Principles for Design & Development

Community Insights on Principle 7: Reuse and Improve

icon-principle7Mercy Corps and hosted the seventh Principle for Digital Development “Reuse and Improve” on March 24, 2015 at IDEO in San Francisco. The interactive session included short presentations from Carl Hartung of Nafundi, Patrice Martin of IDEO, and Steve Daniels of Makeshift, followed by a rich discussion around barriers to effective implementation of Reuse and Improve and strategies to overcome them.

Highlights of the discussion are captured below.  Does this content resonate with you? Are there aspects of the discussion that you would modify? Join the discussion using the comments section on this page.

  • Consider how the reuse and improvement of existing tools, processes, and policies can in itself be a form of innovation.
  • ‘Reuse’ implies taking the time to assess what resources are currently available and what modifications would be necessary; ‘improvement’ suggests doing these things and then making modifications to adapt existing tools to specific program or project needs, thereby improving the quality of tools available to the commons.


  • To determine whether reuse makes sense, ask questions like: does it meet stakeholder needs? Is it practical, modular, and extendable?
  • Simply reusing may not always be the best thing to do. Improve as a condition of reuse, and be open to work out whether it’s the right way to go.
  • In reusing existing tools make your competitive advantage how you curate, manage, and implement the tool in the context of your project or program.
  • Use resources like Kopernik’s Impact Tracker for an overview of some existing digital tools.


  • Seek input from and co-create with end users to ensure improvements meet their requirements and specifications.
  • Balance user experience specifications with what’s viable from a business perspective, and feasible from technology perspective.
  • Consider other factors influencing the design of improvements, such as inputs necessary to ensure local ownership, sustainability, and ‘replicability.’
  • Use rapid prototyping to continue testing and refining with end users; be prepared to be constantly learning.
  • Build in dynamism to enable improvements to continue to be made over time. Embrace the notion that “nothing is complete.”
  • Consider whether improvements require localization, such as with content repositories.
  • Ask what can you learn from outside your sector: for example, what are the similarities between an emergency room and a pit crew?
  • Does your organizational culture embrace open source sharing? Consider how other sectors have benefitted from the rise of the sharing economy.
  • Where it makes sense, demonstrate the business case of reuse and improvement—both within your organization and to donors and partners—including value to end user, and cost efficiencies versus building a new system.
  • Advocate for shared services across sectors rather than building bespoke tools.
  • Point to use of standards to shift the conversation from replacing X system to making X system standards-compliant.
  • Think about reuse across the value chain, such as in distribution channels.
  • Contribute to a cycle of improvements: benefit from past work, improve the product and the education path, and then contribute back to the commons.
  • Recognize that contributing back to the commons requires investment—e.g., improvements may need to be documented and packaged for reuse beyond your project.

You can also download a PDF of the Community Discussion here.

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