Beyond evaluation: How Catalyst is weaving the network's learning into a tapestry of insights

Published on
November 17, 2020
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Joe Roberson
This week Catalyst welcomes a new type of partner into its embrace. A warm embrace, full of questions.

69 initiatives. 188 members. Thousands of charities supported. Hundreds of insights gained. But not collected together in one place. Until now.

That’s why Catalyst welcomes inFocus. Officially they are our ‘network learning partner’ for the next five months. Unofficially they are our friends. Friends who have offered to stand in the middle of Catalyst and pull the threads of its learning together. So we can see what our learning looks like: where it’s full of stars and silver, and where there is fog and fluster. 

At the same time inFocus will be helping Catalyst initiatives get better at identifying their own threads and stitching them together themselves. 

By the end of the process we hope to have a big insight-filled tapestry full of useful, practical knowledge. A tapestry that can be shared.

This is a process aimed at those who've worked with Catalyst. If you've funded, facilitated or taken part in a Catalyst initiative we're keen to hear from you. Did you get what you needed? What could have been better? How do you think Catalyst could improve its attempts to be a network for digital acceleration? How, ultimately, can this network be made to serve you better?

Get in touch with the learning team if you have any feedback.

Now is the time

It’s time to bring some reflection to what we’ve achieved since July 2019. Partly it’s the right time because so much has changed since March this year. 

It’s also the right time because of how large the Catalyst network has become. There is so much collaboration happening that we can ask it meaningful questions. Questions like “How is the network driving collaboration?” and “How is collaboration making a difference to charities’ better use of digital?” (just two of our ten learning questions).

Three deliverables

The strongest seams are made with a triple stitch. In the same way, to create something that is strong and lasting, inFocus will be looking to bind together three pieces of work. 

Stitch 1: Collaborative learning sessions

Drawing out learning threads from every current initiative in collaboration with them. 

This means finding out what's working and what's not. inFocus will do this by getting partners together to explore, then stitching what we learn onto the tapestry. 

Stitch 2: Evaluation of now

Evaluating some of the initiatives. 

This means going in and collecting data, analysing it and drawing conclusions. For some initiatives, particularly newer ones, this will be an involved process. While others will only need a lighter touch because they are smaller or in the process of ending. 

Stitch 3: Strengthening Catalyst processes for the future

Skilling up network partners with context-specific training.

inFocus will be designing training on how to monitor, evaluate impact and draw out learning from future Catalyst initiatives.

Questions about the network (because it is so interesting)

Catalyst is the first digital network created across the charity sector. It includes many types of civil organisations, and a range of digital service providers and funders. Every day hundreds micro and macro connections happen between them. So with inFocus we will be exploring:

  • How do interactions happen between people in the network?
  • What are the common pathways organisations take across Catalyst initiatives?
  • How do people inside and outside the network perceive it?

Of course we’ll also be asking important questions about impact, how Catalyst has helped, and what has it achieved across the network.

Playing the learning back, openly

inFocus will be playing their learning back, presenting a new part of the tapestry, every month. 

But that doesn’t mean insights will only be available then. Tom Keyte, inFocus’ Senior Consultant, explains further: “Together we will be creating articles, elearning modules and other content. We’ll also release a monthly map of the network. These will give you close up views of selected threads, stitches and parts of the emerging tapestry. We’ll also talk about how these fit into the bigger weave.” 

Then in March 2021 inFocus will present one big tapestry of learning. 

There will be challenges (of course)

Creating this tapestry, collaboratively, while building capacity and skills, presents a challenge. There is a lot of resource going into this (an £80k contract) but that doesn’t mean the work will be easy. Tom identifies two main challenges:

  • Achieving the three deliverables by March 2020. “We have a lot to do to draw out the useful learning - but this is what makes it so interesting” - Tom Keyte
  • Managing people’s survey and webinar fatigue. We need to do this so that organisations can contribute to the work while learning skills. One of the reasons we asked inFocus to do this work is because they have solid experience in creating online learning communities. This means that people can learn in different ways and at times to suit, without always having to attend a meeting or training session. 

inFocus have experience

Tom Keyte

inFocus helps civic organisations do three things: examine what they are doing, reflect on what's working, and generate actionable learning. They sit at the intersection between research and evaluative capacity building. 

Tom is leading the work. He is one of inFocus’ founders. His main areas of responsibility are running learning networks, facilitating collaborative learning events, and running research and evaluation teams. He also oversees their training programme. 

End point

Our hope is this: that the tapestry of learning we create improve how the network runs and how it supports civic organisations across the UK. And that the legacy it leaves helps the network to continue to stitch and weave learning in useful ways that make it more effective. 

Get involved

Get in touch if you’ve been part of a Catalyst initiative, either as a participant or facilitator, or even a funder and have something to say to Tom and the learning team.

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