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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.

Working out what the software or tool needs to do

Use this page to help you prioritise the things that matter most to your organisation and the people who'll use the new technology.

Your organisation’s values and priorities

You need to check your organisation’s values and priorities early in your search for a new tool. You don’t want to get a long way towards a decision and then discover there was a reason to rule out three of the pieces of software you've been comparing.

The types of values and priorities we're talking about here come from places such as:

  • your vision or mission statement
  • your charitable objectives
  • discussions between people involved in the project.

Some things to think about.

  • Committing to privacy and security standards.
  • Using open source technology.
  • Finding tools that prioritise a particular type of accessibility feature.
  • Finding tools from companies that show a commitment to values that matter to you - for example, equity or inclusivity

Carry out the activity in three steps.

  • Make a list of the values and priorities you want to measure your tool against.
  • Mark that list with 'absolute' and 'able to compromise' so you know what will and will not be a deal breaker.
  • Check that list with any senior decision makers.

Your users and their needs

For this section you start with your answer to 'Why do you think technology is the right answer?'. Then you need to make sure you understand this from the point of view of the people who'll use the tool.

You don't want to risk making assumptions. This can lead to investing lots of time, effort or money in something that doesn't actually meet needs.

Gather together your list of what your users need. Keep the following points in mind.

  • Who needs it?
  • What do they need (activity or thing) and what do they need it for (purpose)?
  • When do they need it?

You can do this through:

  • user engagement
  • user involvement activities
  • co-production or through research.

The best activities to do are those that take a user research focus. This helps you to challenge assumptions and get to the bottom of understanding needs.

  • Collect your list of needs.
  • Make sure they include 'why' people need a thing, not just 'what' they need.
  • Make sure they're written in a way that gives you some flexibility in how you meet the needs. Don’t make them too solution focused.

Don’t forget to do the user needs exercise with both internal and external users of the tool. You want to make sure the people you help have a positive experience. That's more likely if your staff or volunteers are also having a positive experience.

Need to understand how to challenge assumptions when doing user engagement work? Use our information about taking a user research approach.

Other limitations, constraints and considerations when choosing software or digital tools

Some of the things you need from new software won’t fit easily and smoothly into the values or user needs format. But you still need to make sure that the tool has them.


Use this list of titles to make notes about any more factors you need to take into consideration.

  • Team capacity and skills
  • Integration with other systems (interoperability)
  • Safeguarding needs
  • Budget considerations - for purchase and long-term running (maintenance)
  • Privacy considerations

Prioritising your needs

Your next step is to take all the things you identified in the values, needs and constraints exercises and group them.

To do this, you need to write each one so that it relates to a thing the tool must do - the functionality of the tool.

Once you have got that list, split it into two.

  • Must haves non-negotiable features. You need these to meet your project objective in a way that works.
  • Nice to have negotiable features. These would improve the service or project, but aren’t essential.

Do this as a group activity. You could work with:

  • users (internal or external)
  • key stakeholders.

If you can’t do it as a group activity then you should discuss the list with others. Ask people to agree with or contradict your classification.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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