Photo of Dan Sutch, Director at CAST

As part of our series of interviews with charity leaders doing pioneering work with digital during COVID-19 we were delighted to catch up with Dan Sutch, Director at CAST, about his work with Catalyst. 

1. For those who may be new to Catalyst, can you tell us a bit more about what it is and CAST’s role in it?

Catalyst is a collective of digital agencies, charities and funders working to make best use of  data, digital and design to improve things for our communities. We are working with 250 agencies and 10 funders on it right now. Digital, data and design are flexible tools and we think by harnessing and owning them we can create a more resilient and flexible social sector. 

CAST has been incubating Catalyst for the last 18 months and providing its governance. Catalyst is trying to bring the very best people across the sector together to remake civil society. 

2.Through Catalyst’s work what trends are you seeing in how charities use digital to respond to

One of the big parts of our work in Catalyst Insights is to see the trends that are coming through. There are 3 key ones that I’d like to share.  

  • There is a seismic increase in demand for digital from charities. London Funders say that 75% of the applications that are coming into them have a digital element- a big rise from pre lockdown. 
  • There have been huge numbers of experiments. Organisations have been less fearful as there are no other options! The mindset shift we have talked about for years has happened overnight. 

For example, Clore Social Leadership moved quickly to design one of their courses in response to Covid, redesigning it for an online setting and seeing it become its most popular course. 

Action for Children developed their product Parent Talk. It is an online version of a children’s centre offering expert support and guidance to parents who have challenges or concerns. They were testing it before Covid and then scaled it up once we went into lockdown.

  • We’ve seen changes in what charities need at different stages of the pandemic. Initially people needed help with business continuity, using remote tools, then they needed support in how to move work online and add value. Now we are moving into a new phase of digital maturity. I see charities asking how they can do digital well and offer good online services, and how can they organise themselves better? The next trend should be about intentionally designing how we can use digital, data and design in a coherent and thoughtful way for greater social impact. 

3. What is the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response fund and how will it help charities?

It is really exciting. We are working with the National Lottery Community Fund. It is a fund that recognises that we can help charities rebuild and use digital and put data, digital and design at the heart of what they do. 

We offer direct grants to charities, and alongside this enable them to work with partners who can help them, experts in data, digital and design, and importantly, those who have experience in supporting charities. We are particularly interested in organisations collaborating and sharing learnings and sharing their process with others. Reuse is really important to this fund. Any code that is created is open sourced and any content will be under creative commons. We want to support networks of charities as that will help scale their impact. We will make sure partner organisations collaborate with each other too.

We have been able to design it so there is a Discovery phase and at the end of that we have briefs to share with the network – we know how important discovery is to good digital projects

I am excited that it’s now launched and particularly that it’s been influenced by great work from Dot Project and Shift Design. It is built by a collaborative, united by a collective ambition to improve civil society.

All of the work will be completed by March 2021. The deadline for the Development  programme is 5pm on 20th September and we will make decisions by 2 October. We will create services and support to help those who don’t get the funding. 

We are looking for more support for clusters of charities based on issues, for example early parenthood or financial resilience, or domestic violence, but there may also be stuff around digital maturity, geography, or different social issues where you have a shared community. We will come out with lots of new insights and impact and we will share these with the sector. 

The support is being delivered by the Catalyst network. Find out more about the COVID-19 Digital Response Fund. 

4. What should charities do to access this support?

Charities can apply here. And please do take a look at all the support over on Catalyst too!  

5. Understanding users is a central part of Catalyst’s ethos. Can you suggest what charities on a budget can do to gain these insights?

User research is even more important now as COVID-19 has led to a huge change in behaviours. My advice is: 

  • If you are talking with your community on Facebook or other social platforms, ask people where they are going for support so you can understand your behaviours
  • Come and join a CAST Design Hop, they are free and online and you can do it alone or with a cohort. 
  • Use your existing comms channels. Have a team research question you are all asking eg ‘which other groups would you recommend to someone else in your situation’ and make it part of all your interactions with users. It means that you are then designing with them in mind. 
  • You can also do remote research easily
  • Finally SCVO have been sharing content about user research as part of their DigiShift resources and webinars. Check out their service design webinars and podcasts here.

Keep an eye on Catalyst for more support opportunities for your charity. Sign up to the newsletter for information.