Getting to know Catalyst#
Welcome to Catalyst! We’re so excited to have you as part of our team. This document should provide you with everything you need to know about being a contractor or member of the Cooperative.
Catalyst in 30 Seconds#
Need an elevator pitch for your family or your linked-in? Here’s the spiel:
Catalyst Cooperative is a worker-owned, mission-driven tech cooperative that is committed to making public energy data more accessible. We clean and connect financial, operational, material, and environmental power plant data from sources such as FERC, EIA, and EPA and publish them in various machine and human readable formats. All of our code and data products are open source; we pursue grants to bolster this bottom line and client partnerships to add more analysis to the data. Our goal is to provide clean energy advocates with the tools to make meaningful policy recommendations that can expedite the transition away from fossil fuels.
Hold up. What is a co-op? What makes it different from a non-profit or a regular corporate start-up? Here’s a high level overview:
Q: What is a worker cooperative?
A: Worker cooperatives (aka co-ops) are jointly-owned, democratically-governed, values-driven businesses that prioritize equality, solidarity, and worker well-being. Co-ops must officially register as such in the state of their choice.
Q: What is the difference between a worker co-op and a nonprofit?
A: Co-ops and nonprofits are both mission-driven, community-centric organizations, but there are some key differences. As tax-exempt entities, nonprofits are required to engage in specific educational or charitable pursuits as defined by the state in which they are registered. Co-ops have no such restrictions. Nonprofits are also barred from redistributing profits to investors or members whereas co-ops distribute their wealth to members. Nonprofit funding is also limited to grants and donations while co-ops can acquire an unrestricted portion of funds from the sale of goods and services.
Q: What is the difference between a worker co-op and a for-profit corporation?
A: Co-ops are another type of corporation, just like nonprofits and for-profits. The main difference between a co-op and a traditional for-profit entity is ownership. Where corporations are owned by individuals or shareholders, co-ops are owned by their employees or patrons. Co-op ownership shares are usually determined by patronage making them more equitably distributed than shares or stocks in for-profit entities. Co-ops also have a strict one-person-one-vote policy unlike for-profit shareholders whose influence is often proportional to their share of the company. Because co-ops are owned by people that are directly involved in the business, they are accountable to the success and well-being of their employees or patrons rather than external shareholders.
Q: What are some of the benefits of worker co-ops over other types of corporations?
A: Co-ops are a great middle ground between nonprofits and for profits. They provide a direct correlation between serving the community and benefiting those who serve; they endow the traditional business model with accountability and a true service mentality; and they align employee and business needs.
Read more about co-ops:
The steps involved in starting a worker coop (originally from the US Small Business Administration, copy hosted by the Tory Burch Foundation)
Catalyst’s Governing Documents#
Catalyst is a worker co-op registered in Colorado. This is because it was originally founded in Colorado, and Colorado provides a favorable legal environment for co-ops .
Articles of Incorporation: The document filed with the state of Colorado to create the cooperative. The Articles state the purpose of the cooperative and lays out its basic structure and powers. As an Article 56 Colorado cooperative , the entity issues shares to the members it admits. These members have sole control over the cooperative.
Bylaws Where the governance and execution powers of the cooperative are determined. Each section lays out the general procedures for operating the cooperative, including language governing the process for admitting and removing members, the mechanics of member meetings, the role and composition of the Board of Directors, decision-making thresholds, and the distribution of patronage and methods of internal capital accounting.
Code of Conduct : Community guidelines for working at Catalyst and contributing to PUDL.
Policy Handbook: A manual explaining the rules, expectations, and benefits afforded to all co-op members and contractors. These policies are not related to governance, but rather pertain to topics like time-off, stipends, and expected or required hours contributions.
Contractors vs. Employee-Members#
Catalyst’s work is carried out by both contractors and co-op employee-members. New hires spend the first six months as contractors during which time they will participate in three and six month check-in calls with members. At the end of the six month period, also referred to as the “candidacy period”, the members will vote on whether to invite the contractor to become a member of the co-op. Contractors must work a minimum of 500 hours during their six month candidacy in order to be eligible for membership. This is in line with our member minimum of 1000 hours per year to retain membership and equates to a little over 20 hours per week. Our intention is that, barring problems identified during the candidacy period or unforeseen financial hardship for the co-op, all member-track contractors will eventually become co-op members. Contractors are not meant to be in competition with each other for a limited number of membership slots.
After taxes, contractors and members receive the same hourly rate. Employee-members receive additional benefits that contractors do not, including PTO, a share of company dividends, retirement contributions, reimbursements for tech or visiting other members, and they pay half of the payroll taxes that contractors pay (independent contractors have to pay employer and employee payroll taxes whereas Catalyst employees only have to pay employee payroll taxes). Members also attend additional meetings, take on additional administrative responsibilities, and generally play a larger role in determining the overall direction of the co-op (see table below).
All co-op employees are co-op members, but not all co-op members are co-op employees. That is to say, the vast majority of members are employed by Catalyst and are therefore eligible for employee-related benefits such as PTO, retirement contributions, and reduced payroll taxes. However, it is possible for the co-op to admit a contractor-member who is eligible for membership related benefits such as the dividends but not the employee benefits. This could be the case for an overseas contractor who becomes a member of the cooperative.
For simplicity’s sake (and because there are currently no contractor-members), we compare the difference in responsibilities by contractor and employee-member. For more detailed information on each of the policies listed below, refer to the Catalyst Policy Handbook. Key differences between contractors and members are in bold text.
- Sign contractor agreement
- Buy $1000 membership share
- M/W/Th stand-ups
- $39.56 / hour (to account for payroll tax discrepancy)
- $36.75 / hour
- 500 hours / six months to be considered eligible for membership
- 1000 hours / year to retain membership status
All contractor benefits, plus:
Contractors are involved in everything except co-op governance decisions. They participate in all regular co-op meetings, including the financial check-ins and business teams after 3 months. Contractors can take as much time off as they want so long as they are considering the technical membership eligibility requirement of 500 hours over the course of six months and the social, unwritten requirement of not randomly disappearing.
Member-employees wear many hats. Until we have enough members to determine a cap, all members become part of the Catalyst board. Both members and board members have a say in co-op governance issues and are expected to act in the interest of the co-op. Members are expected to participate in meetings and engage in the technical and business aspects of the co-op.
Understanding Catalyst’s Finances#
The cooperative can pay dividends to its members out of its surplus (net income) in proportion to their patronage (typically patronage is directly proportional to the hours a member works for the cooperative). The members are not liable for the debts or obligations of the cooperative. Article 56 cooperatives can also issue equity to nonmembers, but the returns are limited (in our case the Articles limit returns to 8%).
New Contractor & Member Setup#
All New Hires (Contractors)#
When you’re first getting started, we’ll reach out to you about completing the following tasks. Once you’ve completed these you’ll be ready for your first project!
Admin & PM Setup#
Sign the Contractor Agreement
Send Zane your W-9 / I-9 forms as needed
Send Zane your direct deposit information for payments
Set up relevant accounts and familiarize yourself with our project management tools (reach out to Zane for assistance)
Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with existing contractors/members to get to know each other
Review our most recent grant proposal to see what we’ll be working on in the near term
Review the Catalyst Policy Handbook
Once the existing members have voted to offer you membership, it’s up to you to decide whether to accept! Make sure to review the relevant governing documents and agreements so you know what to expect.
Sign the Membership Agreement
Purchase $1000 share, your initial capital contribution to the co-op, by sending Christina a check in the mail or using ACH (for which there is a small fee).
Make sure your OS and software is up to date. This is a huge source of security issues globally. Security patches come out monthly or even more frequently. If your computer is compromised, Catalyst information and credentials will be vulnerable.
Use strong, unique passwords generated and stored by a password manager. Weak, common passwords will make your Catalyst accounts vulnerable to password leaks. BitWarden is a solid free and open source option though there are plenty of others to choose from. If you set up a password manager or already have one, make sure 2FA is enabled.
Use 2FA when possible, especially for accounts used for backup credential recovery. 2FA or “Two Factor Authentication” requires you to use something beyond a username and password to authenticate your account. This could be a time-based code, access to a specific phone or laptop, or a hardware token. This makes phishing accounts much more difficult, and reduces the consequences of password breaches. /Catalyst requires use of 2FA for GitHub and Gmail account access.
Consider using a VPN. VPNs keep your location and other valuable information secure and inaccessible by unwanted parties. It is highly recommended you use a VPN when working on a public network (WiFi without a password) because anyone can observe internet traffic on a public network. VPNs resolve this issue by encrypting your internet traffic. Note that the VPN operator will still be able to view your network traffic, so it’s important to choose a privacy and security oriented VPN provider, preferably one that regularly submits to an open, independent, 3rd party audit. Some Catalyst members use Mullvad VPN and SurfShark. The Swiss ProtonVPN is another good option.
Slack: We use slack to communicate day-to-day internal tasks with one another. Be sure to check out all of the channels (including the fun ones)! You’ll definitely want to check slack at least once a day for updates or keep it open in case someone wants to get in touch with you. Note that you’re never “required” to be online, but it is useful to have this real-time means of communication on hand.
Gmail: Our primary use of Gmail is communication with external entities. That’s to say: newsletters, client updates, users, etc. If you have questions for Catalyst folks, save them for slack.
Google Calendar: We schedule all our meetings through Google calendar. For certain clients we have had to make exceptions (ex: Outlook), but for the most part we sync everything through Google.
Google Meet: We use Google Meet for all video calls. Each meeting should have a link to a google meet room in the invite. Sometimes clients will opt for other video conferencing tools like Zoom, but all Catalyst-run meetings use Google Meet.
Google Drive: All of our organizational documentation lives in Google Drive. Bylaws, notes, protocols, contracts, etc. It’s all in the drive. Everything you’ll need is either in the Catalyst Team (shared with contractors and members) or Catalyst Members (shared with members) folders. Take a look around to get a feeling for where certain types of documents are stored.
Gusto: We use Gusto for payroll. After you make an account and we set up your monthly payments, you won’t have to interact with it much. Gusto is where you will find important tax documents, accumulated PTO, and information about other benefits like the health stipend.
GitHub: We use GitHub issues and Epics to track ongoing and planned work. Because issues and epics are our sole means of tracking tasks, we often add non-technical (or non-code related) issues to the workflow. We have a business repo intended for admin related tasks. We also encourage people to make issues such as “scope X problem…” or “Phase 1 design…” so that larger problems get broken down into manageable chunks.
GitHub Pull Requests: We like to use pull requests as a form of code transparency. Sometimes you’ll be working on a project in a new branch by yourself and the prospect of doing a mega pull request gets more and more daunting (for you and the reviewers) the more you add. When you start a new branch, make a draft pull request to the dev branch that you can push to frequently. This way people can see your progress/make comments before you’ve gone too far in one direction. These PRs may never get merged, but they allow you to ask questions within the context of your code (i.e., you don’t have to message someone with large code chunks copied).
ZenHub: ZenHub is a project management extension for GitHub. We use it to organize and group our GitHub issues and epics into meaningful, trackable project chunks. Each team (see below) has their own ZenHub board where they move relevant issues through a series of custom “pipelines” or columns that indicate the status of a given issue or epic. ZenHub also has a number of meta project management tools like roadmaps and burndown charts that we are trying to get better about using.
Agile Scrum Sprints to structure our workflow. Our sprint periods are two weeks long.
A “Team” is a pre-defined group of Catalyst contractors and/or employees that meets on a regular basis to discuss and work on distinct Catalyst needs. Each Team is responsible for addressing a specific and related suite of topics outlined in a Teams Template. Teams are split into two categories:
Work Teams: based around the work of a particular client or grant and only exist so long as the client remains a client or the grant remains active.
Business Teams: serve ongoing co-op needs.
Teams may be asked to perform research or create proposals based on the outcome of conversations in PUDL Huddle or Board meetings. Teams will have their own slack channels. Any Catalyst member can join any of the teams’ slack channels so that they can post inquiries or ask favors of specific teams. Teams do not have a maximum or minimum number of members. Teams may have only one member or be composed of everyone in the organization (though neither is recommended).
All co-op activities are in the domain of a particular team.
Current Work Teams#
DBCP: Down Ballot Climate Project
WEIB: Western Interstate Energy Board
CCAI: Climate Change AI
Hiring & New Employee Management
Meetings without a google meet link will occur in our default meeting room: https://meet.google.com/uxe-wtmr-pmt
Facilitation & Documentation#
All meetings have pre-designated facilitators and note-takers that are specified in the calendar event and in Meeting Facilitator and Notetaker Schedule . For assigned roles see the “Roles” tab, and for descriptions of each role see the “Responsibilities” tab.
Meetings agenda items are based on this Generic Meeting Agenda Template.
Participants may add agenda items to a meeting by filling out this template (also available for copy and paste at the top of most notes documents).
All agenda items must be added at least two days before the meeting (either a bot or the facilitator will prompt participants to add items).
It is expected that meeting participants will have read the meeting agenda and made any relevant comments/additions (if applicable) prior to the meeting.
All teams have a centralized notes document that comes with the teams folder template. This is where you will store agendas and take notes during the meeting.
Most agendas have a Meeting Notes and an Action Items section where note-takers will record information. Notetakers are also responsible for moving action items up to the Running Action Items list at the top of the document as well as removing completed items.
M/W/Th Stand-up Meetings (15-20 min)#
Attendees: Contractors & Members Notes: n/a
Round-robin check-ins regarding progress since prior standup, plans for the day, hold-ups, needs for further discussion, and announcements. Mondays are social check-ins with a quick 5 minute work update at the end.
Tuesday and Thursday check-ins happen on slack in the check-ins channel.
Weekly Check-in & Action-items (10-30 min)#
Attendees: Contractors & Members Notes: PUDL Huddle: Check in call notes
Monday stand-up calls are followed by a run through of the action items listed in the PUDL Huddle doc. Action items are created throughout the week in various meetings and serve as a central gathering point and reminder of key commitments people have made (ex: following up with potential clients, scheduling meetings, researching new topics, etc.) Anyone can add an action item to the list at any time. Action items are reminders, not meeting topics, if you want to remember to “discuss design for X” you should create an action item about scheduling a meeting to talk about that topic with relevant people. Or, you can create an agenda item for the weekly meeting (see below).
After running through the action items, we open the floor to discuss anything else relevant to the whole team. If you want to talk about something specific, add it to something to the agenda in the PUDL Huddle document under the appropriately titled meeting header (Ex: Weekly Meeting YYYY-MM-DD). If there isn’t one yet, feel free to make one. Sometimes there are no agenda items in which case we’ll end the meeting early.
Bi-weekly Sprint Planning / Review – Team Specific (30 min - 1 hour)#
Attendees: Team members **Notes:**See notes documents specific to each team: Work Teams
Sprints are Catalyst’s most granular work-planning timeframe. Each sprint lasts two-weeks, starts with a sprint planning meeting and ends with a sprint review. Each team will host their own sprint planning and review meetings, but all teams will follow the same sprint timeline. Each teams’ sprint meetings are hosted at different times so that anyone can attend relevant team meetings without conflict.
Sprint planning meetings occur every other Monday. During these meetings, each team scopes which issues we will address in a given sprint. Issues are usually made and tentatively assigned to a sprint beforehand. We usually review the ZenHub Roadmap function to assess our priorities.
Sprint review meetings occur every other Thursday (two weeks after sprint planning). During these sessions, each team catalogs what we were able to accomplish during the sprint, what went well, what was difficult, and anything unexpected. We usually review the ZenHub Roadmap function to assess our progress.
Business Team Meetings - Team Specific (time and occurrence differs)#
Attendees: Team members Notes: See notes documents for specific teams: Business Teams
Catalyst organizes internal tasks into a series of teams that meet on a semi-regular basis (defined in the Teams Index) to discuss and execute issues related to their domain. Refer to the Teams Index for a list of the current teams, their responsibilities, and how often they meet.
Teams are not mandatory, but contractors are encouraged and members are expected to participate in at least one.
Quarterly Advisory Committee Meeting (1+ hours)#
Attendees: Contractors & Members Notes: Advisory Committee
Every Quarter Catalyst holds an Advisory Committee (AC) meeting during which we seek direction and feedback from the members of our AC . The AC is composed of individuals that span the tech and environmental sectors. We generally seek information about funding opportunities and share work updates.
Attendees: Members only Notes: Governance Notes
Member meetings are called to address a set of issues specified in the bylaws that affect the cooperative on such a fundamental level that they require the consent of the entire membership (as opposed to solely the Board of Directors, in a world where they are different). These decisions include the admission of new members, changes to the governing documents, and the election of the Board of Directors and Officers.
Weekly Board Meetings (30 min)#
Attendees: Board members only Notes: Governance Notes
Until we have more than 10 members, the Board of Directors is made up of all of the members. Board meetings are the venue where decisions about the strategic direction and regular operation of the cooperative are made. Any member of the board can go in and add agenda items.
Weekly Refi Call (1 hour)#
Attendees: Appointed person(s) or volunteer(s) Notes: n/a
Catalyst participates in weekly Fossil Fuel Refinance Project calls. These calls are a consortium of energy policy folks working on refinancing strategies to close coal plants and other fossil fuel-driven generation assets. Usually one-two Catalyst members join these calls.
For the call, you’ll need to solicit updates from the Catalyst team in order to communicate our weekly progress to the refinance team; coordinating collaboration with the refinance team; and taking notes on relevant updates from the call to convey to the Catalyst team.
3 and 6-month Contractor Feedback (two 1 hour blocks)#
Attendees: Members and contractor being reviewed Notes: Feedback for Contractor
Catalyst contractors will participate in a 3-month check-in and a 6-month check-in after which the members will vote on whether to invite them to become a member of the co-op.
These check-ins are preceded by written feedback from the contractor about Catalyst and the members about the contractor pursuant to a form distributed a week before the feedback session. The first hour block is dedicated to co-op feedback for the contractor while the second hour block is dedicated to the contractor’s feedback for the co-op. These meetings may be back to back or scheduled separately a few days or hours apart.
Annual Member Feedback (two 1 hour blocks)#
Attendees: Appointed members and member being reviewed (reviewee) Notes: Member Feedback
Catalyst members participate in annual check-ins where they have the opportunity to review the co-op as well as be reviewed by other members.
These check-ins are preceded by written feedback from the reviewee about Catalyst and the other members about the reviewee pursuant to a form distributed a week before the feedback session. The first hour block is dedicated to co-op feedback for the reviewee while the second hour block is dedicated to the reviewee’s feedback for the co-op. These meetings may be back to back or scheduled separately a few days or hours apart.
Monthly Financial Check-ins#
Every month the Internal Management team will host a financial check-in meeting where they will present on the financial status and well being of the coop.
IRAs and $$ in general
Host a feedback session
Know whether you can take time off
Use Zenhub for sprint review/planning
Set up your text editor / linters / extensions