Two years ago Catalyst began with a question: ‘how we can collectively recreate civil society so that it works for everyone in an era where digital is so integrated across all areas of our lives?’ (no biggie).
It’s one we asked at our launch event in July 2019 and feels more vital now than ever. To date, Catalyst's mission has been to act as a ‘field catalyst’ - a systems-level intermediary organisation - for the collective transformation of civil society through digital, design and data. Catalyst currently exists as an ecology of (somewhat) interconnected support initiatives, networks, community spaces, learning infrastructures and digital commons.
Time to take stock
With so many more organisations now actively exploring a digitally enabled future, we have an even bigger opportunity to collaboratively and intentionally shape what ‘digital in the social sector’ looks and feels like.
This is worth reflecting on. Particularly now at the anniversary of the first UK lockdown. As we head into the bank holiday weekend this feels a good time to take stock and share some of the things we’re thinking in the CAST team (and beyond) about Catalyst.
It’s nearly two years since Catalyst launched, and what a journey it’s been!
In the last year, the digital confidence and capabilities of our sector have shot forward in response to the challenges of the pandemic. This has brought different issues to the fore; digital inclusion, effective online safeguarding and accessibility of digital services are now a concern for the majority of charities rather than a few specialists. Conversations about technology, data and design are in a very different place now to when Catalyst started.
Your response has been inspiring
There’s been such an inspiring response from those already engaged in this work. In the last year, against a backdrop of so much change and uncertainty, we’ve seen services and resources from the Catalyst network accessed over 40,000 times; hundreds of nonprofits funded and given support by digital partners and each other; and a growing collection of open, reusable tools and learning shared across a 350+ strong network of collaborators.
It’s been a huge learning curve and a privilege to work alongside so many incredible organisations. Thank you.
Now we’re looking ahead to the future.
We’re committed to maintaining the momentum of the vital Catalyst services that are delivering value and supporting those in need.
We’ve also been working with our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion partners, Collaborative Future, and freelance writer and user researcher Joe Roberson, to understand what people want Catalyst to be. Though we’ve only scratched the surface, we’ve determined the next step is to recruit a small dedicated team that can focus on developing Catalyst as a more collective effort.
The new team’s role
Our current thinking is that the team will explore and co-design with anyone keen to get involved:
- A review of Catalyst’s vision, strategy and structure
- What kind of ‘field builder’ Catalyst should be (something we never fully bottomed out, though we have a lot to draw on, from early ideas to the very practical learnings of the last 12 months)
- The role/activities Catalyst should focus on
- A governance model that enables the network to surface and work towards our shared aims and vision in the best way possible
- Catalyst’s relationship with its incubating organisation, CAST.
As part of this work, we’ll work with the network to transition Catalyst's structure and culture towards whatever comes out of the analysis and, from there, lead Catalyst into the future.
As the first (and so far, only) member of this nascent team, I’m excited to build on the relationships we’ve formed with many of you to help shape this process. I also look forward to hearing new voices, wisdom and perspectives from the network and beyond.
Stewards to support the team
We’re looking to support this new team with a group of stewards. The design of the stewards’ role, including the responsibilities, terms and value exchange, is still to be worked out and will evolve as Catalyst learns more about what’s needed.
Initially we’ve drawn stewards from the existing core partners: CAST, DOT PROJECT and Shift, who came together last March to pivot Catalyst’s strategy in response to COVID-19 and have been driving the coordination of crisis response initiatives ever since. They’re joined by Collaborative Future and the Centre for Knowledge Equity, whose support and challenge are helping ensure equity and inclusiveness are embedded in our approach. They have each been appointed on an interim basis subject to review by the new team once it is in place.
We’re committed to widening the diversity of this group so it becomes more representative of the network and different perspectives/experiences - watch this space for more on this soon.
How you can influence this change
We want to work with the network (you!) to ensure the recruitment of the team and additional stewards is as fair and transparent as possible. As a starting point we'd love your input into what the roles are, and what qualities we should look for in the hiring process. Nothing is set in stone and we’ll design in the open. We’ll be sending a survey after the bank holiday break to all subscribers of the Catalyst newsletter, to capture your insights and ideas - so this is a heads up.
If you’d like to share any initial thoughts or questions in the meantime, you can book a call with me or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is just the start, and I look forward to sharing more tangible opportunities to get involved as they arise.