Digital design principles for (and by) the UK charity sector — progress so far

A shot from our latest workshop with charities and funders — mapping enablers and challenges of the project

For the last four months we’ve been facilitating the development of digital design principles for the UK charity sector. You can see the reasons for the work and the early research findings here.

The guidance the principles provide can help charities to build better digital services — saving money and delivering better outcomes for service users.

Since our last update we’ve been working hard, running more workshops and interviews with a range of individuals working in charities, grant-giving organisations and other experts in the sector. This culminated in an open workshop with over 20 different third sector organisations inputting into the process.

We’re excited to announce that we’re releasing the first version of the principles on May 31st at this event.

We’ll also be live-streaming it from Tech for Good Global’s Facebook page, for those who aren’t able to join in person.

Contested!

Some interesting issues have been raised in deciding on the final list of principles, with many being hotly contested. For example, ‘Designing for Scale’ can realise the cost effectiveness of technology, but some contended it’s not be relevant if a service is targeted at a very specific user group or social issue. Equally, many argued that charities should be open, both with their learning, and where possible, by open sourcing their technology. However, some noted how this can conflict with the pressures charities are facing to build new revenue models from the digital services they create. The final list of principles reflects this, by containing those principles felt to be most useful by both charities and funders.

No Jargon!

In designing the final principles, we’ve tried hard to take industry-specific terms and make them more accessible. That said, many of the participants in the research made the point that learning some of the technology terminology is important, as it enables people from charities to communicate more effectively with those working in the digital industry. So while we’ve avoided jargon, we’ve also introduced some of the technical language where appropriate in the principle descriptions.

The right information at the right time

As we learnt from the initial research, people rarely pick up a set of principles and build an entirely new culture around them. Rather they emphasise different principles at different times, depending on where they are in the development process.

For example, early on in a project they might advocate strongly for user research to ensure the design is rooted in user needs, while later they might emphasise privacy and security to ensure the system is secure. The principles they emphasise can change depending on the stage of the project and the priorities of the person they are working with. To help this we’ve developed scenarios to help organisations know which principles will be most useful for different stages, and for different audiences.

Equally we know that principles are often most effectively absorbed into organisations through a combination of storytelling to highlight their value and practical guidance to put them into practice. For this reason we’ve included a series of case studies and top tools to help charities pick up and use these principles to improve their digital service delivery.

A sneak preview of some of the principles from our card sorting exercise

We’ll be revealing version one of the list of principles at the launch event on the 31st May, along with tools and guidance to help charities to put them into practice. The principles have had dozens of organisations from across the sector input into them. Do join us either in person or via the live stream, or check out our Twitter feed for updates.