Catalyst kickstarts unprecedented levels of open working in the charity sector to improve access to information and knowledge.

Over the past weeks, we've been working with a number of charities in the Catalyst network to help them share their digital work publicly, so that others can understand what they're doing and reuse it. The sector has embraced the idea.

Some 28 charities on funded programmes have already made their work - including research, design and processes - available for others to use. This level of sharing hasn’t been seen in the sector before and is set to continue as people in the sector feel the benefits, including connecting with others, using work that’s been done and saving time by finding ready-made solutions.

What is working in the open? 

Working in the open means sharing both the work you produce (such as research insights and prototypes) and also the way in which you work (such as what you are learning and the processes you are using). 

Sharing in the form of a weekly update (known as weeknotes) can consolidate learning and connect you with those who have either been through a similar process or who will go through the same process at a later date. Sharing experiences and ways through issues can give reassurance and help build confidence. Doing it weekly is also less cumbersome than ‘waiting until the end’ of the project - and reduces the need to ‘put a gloss on the project’. 

Supported by the Open Working Lineup, known as the OWLs, charities also share design assets they have put together - including personas, playbooks, user flow diagrams and wireframes.

Working in the open in this way is typically seen in digital transformation projects, such as the government website GOV.UK

The working in the open journey

For those who haven’t worked in the open before, it can take a leap of faith to actually publish something for the first time. The idea of putting something into the world that’s half-finished is not common and can feel uncomfortable. 

The OWLs have seen people follow the ‘working in the open’ journey, which follows someone learning what open working is, giving it a go for the first time, feeling unsure then getting feedback and wondering about doing it again. When they publish again and experience more of the benefits - including meeting others, finding information and feeling good, then they begin to do it more often (even working openly by default) and helping others to share.

Benefits to working in the open

As the charities have started the process of understanding how to work in the open, they’ve also been thinking about the reasons why it’s good to work in this way. 

In their own words, benefits for the people working openly include: “enabling connection and opportunities”, “positioning you well for getting funding’ and “saving time on your report writing at the end”. 

For those finding and using the open work, benefits include: “saving time if others have already made the mistakes or done the learning for you already” and “allowing me to give more time to core or bespoke activity, having gained solutions for back office tasks.”

It was also noted that using open work “avoids the duplication of work and effort. Why reinvent something if it already has been created? It’s better to put energy into making it better.”

Working in the open is good for everybody, with one person summing up: “you can share your experiences, knowledge and resources with others and they can also share theirs with you. You can both learn from each other and also adapt your own way of working, if their way works better.”

Working in the open in numbers

Most charities are only at the start of their open working journey, and half-way through their digital project. But already:

  • 131 charities have committed to working openly
  • 9 have completed their projects 
  • 55 are halfway through solo or collective 10-week projects 
  • 57 have started projects and will be sharing in March and April
  • 90 people have attended open working workshops
  • 44 people are writing about their process and reflections on Catalyst Medium, LinkedIn or their organisation’s blogs
  • 36 design outputs that others might reuse have been shared (we expect 150+ by 30 April 2021)

Everything that has been shared is able to be downloaded and reused as they are published under the Creative Commons licence.

Resources to help you share your work

If you want to write a blog post or weeknotes, use these blog post and weeknote templates to help you get started, and if you’re a Catalyst-supported project sign up to be a writer on Medium.

Catalyst is a charitable initiative to increase the resilience and responsiveness of UK civil society, through digital, design and data. We’re an alliance of civil society organisations, funders, and digital agencies. 

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