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Catalyst – Cash for community projects

Catalyst is a £1.9m research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Research Council looking at how different communities use technology to make ‘the world’ a better place. It’s lead by Lancaster University and promises (mainly local) communities’ access to money, staff and facilities to build their better world.

At the obligatory launch event back in late November invitees were given a roadmap of the process which includes an opportunity for communities to bid for ‘launch-pad’ or ‘research sprint’ funding.
Three weeks later marked the real start of the project at the first Ideas Lab on December 14th. In contrast to the grey December day around 30 handpicked participants from voluntary organisations, community groups, Lancaster City Council, small businesses and academics met in a light, airy space at the Storey Gallery in Lancaster to kick the process off. Those present earned a place in the lab after submitting an idea for a community based project that broadly answered one or both of two big questions, framed by the research team;

  • what stimulates people to participate in civic actions and why,
  • and what next generation digital technologies best support how people want to innovate in a civic action setting?

Jez Hall was at the Ideas Lab. Jez is a community activist and director of ‘Shared Future’. He also works freelance for the participatory budgeting unit, a charity promoting citizen led democracy – which seems to fit perfectly with the aspirations of the research team. He came to the Lab with two clear ideas of what he’d like out of Catalyst. Both stretch way beyond building tech to the far trickier real world implementation raising the question of how citizens can improve their lot by co-designing, valuing and delivering activities within the social or public economy, to create a more sustainable, just, responsive society.

The Catalyst team are promising people like Hall the financial, human and technological resources to work with academic research teams on his projects. Project leader, Professor Jon Whittle from Lancaster University is keen to point out that the bulk of this resource will take the form of support from University staff offering their expertise in computing, environmental science, design, management and social science. However, there will also be smaller amount of cash for equipment and expenses.

The next step down the road requires community groups to submit a second, more refined proposal to the Catalyst team by 22nd December. At least they won’t be busy writing this funding application over the festive break.

Tags: News
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