An update on Catalyst's next-phase planning and launch of our recruitment for two core team members.

TL;DR - A lot has happened in the last six months(!) and today we’re opening recruitment for two people to join the Catalyst team (skip to the end for this).

Around March this year, myself and the initial Catalyst Stewards identified three goals for progressing the next phase of Catalyst:

  1. Seek funding from our founding funders for the next 12 months of continued delivery and iteration of vital core services, as well as the transition of Catalyst to a more equitable, network-led model (a need we explained here)
  2. Recruit a small, dedicated team to review, renew and lead Catalyst into the future 
  3. Intentionally continue to build muscles in the ways of working that we know are important: equitable, inclusive, collaborative, empowering. 

The past few months have meant reflection and strategy reviews for many, including several of our funders. We heard from multiple partners that the Summer break felt more needed than ever after months of flat-out crisis response. 

That means some of our original timelines slipped and it’s somehow now six months since our last update - time to change that!

Ongoing delivery of direct support

Alongside next-phase planning, Catalyst's free services and resources have continued to help thousands of people, thanks to the hard work of hundreds of partners contributing their time and expertise. And a CAST-led team has been busy delivering support to grantees that took part in the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response programmes, through three new follow-on funds: Continuation, Momentum and Development: 

  • Continuation saw 30 grants of up to £5k for grantees from Definition or the Sector Challenge programmes wanting to develop, scale, embed or share their solution, with the support of an overarching digital partner, We Are Open. This support wrapped up earlier this month - read We Are Open's summary.
  • Momentum saw 15 grants of up to £15k, £10k of which could go to a digital partner, to grantees from our previous Development programmes wanting to continue to iterate, scale and share the (more mature) prototypes they'd developed in the first 10-week design-and-build phase
  • Our third Development programme saw 2 grantees from Definition and Sector Challenge Programmes receive a £5k grant + £30k for an openly procured digital partner (won by SIDE Labs and Yalla respectively), to develop a solution they'd defined in the previous phase. These and the Momentum projects are also now nearing completion. Catch up on their weeknotes

Next phase of Catalyst - plans and progress

1. Funding

Firstly, what are we seeking funding for?

Where the sector’s at

In the last year, according to the 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report, 83% of charities started offering online services in response to demand and close to 8 out of 10 (78%) used digital to reach new audiences. The majority of charities are now committed to digital service delivery, with 73% planning to continue delivering in this way and 71% embedding digital as part of a hybrid model. 

In the immediate term, the sector needs to consolidate, make sense of and build on these tremendous shifts driven by the pandemic. The blossoming of new digital experiments means a greater-than-ever need for coordination and collaboration, to ensure good practice, prevent needless duplication and make best use of resources. 

In addition, nonprofits need more support to adapt to this new normal: while over two thirds (67%) report they will continue to deliver all work remotely, just under a third (31%) say their staff are burned out from the demands of intense remote working.

Zooming out, we can see civil society is caught in the throes of rapid change. We face existential challenges of rising inequality, climate breakdown and system collapse - as well as continued shockwaves from the pandemic. At the same time, social and technological developments provide new ways for people to meet and navigate these challenges; to forge new relationships with each other, our environment and the future. 

Good digital design helps put power back in the hands of communities - by supporting social organisations to be user-led and responsive, and at best designing the conditions for communities to create their own solutions. It can help us sense and respond to the deep structural inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and environmental groups. Our approach to digital must be informed by, and shape, wider societal shifts from dominance to partnership; from extraction to reciprocity and regenerative cultures; from humanity as separate and individualistic to an embedded, interdependent part of the surrounding environment.

There is a huge demand, and opportunity, for the sector to rebuild from the pandemic in a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable way, powered by an expanded appreciation and use of digital, data and design. The paths ahead aren't easy. We need to find ways to carry ourselves and others through this transition with courage, creativity and heart.

As the sector becomes more digitally mature, it's beginning to define digital approaches that reinforce social values - putting human connection, relationships, kindness, accessibility, climate and social justice at the heart of the design and implementation of technology, while also considering potential risks and unintended consequences. This is just the beginning. With many more organisations now contributing to this conversation and practice, we need supportive spaces, common language and shared standards to work effectively and inclusively. 

Where Catalyst is at

So much of Catalyst’s mission has been accelerated over the 18 months. We’ve seen more experiments, resource-creation, interactions and network-building than we could have dreamed of two years ago. With it, the formation of new shared infrastructures that enable the sector to be more responsive, resilient and relational.

Catalyst is becoming a trusted space for emergence, where charities, funders and digital experts explore and create together. 

Responding to immediate needs also meant that some longer-term ambitions have been delayed/deprioritised, such as foresight work and funder learning events to help build grantmakers’ understanding of tech and the sector’s digital needs.

Going forward, we want to develop more transformational narratives with communities about the key considerations and consequences of digital, data and design. We also want to support an emboldened civil society to influence other sectors and policy, like big tech companies and government.

As we move into our review phase, we know we'll need to strike the right balance between ongoing capacity-building activities - working within existing systems and structures to improve the digital skills, practice and confidence of civil society - and field catalyst activities - bringing about a reorganisation of how we might address social challenges, using the power of digital, data and design.

The link between these two is not linear and in the last year, we’ve mostly focused on the former, as it was most needed. Looking to the future, we're excited to see how the two can weave together more deliberately. 

Where Catalyst is going next

The ongoing development and deepening of Catalyst’s collective work is defined by three objectives (we like threes).

  1. Continuation of ongoing direct support to the sector through vital services and resources

Through the last 18 months we learned three key conditions for nonprofits’ digital success:
1. capacity to actively engage in the work (including ensuring the right people are engaged across the organisation)
2. peer support
3. expert support, including a mix of specialist ongoing and light-touch engagement, depending on the stage of the digital maturity journey. 

Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, this follows the 70/20/10 rule for professional development

Catalyst-contributed initiatives offer a balance of deep and immediate support. They build different capabilities at every stage of the digital journey - from user research skills to confidence in selecting a tech agency. This includes services like Digital Candle, Design Hops, Coffee Connections, Dovetail, DigiShift Zoom calls, Service Recipes, The Curve and the Catalyst newsletter and website resources

As a collective of partners from different organisations responsible for these initiatives, we want to:

  • strengthen links between them
  • iterate each one in response to and in collaboration with the charities and community organisations they serve
  • consolidate their impact measurement and understanding of their role within the Catalyst ecology, to inform collective decisions around future maintenance and sustainability or, where relevant, careful closure
  • evolve the range of content they offer - in particular, ensuring all digital practice across Catalyst is rooted in social justice, e.g. prioritising and surfacing approaches that challenge existing power structures 
  • expand offers contributing to Catalyst where there's a well-evidenced need and a clear value exchange for both the initiative and the wider network
  • hold spaces for people to keep pushing conversations to new horizons that reflect and nurture emerging progressive agendas and new stories, e.g. user-centred design > holistic design and design justice; competition and scarcity > anti-rivalry and abundance; blending resilience with antifragility. New mental and operating models give rise to new possibilities, and we believe Catalyst is a space that can hold each end of these many spectra. 




  1. Maintaining momentum and progress towards longer term plans; building on the prototypes created in the last year that support sector-wide technical and relational infrastructure. 

Technical infrastructure such as service layers, open standards and open data are the ‘plumbing’ that enable value, good practice and learning to flow through the system. 

Community spaces, meanwhile, are the engine of new relationships and culture, providing opportunities for people to ‘listen and share bravely’ and ‘connect generously’. They respond to the practical and emotional needs/integration of a sector and society in transition. 

In practice, what does this look like? It means we will:

  • organise, document and support people to navigate the 700+ openly available assets and IP created by nonprofits and digital partners in the past year as part of the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund Digital Response
  • conduct experiments into the maintenance and longer term housing of open access resources that form the beginnings of sector-owned software and infrastructure
  • promote proven patterns for useful, open sharing like Service Recipes
  • work with funders to embed reuse into wider grant making practices, including adding IP clauses into T&Cs - a seemingly small change with massive potential impact
  • further develop prototypes for shared service elements like Notifications, Referrals and Resource Hubs
  • build on initial investigations into collective software purchasing to unlock economies of scale
  • support the growth of communities of practice like the Data Collective, Agencies for Good and Tech for Good UK Network
  • support the development of - and connection between - thematic communities and coalitions around pressing issues like digital inclusion and safeguarding
  • strengthen the funder ecology within Catalyst so grantmakers can work alongside civil society organisations and digital partners to shape, implement and share good digital grantmaking practice
  • support sector research like that from the Data Collective and Charity Digital Skills Report, which provides much-needed insight into nonprofits’ digital needs and priorities.

  1. Transition of Catalyst towards a more equitable network-led model 

The recruitment of our new dedicated team will be a major part of this (see below). Our intentions for transition:

  • More diverse representation and participation across Catalyst, including in the team and stewards leading the transition
  • Explore what ‘network-led’ and ‘distributed leadership’ mean for us, and how best to enable a wider range of people/groups to drive and govern Catalyst, e.g. more partners from each region and sector leading Catalyst workstrands semi-autonomously, responding to different local/sectoral needs, while feeding into and out of the national collective
  • Proactively make space so that decisions and power are held increasingly by under-represented groups like communities experiencing racial inequity, disabled people and people who are LGBTQ+-identifying, representing a range of locations, sectors, digital maturity, and lived and learned experience
  • Building on network research by our EDI partner, Collaborative Future, keep reviewing how power and value exchange work in the Catalyst system. As part of the transition, we’re designing structures and ways of working that allow everyone across Catalyst networks to give/gain value in the best possible way
  • Climate justice - ensuring environmental impacts are factored into all technology and design decisions and that this is a live conversation across the network
  • Narrative and storytelling - being an influential voice on what's needed for the sector, enabling people to organise and advocate around topics like the digital divide, collective software purchasing and open standards
  • So far, Catalyst has identified and funded multiple partner-led responses that fill key gaps in the sector. As the digital maturity of the sector increases, its role will likely shift towards ensuring gap-filling responses created by the wider network are connected in the most effective way and are self-sustaining. We can measure success by seeing increasing connection density and interdependence between actors/initiatives in the network, many-to-many, rather than with the previous centre of power of the ‘core’ team/CAST.

We hope the first phase of the review and transition work will be complete by March 2022, by which time Catalyst will have clarity on its relationship with CAST, a renewed ambition and an established dedicated team, confident to drive it forwards. 

We're grateful to founding funders City Bridge Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Paul Hamlyn Foundation for awarding Catalyst three-month bridging grants. These will cover the work from now until November to ensure that there is no drop in momentum, or gap in delivery of vital support to the sector while their Boards review our proposals for longer-term funding (from this month onwards). 

3. Building muscles in positive ways of working

There are several things we can point to that we're proud of having explored over the last few months around more equitable, inclusive and collaborative ways of working, whilst we get the other two pieces in place. 

Our working group experiments, which have tested new ways for people to come together and organise as (not with) Catalyst, are the main examples. I’ve added details about them to the website to better reflect the collective make-up of Catalyst. And I’ve written about our successes, challenges and learnings from them.

Another is adopting more relational approaches throughout our work and interactions, as Debby outlined in her recent blog.

A third is holding open conversations with digital partners to collectively shape, and in some cases determine the outcome of, charity briefs Catalyst is tendering. Digital partners’ responses to this have been positive:

“[These sessions feel] uncomfortable and scary. But if they didn't - they'd not be an experiment. I relish that discomfort, to be honest. It's a little terrifying before it starts, but once you relax into it it's fine. I am a bit of a performer.”
“Great. Do more. Embrace the uncertainty!”
“It’s been really helpful and I’m now inspired to share more of our own useful resources.”

As have the comments from charities:

“This has given me lots of food for thought - I’ve written lots down! And there’s lots of validation of what we've done already”
“It feels like there’s lots of love in this room!”


2. Recruiting a dedicated team

We’re excited to be working with Collaborative Future to design an open, inclusive recruitment process to select new members of Catalyst’s ‘core’ team.

The two new roles will join me as the dedicated team at the heart of Catalyst. We’ll initially lead a deep-dive review into its strategy, work and impact, and what governance and leadership models best support its collective ambitions. 

Then we’ll help the network transition to whatever comes out of that. We don’t yet know what organising structure will best support Catalyst’s distributed ecosystem to thrive; the team will co-design this with the network. So it’s a very exciting role! 

We’re opening the applications for these roles today, and the deadline for applications is 4pm on Wednesday 29th September. We’re not looking for people’s CVs, but rather their 100-300-word answers to three questions. Then we’ll shortlist and send successful candidates a short task to complete ahead of interviews in w/c 4th October. They’ll be paid £150 for their time.

You can see more details on our dedicated recruitment Notion, including the role description, process/timeline, and link to apply.

Join our interview panel 

We’d like to invite folks from the network to join the recruitment interview panel. We’re looking for two people who can bring a balance of perspectives from different parts of the network (e.g. nonprofits, digital partners and funders with a range of Catalyst experiences), to join myself and Prisca from Collaborative Future. 

We can offer £400 for people’s time and it should also be a good learning opportunity for them! Plus, of course, it’s a chance to be part of helping shape the core team supporting the growth of Catalyst.

The panel will need to

  • Attend a session on inclusive interview skills run by Collaborative Future in w/c 27th September 
  • Read around 5 shortlisted applications and review the scores they’ve been given, on 1st-4th October (in your own time)
  • Attend interviews and decision panels in w/c 4th October. We estimate this taking ~7 hours in total over the week, dates and times will work around people’s availability.

If you’d like to be involved, and are free on those dates, please email ellie@thecatalyst.org.uk by 20th September.

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