Value Case Development: a process methodology for sustainable decision-making

Drinking water utilities will have to make major investments in the coming decades in areas such as asset infrastructure in order to maintain their capacity to continue supplying enough good-quality drinking water to clients in the long term. At the same time, in recent years, drinking water utilities have formulated objectives for challenges facing society as a whole, such as the climate or biodiversity, and they have defined broader corporate values to guide business operations. In practice, it nevertheless remains difficult to manage in line with these ‘broader values’ and social objectives. This design study is working with drinking water professionals to explore the extent to which a Value Case methodology can lead to the integration of broader corporate values and social objectives during preparations and decisions relating to investment projects.

The Value Case methodology that is being developed includes, on the one hand, general substantive values and elements that are – where possible – standardised in coordination with drinking water professionals. On the other hand, a way of working is being designed that allows drinking water professionals with different roles such as asset managers, sustainability managers and environmental managers to

  1. collect appropriate information
  2. interpret and assess that information
  3. prepare decisions

The premise of the methodology is that well-considered future-resilient and sustainable decisions require internal collaboration between drinking water professionals with different areas of expertise to collect and assess information. On the basis of these insights, decision-makers should be able to make sound appraisals of investment decisions.

Public Design for solutions by and for drinking water professionals

This project uses Public Design – design-based research – to arrive at a Value Case approach that is as close as possible to how drinking water professionals work on a day-to-day basis. This type of research is used for complex issues (and changes) that are difficult to oversee and that require several people to work together to arrive at solutions. In this project, drinking water professionals with different areas of expertise and roles are involved in the development of a methodology that they themselves can use in practice to prepare and make more sustainable decisions.

On the basis of a literature study and exploratory interviews with a range of experts, building blocks are being identified that form the basis for a prototype Value Case methodology. This prototype will then be elaborated, tested and further developed in different design steps and working sessions with drinking water professionals.

Developing a widely supported methodology as a step towards more sustainable decision-making

The outcome of this research is a widely supported process methodology that can narrow the gap between sustainable ambitions and actual decision-making and operations in practice.

The research process brought together a large group of drinking water professionals whose daily work involves preparing investment decisions to design the Value Case methodology. This will facilitate the transition to the use of the methodology by these professionals and bring sustainable decision-making closer.