The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

Ellie Hale
Catalyst
Published in
6 min readDec 16, 2022

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Borrowing this weeknote title from Joe, who’s running our weeknote sessions (thanks Joe!) This is a reflection on the last two weeks.

The good

Initiative Lead (IL) decision meetings

These have been a bit mixed actually, to be honest. No-one said co-budgeting with twenty partners from different organisations would be easy! But the good is that each circle has reached consent decisions on how to allocate its remaining budget for the year, and we’ve got all their contracts amended accordingly. This is an achievement.

A reminder of which initiatives are in which circles, and who runs them (in brackets). Screenshot from our Intro to Catalyst slide deck https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1AZTAR3USv1I0_b8v3vF760m6xR5EahfovvEWeiHf_GU/edit#slide=id.g12bd6029215_0_621

In our retros from the meetings, partners have noted how peer input into their proposals has noticeably strengthened them. Particularly around areas of inclusion, which is promising. Also lots to learn and improve on for next time, as ever.

Screenshot of a Jamboard from our Support & Training circle retro, which can be found here: https://jamboard.google.com/d/1Im3WsJADrLp7TnTDbunJ8OFS_Y__o-exVN4NeTz6Djc/viewer?f=0

Facilitation and consent decision-making support

The brilliant Aaron and Abi from Outlandish’s BuildingOUT team have been supporting our Initiative Lead circles as facilitators. This has been a huge help to us Producers, particularly through the cobudgeting decision meetings and a couple of emotional retros on our collective work.

Finishing our interim impact report

Finally got this out the door last week to our lovely funders, and I’m proud of it. It shows the (huge) breadth and depth of activity happening across Catalyst at the moment.

A screenshot from our interim impact report, showing the initiatives in the Collaborative Network circle. The full report is here https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/12g2NgSthgPjrrpEXhSGIiZx1gzKxCnBH/edit?pli=1#slide=id.g1a1b958b2fb_0_513

Working with Lauren Coulman and our Steering Group

I love our Steering Group. I published a blog this week about their recruitment and some of their latest updates. They were brilliantly supportive when we met for a Q&A last week and explained we need to push back our review timelines in order to work in accordance with our own values, and not run ourselves into the ground.

Its facilitator and our strategic support partner, Lauren Coulman, has a warm, heart-centred approach to space-holding and system change that really fills me with joy.

She’s full of wisdom and I’m really appreciating our conversations and reflection sessions. We’ve been reflecting on the time of massive values shifts we’re living through at the moment and one quote that stuck with me from last week is that systems change is about personal transformation. This keeps coming up in our work, particularly in chats around inclusion and owning the impact of our actions, not just the intentions.

New inclusion consultants

It has been a total pleasure to meet our new Inclusion facilitators, Held Collective. Each conversation genuinely feels like we are being held, expertly and with care, compassion and solidarity. They’ll be supporting our Inclusion Working Group to ensure all our spaces and services have inclusion embedded at their very heart, and that partners contributing to Catalyst have a better shared understanding of what this means and looks like.

QSA trustee meeting

I was super inspired by my Quaker Social Action Council (trustee) meeting last Monday. We discussed how make lived experience more central to the organisation’s work, building on a great paper prepared by the leadership team.

QSA’s role as Local Trusted Organisation on four Big Local projects has been a fabulous source of learning on this. Big Locals put power and funding directly in the hands of communities. Also some fascinating parallels to the collective resource-allocation experiments we’re attempting at Catalyst!

I feel so privileged to be part of this organisation — the care, thoughtfulness and focus they bring to everything never ceases to impress and amaze me. And I love the Quaker Business Method we follow in our trustee meetings — it’s extremely psychologically and spiritually sound. After 5 years as a trustee I also now finally feel confident in how I add value, and how to contribute artfully to the group’s discussion and discernment.

Personal stuff

I’ve been wrangling some really tough personal news over the last month or so. These last two weeks finally feel like I’ve turned a corner. A thick veil of sadness has been lifted, and instead of feeling totally overwhelmed I’m actually feeling things will be ok. A bit more ‘me’ again. That’s a huge relief.

The bad

Festive frazzle

This seems an annual event, and I love Lauren’s coining of it as ‘festive frazzle’. This tweet from Annette Dhami strongly resonated:

Text reads: Everybody is massively wilting around me (v much inc me) & a colleague pointed out today the lack of sync of the end-of-yr-push sitting alongside the seasonal change into darkness that makes us desperate to hibernate. Ahhh to be able to led the body lead the way. Working on it.

Several members of Catalyst are burnt out and struggling at the moment. It seems to have been a hard year all round. But part of the issue is also down to some of the ways we’ve been working. There’s the productivist, growth-oriented mindset that we’re all conditioned by. Then the emotional pressure of intensely collaborative and relational working (without time or space to meet in person and build the required trust), especially when there are tensions and ruptures to hold and heal. It’s taking its toll. We’ve all noted the difficulty of trying to birth new systems within old ones.

Wondering what’s next for our sociocracy experiment

When we adopted the sociocratic circle model for our initiative delivery work, it was a chance to bring more equitable power-sharing processes into Catalyst. It was an important step in shifting decision-making and resource-allocation away solely from the centre/CAST. This felt like quite a radical and progressive experiment a year ago, compared to the transactional relationships we had had before!

But it increasingly feels like we’ve outgrown parts of it now.

This kind of working requires a lot of time, energy and attention. There’s a big cognitive load and despite making some improvements on last time ILs still reported finding it overwhelming.

I also don’t feel like the way we’re using consent decision-making at the moment holds enough space for more challenging and uncomfortable conversations around inclusion, which are totally essential.

We experimented with a new traffic light scoring system for assessing the inclusion aspect of each initiative this time, designed and completed by our Inclusion Working Group. It was helpful in many ways, but introduced slightly late in the process, and I think we’ve learned that a proposal for budget allocation should be at least on mostly Amber or Green before coming to a circle decision meeting. Otherwise we end up trying to have two conversations — both of which are complex and emotive — in one. Which is confusing and difficult for all involved.

Lots to reflect on as we think about how to iterate this again in the new year.

Workload

I’ve worked a standard 7–8hr day most days in the last month, and been far more disciplined about not working evenings and weekends. This is nowhere near enough time to do all the essentials of this work, let alone create enough space to process and reflect and support others.

We’ve all been facing the age-old tension of wanting to slow down, do less, and practice a de-growth mindset, while knowing the need for our work keeps increasing and there’s so much to be done.

Thankfully, this week we’ve made some headway in identifying extra resource needed to support us next year. Although recruitment also takes time and energy, it really pays off.

The beautiful

Nature

Today is a sunny day. I ran along the cliffs and noticed the frost, gilding all the grass and foliage.

I spent last weekend on a women’s retreat in Snowdonia, which was so nourishing.

Humans

Knowing when to say ‘no, this isn’t working, we have to pause and reconsider’, as we’re doing with our review timeline, is a real skill. I really appreciate Lauren, Siana and Jo in particular for each doing this in separate ways over the last few weeks. For example, we realised we simply won’t meet our self-imposed March deadline of completing the strategic review if we’re to give it the depth and space it deserves, and not burn out in the process. Our Steering Group were beautifully supportive of us extending the timeline.

I’ve also really appreciated the beauty of people showing up with honesty and vulnerability in conversations recently. It takes courage. We’re all on various journeys of learning, unlearning, growing, healing and better relating to each other. I find it very beautiful that our culture at Catalyst endeavours to hold that messiness. It feels important.

Brave space

I shared with a couple of partners this week something that was shared on a Healing Justice LDN webinar that has really stuck with me (in fact the whole webinar, part of their #MovementMedicine series, was incredible). The concept of ‘brave space’ — coined by Micky ScottBey Jones.

This is the sort of culture we’re trying to create at Catalyst. Not easy or straightforward, but I also find it tremendously inspiring. It feels like it speaks to something stirring that connects with our hearts more than our heads.

‘Invitation to Brave space’ https://beaconhouse.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Brave-Space.pdf

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Ellie Hale
Catalyst

Connecting & nurturing relationships, communities and networks at Catalyst (currently incubated by CAST). Co-organiser of several tech for good meetups.