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The Involvement of Members in the Governance of Large-Scale Co-operative and Mutual Businesses: A Formative Evaluation of the Co-operative Group

Johnston Birchall and Richard Simmons

Review of Social Economy, 2004, vol. 62, issue 4, 487-515

Abstract: This article focuses on the key question for co-operatives and mutuals of whether they can continue to be genuine member-owned and controlled businesses once they become very large. After providing a commentary on current attempts to revitalise member democracy in the UK consumer co-operative sector, it outlines the "mutual incentives model" developed by the authors to explain what motivates people to participate. The main part of the article then provides a formative evaluation of one very large co-operative society, the Co-operative Group. Drawing on a recent project carried out with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, and in partnership with the UK Co-operative College, it discusses findings from datasets of 450 area committee members and a random sample of non-active members. The findings are structured according to the mutual incentives framework, including individualistic and collectivistic incentives, resources and mobilization factors. The conclusion is that the Group is having some success with its member participation strategy despite problems of scale. Steady, incremental improvements are identified that should enable the strategy to succeed, showing that there is no simple correlation between size and democracy.

Keywords: co-operatives; mutual incentives theory; size and democracy; stakeholder involvement (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2004
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DOI: 10.1080/0034676042000296236

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