Catalyst Projects

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A Natural Change Catalyst Project creates time and space for leaders and influencers to work together to tackle a critical, complex challenge. Applying their expertise and experience, the group draw on insights from social and ecological psychology and systems thinking to develop effective strategies to catalyse real change.

who it is for

A Catalyst Project can be commissioned by any organisation – public, private or third sector – that seeks to catalyse real change for a fair and sustainable world. To create an effective group based on deep trust and shared purpose, a maximum of 12 people take part in each project.

Catalyst Project or Leadership Programme? Catalyst Projects support a group of partners or stakeholders to tackle one specific problem or challenge. Leadership Programmes develop people’s capacity to bring about meaningful, long-term, lasting change in a range of situations.

case study: education

WWF Scotland identified that delivering the targets included in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 would require a fundamental change in Scotland’s schools to ensure that young people left formal education equipped to live a low-carbon life. In 2010, they commissioned a Natural Change Catalyst Project that brought together 12 influential stakeholders from the Scottish formal education sector. This group went on to catalyse fundamental changes in Scottish school education. By 2014 Scotland was recognised by UNESCO as a world leader in Learning for Sustainability in schools.

how it helps

Complex problems are typically embedded in a web of cultural, structural and technical factors. By definition they are not amenable to simple cause and effect analysis. The nature of these problems means incremental change is not sufficient.

Successful solutions will only be found by embracing the complexity of these problems and adopting a systems-thinking approach. Such thinking enables key points of leverage to be identified and a range of mutually reinforcing activities to be designed. This multi-faceted approach can then be applied within the interlocking web of cultural, structural and technical factors to catalyse a transformative step-change in the system.

A Catalyst Project creates a strong, committed peer-group of leaders built on deep trust who:

  • Are skilled in systems thinking and working with uncertainty;
  • Embrace complexity to design and implement multi-faceted strategies;
  • Have the courage, vision and resilience needed to catalyse transformative change.

Natural Change projects have a profound impact. Organisational culture and professional practice have changed. Government policy has been influenced.

The complex nature of the challenges that projects tackle are such that specific outcomes cannot be defined; as with any genuine innovation or transformation, the result can not by definition be predicted in advance.

For those willing to accept the nature of such challenges, Natural Change fosters an enduring sense of commitment, achievement and belonging that enables the group to lead change they never thought possible.

potential applications

A Catalyst Project can tackle challenges and build solutions in a range of contexts. Applications include:

  • Businesses and other organisations: developing and implementing sustainability, environmental or social responsibility strategies
  • Charitable trusts and other funding agencies: re-thinking funding strategies to maximise impact
  • NGO and civil society coalitions: developing new approaches to meet mission objectives
  • Producers and manufacturers: embedding sustainability and responsibility into a supply chain, involving stakeholders at every stage from production and sourcing through to sales and end of life
  • Government agencies: engaging partners and stakeholders in policy development and implementation
  • Networks and partnerships: developing effective processes for collaboration and service delivery.

what to expect

Each Catalyst Project follows a tried and tested pattern, tailored to the particular needs of the client, the issue and the stakeholders.

A Catalyst Project brings together selected people from organisations and groups with a stake in the situation, and supports them to work together to address it by:

  • developing a strong group dynamic based on mutual understanding and deep trust, where people feel safe to both question and support each other;
  • providing a stimulating, creative space and sufficient time to step back and evaluate the situation from a fresh perspective;
  • offering a range of activities and tools to develop solutions and implement them.

Each project is led by two Natural Change facilitators.

Inception & development

On commissioning we work with the client to define the scope of the project, identify potential group members, and agree dates and locations for residential workshops. If required, we assist with identifying and engaging leaders and influencers; this may include one-to-one meetings and introductory workshops.


A series of three five-day residential workshops in a wild and beautiful place. During these residentials we will mostly work outside, weather permitting, and we will support the group to feel comfortable and safe outdoors. Some sessions will run indoors if the weather insists.

The three residentials are typically spread over six to twelve months, allowing sufficient time in between for the group to investigate the problem and its context, to develop strategies to address it, and to start implementing them. One-to-one mentoring from project facilitators is available to support the activity between workshops and after the final workshop.

Each residential includes:

  • small and whole group activities;
  • individual tasks including structured wilderness ‘solo’ time;
  • theory and discussions sessions.

After each residential, participants:

  • work individually, and sometimes in small groups, on the problem in the ‘real world’;
  • have access to support from Natural Change mentors.

Participants share ideas and proposals, and review their experience with other participants at each subsequent residential.

By the end of the project the group will have:

  • developed a clear understanding of the problem and its context;
  • agreed, and started applying, appropriate strategies to tackle the problem, and a range of skills and techniques to apply them;
  • formed a strongly cohesive group, keen to continue working on the problem, and able to support each other effectively as they do so.

Read about our approach to find out why Natural Change is so effective.

Our Approach>>

continuing the journey

Participants often say that Natural Change has a profound effect on them, significantly influencing their perspectives and ways of working. They value the opportunity to continue exploring the issues that matter to them with others who share their experience of Natural Change.

Catalyst Project participants can join the Natural Change Community of people who have taken part in Natural Change projects, programmes and courses. This diverse professional network provides a source of ongoing support, advice and collaboration to sustain your change-making into the future.

commission a catalyst project

If you are interested in commissioning a Catalyst Project, please contact us.

Contact us >>

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