March 21, 2023

Field Building for Equitable Systems Change: Insights for Field Catalysts

In our research of over 100 different field catalysts globally, Bridgespan has found that these unique intermediaries can have different funding and operating models, various form factors (i.e., 501c3, movement, collaborative), and leadership and staff that come from a variety of experiences. This flexibility in design allows field catalysts to adapt to what the field needs. Nevertheless, field catalysts all share commonalities in the primary roles, activities, and assets that they leverage in their systems-change work.

Field catalysts bring four key assets to play their roles in field building for equitable systems change:

field building catalyst key assets charts

Field catalysts also generally engage in a set of core activities. Our research revealed over half of field catalysts we studied engaged in the following activities, including: 

  • Brokering and supporting relationships in the field
  • Coordinating joint learning and information sharing
  • Helping the field develop a common strategy and goal
  • Garnering funding and regranting to other organizations in the field
  • Translating academic and practical research
  • Tracking collective progress toward population-level impact

Lastly, our research has highlighted persistent underfunding as the number one challenge field catalysts face, and the severity of these gaps is especially hard given their unique work. In fact, most field catalysts experience very severe underfunding, needing to raise between half to two times their current budget. Underfunding exacerbates the other challenges field catalysts face, including:

field building challenges graphic: funding, talent, balance, learning


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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.