Digital appraisal manual for Scotland: guidance

Guidance to help embed best practice appraisal and evaluation within policy making relating to digital projects.


The following guidance is the first stage in the the Chief Economic Adviser’s (OCEA) programme of work to embed best practice appraisal and evaluation within policy making relating to digital projects. This programme of work will involve carrying out appraisal and evaluation of our business cases and engaging with wider stakeholders to regularly refine the best practice presented here, as well as subsequent development of a technical database.

This guidance is not a mechanical or deterministic decision-making device. It provides approved thinking models and methods to support the provision of advice to clarify the social - or public - welfare costs, benefits, and trade-offs of alternative implementation options for the delivery of policy objectives.

This guidance will describe, clearly and in detail, best practice in appraisal of digital projects and steps that should be taken – from pre-appraisal and objective setting through to monitoring and evaluation/benefits realisation. Digital projects relate to (but are not limited to) digital connectivity and infrastructure, digital skills and adoption, and digital participation. This guidance will provide a framework that can be applied proportionally but comprehensively, with the level of detail determined by the scale of the challenges/opportunities under consideration, and include information on strategy, priorities, outcomes and targets. The principle of being objective-led, rather than solution-led allows the appraisal of options against objectives, recognised criteria and to establish policy directives, as well as providing a robust evidence base for decision makers.

This guidance draws on Transport Scotland’s Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) as a longstanding example of best practice, and one which also concerns a number of similar impacts relevant to digital projects and connectivity, including (but not limited to) productivity, value of time, environmental impacts, inclusive growth and connecting isolated people and communities across Scotland. This guidance also refers to the HM Treasury’s Green Book, which contains more general guidance on how to appraise policies, programmes and projects in central government.

Additionally, it is recommended that OCEA develops a technical database. This would contain compiled existing evidence on the impacts of digital projects, broken down by established criteria (from socio-economic impacts, to environmental impacts, to benefits of accessibility in rural areas etc.), with guidance on how analysts/policymakers should assess the impacts of digital projects, as well as making clear where evidence gaps exist. This would be reviewed regularly and updated as evidence develops. This would initially be significantly smaller than Transport Scotland’s STAG Technical Database, given a much smaller evidence base currently exists for impacts of digital projects. This piece of work would involve developing the structure and presentation of the technical database rather than populating it.

High level outline of key steps

The Digital appraisal manual for Scotland ( DAMS) consists of three key phases. These phases guide users through the entire process of business case appraisal from planning for appraisal (pre-appraisal), conducting the analysis (appraisal) and monitoring and evaluating the progress (post-appraisal).


  • clear articulation of rationale
  • set SMART objectives


  • generate and assess options
  • five dimension business case model

Post appraisal

  • monitoring
  • evaluation
  • feedback


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