Investigating Digital Tool Re-Use Among UK Organisations

Sacha Robehmed

We’re excited to share that over the next year, we’ll be carrying out a new research initiative looking at how UK charities* re-use existing digital tools for service delivery.

We’ll be working as part of a wider project, Digital Sparks, to support UK charities with digital service delivery. Our partners include: CAST, Dot Everyone, Cassie Robinson of The Point People, Nissa Ramsey from Think Social Tech, and Joe Roberson of Working With Joe. The Digital Sparks project is funded by Comic Relief.  

In past years, as part of our Making All Voices Count research on how civil society organisations designed and used digital tools, we learned that there was a lack of knowledge about what tools they could re-use in their own projects. According to a survey, more than half had built entirely new tools, often without checking to see if existing tools could do the job. Organisations that built new tools were more likely to experience technical problems and delays, and they experienced poor rates of user adoption.  

Based on our findings, we built Alidade, a tool to support organisations to select suitable digital tools for their projects. Alidade helps organisations understand their project needs, understand their users, and learn what tools already exist to help them.

Is re-use useful?

At The Engine Room we’re strong proponents of re-purposing existing technologies (for instance, encouraging re-use through replication sprints). While we’ve shown – through the Making All Voices Count research – that building new tools from scratch often wasn’t helpful to organisations, we didn’t look at the challenges and barriers to re-using existing digital tools, nor whether re-use has a positive impact on a project.

There’s an assumption that using digital tools leads to better service delivery and that re-using existing digital tools decreases costs and increases the speed of delivering services. With our current project, we’ll be unpacking these assumptions and taking a three-phased approach to research, trying to understand:

  • How UK charities select digital tools that they use for service delivery
  • The prerequisites needed for UK charities to re-use existing digital tools, to try to identify barriers and enablers
  • The impacts of tool re-use and the advantages and disadvantages that UK charities found resulted from re-using digital tools in their service delivery

We hope to build on our past research and support UK charities to take better-informed approaches to digital tool creation, selection and re-use. While this project is UK-focused, we hope that what emerges will also be relevant to organisations outside of the UK.

We’d love your help

Do you work for a charity in the UK that uses digital technology in its service delivery? If so, we’d love to speak with you! We’re particularly interested in charities that focus on children and youth, gender justice, homelessness and mental health. Please reach out to Sacha at or Paola at

*In the UK, non-profit organisations are commonly referred to as charities, terminology that we’ve adopted here.


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