Catalyst is an interdisciplinary research project, based at Lancaster University in the UK, which brings together academics and communities to jointly imagine and build the next generation of digital tools for social change, and to explore innovative, bottom-up technology-mediated solutions to major problems in society.
Catalyst brings together a team of academics from a range of disciplines including social science, computing, design, and management science. It unites these with community organisations – large and small – based in Lancaster, Manchester and further afield. Teams of academics and community organisations form partnerships to research specific technological innovations aimed at social change.
In its first two years, Catalyst has built a network of over 90 community organisations (charities, local authorities, social enterprises, community groups, etc.) and 8 academic departments at Lancaster University. Catalyst has carried out 11 community-university partnerships, working on a diverse range of topics, including: digital services for the homeless, a digital anxiety management tool for people with autism, a mobile trading tracking application aimed at supporting local trading practices, a tool for sharing biometric data across social networks aimed at supporting competitive athletes, and tools that encourage energy users to reflect on the supply side of energy management so that society can be resilient in the face of inevitable energy shortages yet to come.
Across all these projects lie the common themes of: (1) citizen-led innovation through equal partnerships between the University and its community; (2) digital innovations addressing real problems with real people.