Chrysalis and butterfly

An update on our review, renew and transition phase.

Catalyst is currently embarking on a review, renew and transition phase. The Our Story page on our website outlines the first part of our journey, and our taking stock blog shared a more recent update. This blog delves a little deeper into the reasons for transition and where we’re at with it.

A need for change

Over the last year, Catalyst services, resources and networks have supported thousands of organisations in urgent need. We have been able to test different approaches, and we’ve learned a lot. We’ve made some incredible progress, but, unsurprisingly, it hasn’t all worked. 

Network research by our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion partner, Collaborative Future, found that for many partners, our collective intentions are not borne out by their experience of Catalyst. It emphasised the need to share power and practice through more equitable, relational and collaborative ways of working.

Things we’re addressing:

  1. For many, Catalyst is synonymous with CAST.
    Catalyst’s crisis response programmes concentrated power and decision-making more directly with this incubating organisation and away from the collective model we aspire to. We’re not yet sure exactly what is the right collective model to achieve Catalyst’s ambitions, but we need to work it out.
  2. We need to find a way to work in genuine partnership.
    The nature of our most recent funding and a desire to be open and fair with all contracting has meant that we created a separation between the ‘core team’ and the ‘wider network’. The core team has driven the strategy and management of contracts, and is mostly people employed by CAST, plus Shift and DOT PROJECT through the Beyond programme. The ‘wider network’ is anyone pitching for a brief, applying for a grant, or on the receiving end of decisions made by the core team - including people leading Catalyst services that deliver vital support. We want to move beyond these traditional client/supplier or funder/grantee relationships, while still mindful of conflicts of interest.
  3. We need more diverse and equitable representation across Catalyst.
    Last summer, the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted just how urgently we need to recognise how power, privilege and oppression play out across the sector. Our own research showed the same is true of Catalyst. We need to be more honest about current inequalities in the Catalyst system, intentional about who Catalyst is by and for, who we are excluding at each turn and why, and constantly challenge the ‘we’ that get to make these calls. 

Where we’re heading

Catalyst’s vision - the collective transformation of civil society through digital, data and design - is huge and no one organisation can achieve this alone. Anyone acting towards that vision should feel able to act as (not with) Catalyst. 

In Summer 2021, we’re looking to recruit a small dedicated team who will focus on reviewing the work done across Catalyst to date, co-designing the next phase with the network, and leading it into the future. 

Questions they will be asking include:

  • What kind of ‘field builder’ should Catalyst be?
  • What governance model would enable the network to surface and work towards our shared aims and vision in the best way possible?
  • How should information and value flow through the network? 
  • What is Catalyst’s place in the wider sector ecosystem, and what role/activities should it focus on?
  • What should Catalyst’s relationship be with its incubating organisation, CAST?

See this blog for more details. The timings have been pushed back slightly, but the intentions remain the same.

Where we are now

Right now, Catalyst is buzzing with activity. There are countless teams working to build digital capacity, products and services for and with civil society. The questions ‘what and who is Catalyst?’ are being asked and answered in a multitude of ways by different groups, depending on what relationship they’ve had with different parts of Catalyst to date. There’s value in this diversity, albeit challenging to get your head around.

"I know what it is but I struggle to describe it." 

Ultimately, Catalyst is an opportunity to collaboratively and intentionally shape what ‘digital in the social sector’ looks and feels like.

Perhaps the most accurate, though not simple, description of what this looks like in practice is an ecology of (somewhat) interconnected support initiatives, networks, community spaces, learning infrastructures and digital commons. Each of these activities is helping transform the sector’s approach to digital, and to supporting communities.  

The next phase will look to bring coherence and shared understanding to this complex picture. 

Work underway

There is a small group of people laying the groundwork for the next phase. They have two initial goals:

  1. Seek funding to both maintain momentum of existing Catalyst work and begin a transition to its next iteration
  2. Work collaboratively with the network to ensure recruitment of the new dedicated Catalyst team is as fair, equitable, transparent and open a process as possible.

They have each been appointed on an interim basis subject to review by the new team once it is in place. Details of who is involved and how can be found on this Coda.

There are also a small number of temporary, experimental working groups, which are currently testing more decentralised forms of organising across Catalyst. They are working on questions including:

  • What is the best approach to openly communicating how Catalyst is evolving and how people can get involved? (i.e. an improvement on this blog and the Coda!)
  • What infrastructure and rituals are needed for information to flow usefully between different decentralised groups?
  • How best to surface and reflect the work and learnings of the network back to itself?

This is all very much work in progress but you can see this page for more information and to get involved.

For this to work, it’s going to need the perspectives and wisdom of many. If you’d like to share any thoughts, questions or reflections on anything - and please do - you can comment directly in Coda or drop me an email at

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Our Catalyst network - what we do

Support & services

Our free services help you make the right decisions and find the right support to make digital happen.

Learn what other non-profits are doing

39+ organisations share 50+ Guides to how they use digital tools to run their services. Visit Shared Digital Guides.

Flowers with multicoloured petals collage that says Hope

What’s given us hope this year?

Ellie Hale
Ellie Hale
Jo Morfee
Jo Morfee
Megan Gray
Megan Gray