Let’s end single use projects

Tom C W
3 min readJul 10, 2024


So much insight, so much knowledge, lost or locked up in organisations and institutions. Evaluations that are never shared. Projects that failed or changed along the way. New shiny products or final summary pdf reports.

There are many reasons why this happens. Time, money, capacity are obvious ones. But I think we default to thinking about things as contained too much. Start, deliver, end, (maybe) evaluate, move on. For charities this is often driven by how things are funded, with time limited grants and an expectation of a project only being funded if it is ‘new’. We are literally telling them to move on.

I think also there is too much emphasis put on evaluation over learning. There is now often an expectation that work is evaluated, no matter the size of the project or the evaluation budget, which can often mean charities becoming passive passengers in the evaluation process. It shifts the mindset from constant learning and sharing, to And even when full scale evaluations are possible, where do they go? And what about all the bits that don’t go in an evaluation, all the insight along the way

Now I’m not saying that some projects are time limited. Sometimes things are of a time. Sometimes things fail. I’m not suggesting we only focus on ‘sustainable’ projects or on less risky projects (in fact I think we should fund more risky projects). What I am suggesting is that we make every project part of the whole, so they contribute to the commons, with insight, knowledge, and learning.

Open by Default principle

Two things that I feel are important to move beyond single use projects. Being Open by Default is obviously something we promote a lot, sharing everything we do along the way. Not just the final report, or the final thing, but all the bits that went into it. We Data For Action do this in practice by creating repositories for each project and sharing them openly, so that others can reuse, re-purpose and re-imagine our work. But how do we move to a place where this is the norm for everyone?

Reuse, repurpose, re-imagine principle

Well it sure helps when funders stipulate that all outputs of a project are openly licensed. On a recent project for us the funder had that in their agreement with the organisation. This is something we do anyway, but it just makes the conversation around this so much easier! Create that expectation, it helps everyone.

There has to be a recognition that even taking an open by default approach won’t end single use projects on it’s own, because we lack infrastructure to maintain and connect this learning. One thing we are doing is expanding our Question Bank into an open resource that links Questions to insight and hopefully answers. We feel this could be a part of the infrastructure that helps connect knowledge and learning together. We often ask the same or similar questions over and over, and being able to find insight and knowledge that might help answer those questions has to be a goal.

Now maybe you read my opening line as end single use plastics. And so as a link (thanks to Tris for this) how about an open resource on how to help end single use plastics — https://community.preciousplastic.com/academy/intro.html



Tom C W

Do Good, Be Awesome. Thoughts on startups, social change, awesome things, and possibly running.