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Welcome to the first part of the new NCVO website. While we finish building it, you will find the rest of our help and guidance on our existing site.

Use this page to understand why you should plan software selection and how you should approach it.

Reducing the risks when choosing software or tools

Did you ever work somewhere that spent a lot of time or money on a new piece of software and then discovered it wasn’t much use? Sometimes the fear of this happening again stops you looking for a new solution even when you really need one.

There are ways to reduce the risks of choosing new software or digital tools.

You need to take a planned approach that focuses on user needs.

How much time to spend on choosing software

You can use this planned approach any time you want to choose a new software or tool. You need to spend the right amount of time depending on the risks involved. It could take just a couple of hours across two days or it could take hundreds of hours over six months.

Reasons to take more time and plan in more depth.

  • The new software is going to be used by lots of people.
  • The new software is going to cost an amount of money that is significant to your group or organisation.
  • Your project has important privacy or safeguarding needs.

The bigger the scale the longer you'll need to take. You should spend longer on each activity. You should also leave longer to reflect between activities.

Reasons to run through the plan very rapidly.

  • A small number of people will be using the software. They'll find change easy to deal with.
  • There are free trials available or the software is free/low cost with no minimum contract length.

You should still go through the steps of the plan to make sure there's nothing you need to stop and think about. But you can do that quite quickly if you have these low-risk factors. You can use the trial to decide whether it works for you or not.

Involving people in selection activities

One of the first steps in the plan is to work out who the stakeholders are. You want to involve everyone who'll be affected at the right step in your planning process. The activities in this plan help you create useful involvement opportunities. They should help you avoid too many people fighting over 'what I like best'.

How to work through the planning process

You should think about three key things.

  • Make it smooth for people to take part.
  • Help people taking part focus on short specific answers.
  • Make it easy to gather and share information from and between different activities.

It's really important to make sure you can gather the answers as a series of post-it notes or bullet points. You need to be able to move things between lists and change priority orders easily. Avoid using long paragraphs of text.

Choose a participation tool that people in your organisation will be happy to use. Any of these options can work.

  • Real or virtual sticky notes.
  • Software that can turn pictures of post-it notes to on-screen ones.
  • A spreadsheet or a table with bullet points pre-created in a word processor.
  • Any project management software that stores things in cards and lists.
  • Whiteboard software that helps people all share ideas at once.

There is no one right way to do this.

This guidance is based on work by The Engine Room and Centre for the Acceleration of Technology (CAST).

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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