does size matter


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Does size matter Dave Hollings Co-operative Ways Forward Conference January 2014


Page 1: Does size matter
Page 2: Does size matter

There has been a catastrophic failure of governance in The Co-operative Group

‘Something must be done’

Is this a failure of co-operative democracy?

Must larger co-operatives be run more like plcs?

Is it time to admit defeat and ditch democratic accountability?

Or was it something else which failed?

Page 3: Does size matter

Members elect area boards

Area boards elect regional boards

Regional boards elect the national board

The national board appoints the Bank’s board

Would this be called democracy in any other context?

Imagine the outcry if such a system were proposed for a newly independent Scotland

Page 4: Does size matter

Does it mean having the same systems but nicer people on the board?

Does it mean having the same systems but more competent people on the board?

Does it mean having the same systems but more people like us on the board?

Or do we mean something else?

Page 5: Does size matter

People can feel disempowered by democracy.

This happens especially when a democracy is large, there are few routes to influence decisions and people feel they are ignored

Most people want:-◦ Their voice to be heard

◦ To be able to influence important decisions

◦ To be able to influence the decisions that affect them directly

◦ Their own way – but you can’t have everything!

Page 6: Does size matter

There is a members meeting once a year about 15 miles away

I can vote for an area board representative

I could stand for the area board – but I don’t have the time

For me, like most of The Co-operative Group’s 7 million members, that is it

It doesn’t have to be that way

Page 7: Does size matter
Page 8: Does size matter

3.5 million users, 450 staff and 360 members How to get more members and more member

involvement? A radical approach still in development:-

◦ One membership card for all services◦ Electronic data capture on members’ interests◦ Gather usage data to tailor offers◦ AGMs become a celebration – members come together and

do things, with a bit of voting tacked on◦ Consult members on the services they actually use◦ Area based members meetings◦ Develop website, facebook, twitter for members to talk to

each other and the Society◦ Member offers can be e-mailed, texted, downloaded as


Page 9: Does size matter

One of the government’s proposed probation mutuals

Controversial with significant local union opposition

But this mutual was meant to be staff-led. So we asked the staff if they wanted to proceed

Electronic secure ballot of all staff: do you want to proceed or not? If not, we stop.

Consultation meetings at every workplace first

Result: 1084 people balloted; 74% turnout; 669 wanted to proceed; 86 wanted not to proceed; 42 abstained.

Page 10: Does size matter

100 year old holiday co-operative 5 years ago an ageing and declining

membership Membership up from 29000 to 34000 in 5

years. Member shareholdings doubled Member recruitment touchpoints at hotels Regular electronic member communications Offers and discounts to members and

enhanced offers to investor members AGM is part of a celebration weekend at one

of HF’s hotels – huge increase in attendance

Page 11: Does size matter

There should be a menu, with different ways for people to be involved at times and places to suit their lives. Some ideas are:-◦ A single membership card for trading and involvement◦ Consultation (and meetings?) at store or service level◦ Social events and activities for members only◦ Passive receipt of electronic information by e-mail, text,

app – Co-op Group offers, Co-op News etc◦ Active two way communications – discussion forums,

facebook, twitter, blogs, Survey Monkeys◦ Direct elections to the board◦ Referenda on Key issues

Page 12: Does size matter

We should not mean a small number of people being elected by an otherwise passive membership

We should mean an active and involved membership with many ways to be involved

We should mean thousands of members involved in the Society every week – at home, on the bus, in the pub, at 10am, 2pm, 4am

And large co-operatives have the resources to do this

Size doesn’t matter – commitment does

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