Research

Posted 16 December, 2019 by Madeleine Maxwell

What digital tool re-use looks like among UK charities

This year, we researched how digital tools are re-used in the UK charity sector. We conducted desk research on tool re-use generally and interviewed 23 people working in UK charities to learn about why, when and how they re-use digital tools in their service delivery.

Our research was part of the Digital Spark programme. Funded by Comic Relief and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and led by CAST, Spark seeks to increase the UK charity sector’s digital capability. This includes helping the sector adopt digital service principles and take better-informed approaches to digital tool creation and re-use. 

Download our full report below or keep reading for some top-level takeaways.

💾 Download the report

What is re-use?

Re-use is about integrating or customising an existing digital tool, instead of building something from scratch. Our research found examples ranging from using or repurposing existing tools through to customising existing code. We also learned about organisations who were building re-usable tools.

Why re-use?

We found that re-use enables quick testing and learning and makes it easier for charities to kickstart their entry into designing digital services. We also learned about the positive impact that re-use can have on teams and organisational culture. We heard about re-use increasing the confidence of team members involved; shifting attitudes towards digital tools more broadly; and acting as a key to a community of other practitioners and organisations working to address similar challenges. 

The importance of confidence when choosing tools

You’re more likely to re-use a tool if you feel confident in your choice. Important confidence drivers include knowing what tools are out there, having a clear tool selection process (including understanding your priorities and requirements), support from peers, and buy-in from senior leadership.

Other considerations around re-use

Re-use isn’t always the best option, and charities we interviewed highlighted a few key considerations. Existing tools or code may not be a sustainable long term solution, as they aren’t always actively maintained and updated. You may also have less control over the user experience. Your team might not have the technical skills to maintain an open source tool, though good documentation and an active community can go some way to address this challenge. Some charities working with sensitive data or vulnerable communities may also need products that meet higher privacy and security thresholds than those available.

What now?

We are in the process of piloting a new resource to support decision makers to research and assess digital tools, building on these findings, and our tool Alidade. For now, this pilot is restricted to UK charities, so if this is you, and you’d like to take part, please get in touch!

Read more about our research in this blog post by Joe Robertson and the Catalyst.

Photo credit: Camera Parts by Shane Aldendorff

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