Cooperation is better than conflict

Good news! Cooperatives UK has just reported a big rise in the number of registrations of new cooperatives registered this year (as reported in this Third Sector article).

Cooperatives (legally defined by that bastion of cooperation, Wikipedia as ‘a legal entity owned and democratically controlled equally by its members’) are one extreme of membership organisations (at the other end of the continuum would be a traditional company or charity model where membership is only paid lipservice).  The growth of this model could suggest one of three things:

  1. a growing mistrust of the governance and efficacy of shareholder or LLC models
  2. an increased desire to share the results of investment and work more equally amongst those involved – and equally to spread risk?
  3. the improved ability to work collaboratively provided by social software tools

The first two seem to be responses to economic drivers, the third to technological drivers.  All three concern issues of trust (on which more to follow) and fairness and arguably suggest an increased desire to work cooperatively rather than competitively.  There’s some interesting work happening in this area (for example the One Click Organisations project) which suggests this will be a growing trend.

This is an area I’m beginning to explore in depth (after discussions with Andy Gibson and before that at the RSA with Indy Johar) and which I expect will inform the Future of Membership project more and more.  In particular, it is likely to feed into the session on membership governance I’ll be running with Rosamund McCarthy from Bates, Wells and Braithwaite at the Trustee Conference in October. The degree of real governance, control and participation offered by exisitng membership structures is increasingly coming to the fore and this back to the future model may be one response.

Last updated at 16:27 Wed 27/May/09.
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Katherine's picture


Specialist Editor

Further to the above, CooperativesUK, the umbrella body for cooperative groups, has announced a rise in the number of members of cooperatives "by 4.5% to 11.3 million people (one in five of the population)", alongside a 5% year-on-year rise in profits.

While a lot of financial growth seems due to strong presence in the grocery market, there has also been a development within the financial market, through the merger of Co-operative Financial Services and Britannia Building Society. Since this was voted in by the Building Society's members, this suggests a democratic movement in response to disatisfaction with traditional banking models and a perception of their being responsible for the credit crunch-led recession.

The growth in the model suggests an increasing appetite for mutualism and collectivism as models of shared ownership, which has positive implications for interest in membership organisations more broadly. However, it also suggests that membership that doesn't offer real benefits or power might be an increasingly less attractive offer.

You can find the full report here.

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