3 images. 1. A pot of Marmite, 2. 4 children sat around 2 chess boards, 3 chart showing lots of lines pointing in different random directions with large dots at the end of some lines to show decentralisation.

Catalyst is working on a new strategy and an 18 month review. Apart from that it's business as usual. Only there is no such thing as ‘business as usual’ at Catalyst…

Catalyst is at a point of transformation. (Like it’s ever been doing anything else 😉)

It’s best known for its pandemic support and services to charities.

But its original mission wasn’t to help them navigate the pandemic.

Its original mission was to create systems change within civic society, using experimentation.

Its original vision was of growing an ecosystem of people who want to make the world better through digital, focusing on the social sector as a key component.

“Civic and social organisations are resilient and responsive to the changing needs, behaviours and expectations of their communities, confidently using digital tools and processes to achieve their charitable objectives.” - Catalyst Strategy, December 2019

Two years on from its flip to delivering services, it still has the potential to do more. The potential to be bigger and play a part in the multiple transitions going on in UK society. 

And it has five year funding to do this. So funders are right behind it

We’re planning a future. This blog explains what we’ve been doing. 

Catalyst is like Marmite, insect protein and owls

Catalyst is experimental and cutting edge within the social sector. There is nothing quite like it. In the same way as using insects to turn food waste into protein it's become necessary to do something radically different. Otherwise we won’t change how technology is used. 

Catalyst is also a bit like Marmite to some people. They either get it or they don’t. They either feel part of it or on the edge. It’s not surprising because Catalyst exists to serve multiple audiences in different ways. There is some complexity. We want it to be better understood. We want it to be more inclusive.

Catalyst is also like an owl. Because there is a lot of wisdom within the network and its initiatives. And like owls, Catalyst is able to rotate its head and take a 360 degree view. And it can look back at the past and take some learnings under its wings and into the future. 

What the producers have been doing

Catalyst has a team of three producers. For the first time it has dedicated resources to shape itself and create ways for the network to shape it. 

Here’s what Jo, Ellie and Siana have been doing lately.

Working on strategy

The world has changed and Catalyst’s vision is shifting in response. Catalyst needs a new strategy. 

Catalyst also needs to be simpler to explain to people. We hope a new vision and mission, contained in the strategy, will help us do this. 

We’re using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) framework to develop the strategy. It uses only 2 pages and focuses on values first. 

We’re now looking at vision, mission and quarterly, 1, 3 and 5 year goals. We’re doing this because everyone needs purpose, to know why they exist and to be able to see progress and movement towards a goal. 

“We're also conscious that we want to leave room for 'emergent' thinking and for things to evolve, so it needs to be a loose strategic container” - Jo Morfee, Catalyst Producer

We were initially unsure whether we should be leading the strategy as producers or if the network should be. So we’re doing both. This means we’ll be presenting a draft strategy to the network (this summer), asking what they think and having a conversation about it. 

Mapping Catalyst’s stakeholders

We’ve been asking ‘who is who?’, ‘what is what?’, and ‘how do people need to be engaged with?’, in Catalyst. It’s important to ask because these questions are part of any good review process, but it also brings producers Jo and Siana, as relatively new team members, closer to everyone.

However, stakeholder mapping is a tool designed for hierarchical organisations, something Catalyst aspires not to be. And still it has been useful, showing us where power resides (mainly centrally in Producers and CAST’s board). This is a necessary starting point for shifting it.

Shifting power actually began last year when initiative leads and their circles were given autonomy over their direction and resources.

Planning the next part of the review

In case you didn’t already know, our work is part of a full review of Catalyst. This started slowly in November and is now gathering pace. The review is:

  • A normal strategic review, looking at vision, missions, goals, objectives, problems and opportunities
  • An exploration of how we might decentralise Catalyst and distribute power more equally across it as a network or ecology of organisations and people.

We have identified six strands to work on (and leads for each):

  1. Strategy - Jo Morfee
  2. Governance (including models) - Siana Bangura
  3. Operations - Jo
  4. Network engagement and communications - Siana
  5. Research - Ellie Hale
  6. Insight and impact - Ellie

Review timescale:

  • December 2022: review completion
  • Jan 2023 - September 2023: consolidate and evaluate what we’ve learned
  • April 2023 - November 2023: implement review findings
  • November 2023: New model implemented

Things happen more slowly when there’s lots of collaboration and attempts to decentralise and shift power.

No assumptions

We’re not making many assumptions about what is going to happen over the next 18 months. At the moment just when we think we have some clarity about Catalyst more questions arise. So we’re trying to stay open to what Catalyst might be doing and looking like in the future. 

This isn’t easy if you come from a hierarchical organisation like most of us do. It’s a challenge!

Nonetheless we ask you to join us in noticing any assumptions you have about Catalyst, staying open to its possibilities, and meeting the challenges that arise from trying to be this way with it. 

Next steps

Right now our focus is on producing a draft strategy. Then it’ll be engaging with the network to gain consensus for Catalyst’s direction of travel. When that’s done we will research different models that can influence how Catalyst operates and is governed in the future.

Meanwhile nothing is paused. 

All Catalyst initiatives will continue. They embody decentralised working and have autonomy to run without direction from Catalyst’s core.

As we work we’re going to be open and transparent about what we’re doing. There will be open workshops, we’ll use existing forums like the network meetup to share, and we’ll write about it. 

Make a contribution

If you want to support Catalyst’s next steps then we welcome you to get more involved. Catalyst is not exclusive. It contains people from charities, digital agencies, funding organisations, systems thinkers, coaches, designers, freelancers and many other types of people.  

Sign up for the newsletter or follow us in other places.

Or of course you can just say hello.

Written by Joe Roberson, based on an interview with Jo Morfee.

Images attribution: Marmite by David Martyn Hunt and "Teen Chess" by Darien Library and 05 Swarm control : Decentralised by Cesar Harada

all marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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