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Project Catalyst Mentorship:

A grassroots approach

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Whether in Discord, Telegram, or Town Hall Break-out rooms, the topic of mentorship for Project Catalyst “proposers” occasionally comes up. It seems ethics, ways to formalize a process, and mentor qualifications are the most common bullet points––but so far, for me, that’s where it’s ended.

Recently, while in the Catalyst Proposal Assessor’s Telegram channel, I saw one user talking about his experience with mentorship in the community. As luck would have it, Jeremy, the aptly bearded family man from the gelid north, was soon available to hop on a video chat and chop it up over our respective cups of coffee.

In today’s article, you’ll see how Jeremy’s sincere questions seem to grow into natural opportunities for a sort of mutual mentorship. We’ll look at how respect and communication both contribute to collective success, how this type of collaboration helps raise the bar for quality in the Catalyst ecosystem––and a few tips on how you might also get started!

History & Getting Started in Mentorship:

Benjamin: Thanks for connecting on this topic; it’s clearly important to you. Maybe we can start back at how you got into working as a Community Advisor [CA, now Proposal Assessor, PA], at the time, in Project Catalyst?

Jeremy: Sure. I’d say between all the Reddit posts and maybe an initial Town hall, I heard about the CA role. I decided I wanted to dip my toe in, or so I thought. Somewhere in there, it seemed like I ended up washing down-river, going through whitewaters, and tumbling over and over; I think I even fell over a waterfall at one point! There was just so much information; it was overwhelming. I remember it feeling like there was always something to do, another rock to bump off and float past. And, in the end, I just kind of washed up on the shore, and I had done a round of CA work. I almost don’t remember the in-between in much greater detail.

Practically speaking, I’m good at reading fast, which helped me get deep into all the assessments. I would read everything I could get my hands on. I learned from the CA Guide at the time that I’d do well to give thoughts in concise and insightful assessments that integrated what the proposal was all about. Prior to assessing, I’d read proposals I had an interest in and ask questions [of the proposers] when I found myself curious. A few of those questions later bloomed into some of the relationships I believe we are here to talk about today.

Benjamin: Yes, thank you. You mentioned you felt inspired by the advising role that came from the old “Community Advisor” title. Please share more about that.

Jeremy: It was really an aspirational element to the role and helped me figure out how to be a better assessor when it came to the next phase of the fund. In the pre-assessment stage, I’m fairly concerned about conflicts of interest. So, when I inquire about information on a proposal topic, I keep my input to structure and how, according to the PA Guidebook, their proposal can receive a higher star-rating. A big part of it is simply sharing the PA guidelines, letting them know that, in the end, these are the details PAs are tasked to look at and score proposals against. Sharing links to the guide is crucial so they can see the words themselves and interpret them how they will. I aim to help them get 4.5 stars or higher when mentoring.

Note: As a part of this conversation, Jeremy made clear that a part of “being concerned about conflicts of interests” includes following the PA Guide that currently states (on page 2 of the version updated for Fund 9): “You can NOT be a PA in challenges that you are participating in as a proposer, implementor or actively working with a proposer in (e.g. rewarded mentorship).” This is why it's essential to clarify with a proposer, if they ever offer any reward or gift, that you are already mutually benefiting in your respective roles, and that it is required that the relationship reflects the following phrase: "Assisting and suggesting improvements to proposers as a PA is desirable and encouraged."

Working as Equals

As we continued to converse, Jeremy shared how he has found that the way we make suggestions really matters. His experience shows that saying, "This isn't good enough; here's how you can make it better," yields very little in the way of results. Instead, he suggests, "I know you understand this deeply, and now you'll need to express that in a way that others do too. Here are some ways that might work, according to these suggested guidelines…."

He learned that this sort of communication recognizes a proposer's knowledge, helps to remove paternalism from the interaction, and sees that equality is paramount to a successful outcome. In another way of looking at it, this makes both a mentor and a mentee simultaneously. So, when Jeremy listens deeply and helpfully shares knowledge, he plays the mentor role. But when inquiring about the proposal and earnestly satisfying his curiosities with the answers provided (which personally benefits his later work in the assessment round), Jeremy sees himself in the mentee role.

He finds that in the end, the proposer has a better chance at a higher-rated proposal, and Jeremy will likely have among the highest-rated assessments for the proposals he sought to understand in this way. So it's not only a "win-win" for Jeremy and the proposers he works with: the entire Catalyst community benefits from seeing more high-quality proposals on the final ballot.

For this reason, he hopes more people get involved in these sorts of working relationships, or share about the mentorship they’ve been involved in. Afterall, top-down isn’t the stuff of decentralization. It fits that although we have IOG helping set things up on the other hand, on the other is the individual initiative to strive for the same “peer reviewed” type of excellence in the grassroots. To this end, Jeremy then shared with me the ins and outs of what a "typical" relationship looks like, offering practical ways other assessors might open up and manage similar relationships.

Benjamin: Can you give our readers some idea of the steps involved in connecting with proposers in this way?

Jeremy: First of all, as assessors, our job is to understand proposals so we can assess them to a higher quality. Read proposals first, then find those you are genuinely interested in. Next, identify the proposals you are most curious about, and ask your questions. If the person shares that the conversation was helpful, ask if they would like to set up a bit more of a communication channel.

At this point, share your boundaries and ask for theirs. Without trying to make everything professionally rigid, setting boundaries on your time helps establish mutual trust and respect. These are new sorts of relationships we are learning about. There isn't always trust up front, and for good reason, so actively building this is helpful for you both.

After the votes are published, it's time for the most important part: followthrough. I find having some sort of retrospective essential, even if it's very simple. You might ask, "how do you feel about the results?" or perhaps just celebrate if they get funded. It's a place to share expectations, honoring the exchange of energy and allowing a space to establish that you aren't expecting to hear from them as much. You might also add that you'd love to hear from them if they re-submit the next round or have another proposal they will submit instead. It's about being proactive with your communication in a sort of working relationship that is, as yet, still so new, informal, and undefined.

Benjamin: Your process of mentoring seems more organic than formalized. That said, can you walk us through some of the practical details of one of these relationships?

Jeremy: Sure. For me, a lot of these conversations start in the Telegram app. For instance, a proposer shares their proposal on the Catalyst Telegram channel and asks if anyone is interested in taking a look at it. I find it helpful to look there. These people have learned how to engage with the Catalyst community on their own, which says a lot. Telegram is also a great place to communicate with proposers going forward. It organizes conversations helpfully, and in the few cases I've been on a voice call, they also have a feature for that.

As far as time commitment, that is something I learned over a few funding rounds. One proposer might get a few hours of my time in the month leading up to the assessment stage. It could be more or less, depending [on the specifics involved], but I tend to work about two hours per work-day on this for those four weeks and stay at a limit of around ten proposals, which I find is the optimal number for me.

After doing this for some rounds, I find there are those I've worked with in the past that come back with new proposals. Those relationships are enjoyable to re-ignite and already have their natural rhythm since we've worked together in the past.

Into the Future:

Benjamin: Thank you for all that. There is a lot to learn from all you've shared, and perhaps publishing this story will attract others who've also been working on connections of this type; no doubt it will help others get started.

To wrap-up, I would like to know your ideas on the future of mentorship in the Project Catalyst community. Does mentorship on a small scale like this eventually need to lead to more formalized methods for assessors and proposers, or would that be futile?

Jeremy: If these sorts of co-mentor relationships became a separately funded budget item, in my opinion, we are going in the wrong direction. I think that short-circuits the natural two-way benefit of the relationship.

I think we are better off letting this be a part of PA work for those interested in doing it. When we build an institution around the human values that naturally come forward in these kinds of relationships, I think we see that value fade. The relationship itself, and the greater rewards you'll receive [in ada, for your PA work], should suffice as "payment" if you need to justify it that way.

Conclusion:

In this conversation with Jeremy, we walked other valuable avenues that aren't recorded in this article. However, publishing this portion of the interview seemed appropriate in hopes it could help spur a broader conversation on mentorship in the Catalyst community. To Jeremy, thank you so much for your time; I appreciate your willingness to participate and enthusiasm for this unique potential of the Catalyst process.

Please share your thoughts and any questions in the comments. I'll be sure to share the article with Jeremy so he can reply to anything you may want to ask (alternatively, you can often find him in the Catalyst Proposal Assessors & Community Advisors Telegram channel under the same name). And if you are someone who has already been learning about mentorship in the Catalyst Community, please do mention your experiences! We would be grateful to hear about anything you may have learned.

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Great article Benjamin, very inspirational! I am so glad I found this ecosystem and so many people like you and Jeremy taking care of it.

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