realize social, financial and economic benefit to England through accelerating the rate at which citizens participate on line.”

The key word here is “accelerate” it assumes that the current initiatives will eventually succeed in getting everybody online. Can we confidently say that this is the case or do we need to support the current initiatives and have additional, more targeted mechanisms?

The statement of intent should identify the quantity of benefit as the proposal says;  this would include Go On UK’s identification of savings, maintain the position of the UK as an e-commerce economy, increase the world ranking of the UK in the various indexes; WWWF and OECD and decrease levels of inequality, social isolation and worklessness.

Our new statement reads:

“Generate x% of savings in public services; maintain the UK’s position as an e-commerce economy and improve the countries ranking on the WWWF and OECD indices and reduce levels of inequality, social isolation and worklessness in England by x% by accelerating the rate at which citizens participate on line.”

Next the investment case should ask what are the alternative means of achieving the same  outcome? While the proposal as it stands acknowledges the base or “take no further action” case and proposes a top down marketing initiative as the preferred action as a good investment case it should consider alternative ways of spending the same amount of money. For example the investment case acknowledges the relative investment in UK Online Centres; at the very least it should consider the impact of increasing investment in current activity as an option.  England leads the world in behaviour change management; we export our expertise. Perhaps another approach would be to increase investment in that area and “Nudge” people into participating on line.

We now have a more detailed statement of intent and we have a base case, a preferred option and two alternative investment options for comparison. The investment case needs to go on to identify stakeholders; in its current form it is very weak on stakeholders and identifies only UK Online Centres, Go On UK Consortium and Digital UK. Who else is affected? What about Department of Health, Department of Work and Pensions, DeFRA, The National Housing Federation, NAVCA, The Local Government Association or NIACE? This may not be “The List” but the investment case needs stakeholders because someone has to deliver the benefits and each investment case has to be aware of the potential dis-benefits.

As an example: the benefits to the NHF of wider on line participation is an improvement in the rate of rent arrears as benefit uptake increases, employment opportunities improve and there is more efficient maintenance supply chain management as residents participate in self reporting schemes. This is a quantifiable benefit and improves the investment case. However a potential dis benefit is that as a result of the successful marketing programme Housing Associations may be ill prepared for a sudden influx in the demand for on line facilities and on line training opportunities leading to poor expectation management, loss of momentum and impact on the success of the initiative. Stakeholder engagement is a key part of risk identification and management as well as benefit delivery.

At this point our investment case has a full statement of intent with measures of performance; a range of delivery options, a stakeholder list and an analysis of benefits, dis-benefits and risks all of which are owned. We are now in a position to analyse the effectiveness and achievability of our delivery options by weighting and rating our measures of performance and our stakeholder commitment to each of the options. Taken with our benefits analysis and dis-benefit assessment we can demonstrate both the achievability and the compellingness of our preferred option against the other proposals.

Now and only now can we begin to “plug in” our costs for delivery and benefits realisation, now we can undertake our NPV calculation. Our business case is made more robust by providing the reassurance that we have covered all of the bases and no other option will deliver or exceed the level of performance of our preferred option. What if it doesn’t? I hear you ask – well, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it; a lesson that HST may have learned. But, doesn’t it take a long time? Well, yes and before anybody say it, this is probably too complex for many politicians but civil servants will approve because it is Green Book compliant and should provide most of the evidence for a funding gateway review.

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