Optioneering is the commonly used term to describe the in-depth consideration of various alternatives and options to find the best or preferred alternative or option. Optioneering should consider a broad range of alternatives and options to ensure that any solution is the best fit and makes the best use of resources. This includes exploring non-transport alternatives or options, for example modified land use and planning rules.

A sifting approach is used to establish, from a longlist of alternatives or options, a shortlist for further analysis, and then to identify a preferred option. The sifting process should be structured, objective and evidence based.

Download a diagram of the sifting approach [PNG, 66 KB]


Alternatives: an alternative is a strategic way of responding to a problem or opportunity by applying a whole-of-system approach.


This can include corridor or network planning, such as exploring the potential for different land use arrangements or encouraging greater use of other modes to address projected growth in network demand.

Alternatives may have been identified as part of development strategies and spatial plans but may also be developed as part of the Business Case Approach (BCA). The assessment of alternatives also needs to meet Resource Management Act (RMA) and Public Works Act (PWA) requirements. In developing alternatives, it is important to consider the intervention hierarchy, which addresses:

  • demand – for example, ways in which the need for travel can be reduced
  • productivity – for example, by making sure the current system is optimised as far as reasonably practicable
  • supply – for example, provision of new services or infrastructure.

Options: options represent different ways to achieve an outcome or objective.


If it had been decided that the best way to address a particular problem was to make an intersection safer or more efficient, options could include building a roundabout, installing traffic signals, or grade separation. The assessment of options needs to meet Resource Management Act (RMA) and Public Works Act (PWA) requirements.

Do-minimum option: the forecast expected change over time if there was no intervention or investment beyond the ‘do-minimum’.

Investment objectives: the investment objectives specify the strategic outcomes for the proposed investment. They are easily derived from information gathered during conversations about the identified problem/opportunity and the benefits associated with solving the problem during development of the strategic assessment.

Assessing alternatives and options

Through the sifting process:

  • Some alternatives or options are removed at each filter.
  • An increasing number of alternatives or options are rejected as the process progresses.
  • The best or preferred option is the one that passes through all filters.

The assessment process focuses on determining:

  • whether an alternative or option has strategic alignment with transport system outcomes (including the Government Policy Statement on land transport (GPS)), strategies, plans and policies
  • whether an alternative or option will deliver positive net benefits, ie benefits greater than costs. The benefits framework and its guidance documents are used to identify and analyse benefits and costs
    Land transport benefits framework and management approach: guidelines
  • the relative environmental, social and cultural effects of the alternative or option under consideration, and
  • whether an option can be implemented, for example, is it consentable, is there the ability to obtain property rights, etc.

Sifting alternatives and options is typically an iterative process with the level of detail, depth of analysis and accuracy improving as the business case is further developed. For large, complex problems/opportunities, sifting of alternatives (strategic network and corridor level) is typically carried out first (often with qualitative information). Once the preferred alternative has been agreed, options can be generated and assessed.

At the shortlist stage, more detailed assessment is carried out. It is important that economic assessment is included as part of the multi-criteria analysis (MCA) at the shortlist stage. This will enable robust comparison across options. Decision makers should consider both monetised and non-monetised benefits and costs to make an informed choice between options. The rationale for the methodology used and decisions made should be clearly articulated and documented. At the preferred option stage, further detailed economic assessment should be carried out. Iwi, community and stakeholder engagement is an important input into the sifting process.

When optioneering, there are some fundamental questions that need to be asked, including: 

  • How does each alternative and option address the problems identified in the strategic case?
  • Is the preferred alternative or option consistent with the strategic case and investment objectives?
  • What are the trade-offs between the benefits and disbenefits of different alternatives/options?
  • What synergies or conflicts are there between alternatives or options if packaged together?
  • Is there an ability to deliver multiple outcomes by packaging different alternatives or options together?
  • Is there a clear rationale for the rejection of alternatives/options?
  • Have the impacts of climate change been considered for each alternative or option?
  • Have Te Ao Māori impacts been considered for each alternative or option?

Assessment tools

The early assessment sifting tool (EAST) supports an initial ‘coarse screening’ of alternatives and options. Using the EAST is recommended where there are a large number of alternatives and options to consider. It also provides a consistent format for assessing all transport-related alternatives and options and helps document decisions made.

Early assessment sifting tool

Multi-criteria analysis (MCA) can be used to assess multiple criteria, both quantitative and qualitative. It can be used to compare different alternatives and options and assist with conversations between investors and stakeholders to help inform decision making.

Multi-criteria analysis

The appraisal summary table (AST) provides decision makers with an overview of non-monetised and monetised benefits and costs at both the shortlist and preferred option stage.

Appraisal summary table

The EAST and MCA are supported by completion of the Waka Kotahi environmental screen, which can help with the selection of criteria and the assessment of alternatives and options. Potentially significant environmental and social effects (and opportunities) should be identified and considered. This will enable effects to be avoided, remedied or mitigated. Environmental and sustainability effects have traditionally not been given due consideration and reported to decision makers. Effects such as impact on social cost and incidence of crashes are considered as part of the assessment against investment objectives.

Environmental screen

Alternatives and options assessment – key steps

 1  Reconfirm the strategic case, including problems/opportunities and benefits sought.
 2  Agree investment objectives and the ‘do- minimum’ option.
 3  Generate a broad range of alternatives and options.

Screen out non-viable alternatives or options, including where they are not aligned to investment objectives or there is a fatal flaw.

You can use the EAST tool for a large number of alternatives and options; if you don’t use EAST, you’ll need to document why an alternative or option has been discounted.

 5 Carry out MCA and confirm shortlist options.
 6 Using MCA, assess the shortlist. It is important that economic evaluation is included as part of the MCA at the shortlist stage. An AST is required for each shortlisted option.
 7 Decision makers consider monetised and non-monetised benefits and costs and other evidence in the business case to make an informed choice of preferred option, and document why this has been chosen.

Related topics

There are five topics that relate to optioneering and the assessment tools. Read more about:

Integrated land use and transport planning

Planning an integrated transport system is a multi-dimensional task requiring iterative analysis of growth projections, future land use, spatial patterns and the impact of transport on economic activity, social interaction, culture and the environment.

Integrated land use and transport planning

Intervention hierarchy

Applying an intervention hierarchy optimises existing and proposed new investments in the land transport system.

Intervention hierarchy

Movement and place

Appropriate options can be considered when both the movement and place function of roads and corridors in relation to the wider network are identified.

Movement and place

Climate change: interim guidance for adaptation and mitigation

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are key considerations when optioneering.

Climate change: interim guidance for adaptation and mitigation

Critical statutory requirements for the optioneering process

A number of legislative requirements need to be considered throughout all business case optioneering and decision-making processes.

Critical statutory requirements for the optioneering process