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Member-Owned Alternatives: Exploring Participatory Forms of Organising with Cooperatives / Airi Lampinen, Moira McGregor, Rob Comber, & Barry Brown



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Paper presentation at CSCW 2018 conference.

Abstract below. Full paper available at the ACM Digital Library ( Co-authored by Airi Lampinen, Moira McGregor, Rob Comber, & Barry Brown.

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Abstract: Cooperatives are member-owned organisations, run for the common benefit of their members. While cooperatives are a longstanding way of organising, they have received little attention in CSCW. In this paper, through interviews with 26 individuals from 24 different cooperatives, our focus is an exploratory inquiry on how cooperatives could expand thinking into what future economies can look like and the part technologies may play in them. We discuss (1) the work to make the co-op work, that is, the special effort involved in managing an enterprise in a democratic and inclusive way, (2) the multiple purposes that cooperatives can serve for their members, well beyond financial benefit, and (3) ICT usage within cooperatives as a site of tension and dialogue. We conclude by discussing the meaning and measures of success in alternative economies, and lessons learned for CSCW scholarship on civic and societal organisations.

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Member-Owned Alternatives: Exploring Participatory Forms of Organising with Cooperatives / Airi Lampinen, Moira McGregor, Rob Comber, & Barry Brown

  1. 1. M E M B E R - O W N E D A LT E R N AT I V E S E X P L O R I N G PA R T I C I PAT O RY F O R M S 
 O F O R G A N I S I N G W I T H C O O P E R AT I V E S Airi Lampinen*, Moira McGregor*, Rob Comber^, & Barry Brown* *Stockholm University & ^KTH Royal Institute of Technology @airi_
  2. 2. S TA R T I N G P O I N T S
  3. 3. • Providing an overview of what cooperatives are 
 and some of the challenges they face • Highlighting cooperatives as an understudied organisational form in CSCW • Inspiring a creative imagining of the world of work 
 and how it is organised O B J E C T I V E S
  4. 4. 1 C O O P E R AT I V E S & C S C W
  5. 5. • The cooperative, or co-op, is an enterprise where there is mutual ownership and control of the enterprise 
 by either those employed by it or using its services. • The contemporary values of the cooperative movement include self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, 
 equality, equity and solidarity. • Cooperatives are run for the common benefit of their members and they are, by design, a political endeavour. W H AT A R E C O O P E R AT I V E S ?
  6. 6. • Participatory design and civic organising
 worker-owned and worker-made technologies 
 civic tech, social movements, solidarity economies • Increasing focus on labour and economic activity 
 especially crowd work & gig work • Platform cooperativism (Scholz & Schneider)
 a movement for rethinking the platform economy
 communal ownership and democratic governance C O N N E C T I O N S W I T H C S C W
  7. 7. 2 M AT E R I A L 
 A N D M E T H O D S
  8. 8. • Semi-structured interviews
 with 26 individuals from 24 cooperatives
 across the globe & in a wide range of business areas 
 diverse, but most relatively newly established & small in scale • Thematic analysis
 interpretation across contexts
 from lower level codes to higher level themes 
 group data sessions & mind mapping
 R E S E A R C H P R O C E S S
  9. 9. 3 T H E W O R K T O 
 M A K E T H E C O - O P W O R K
  10. 10. M E M B E R S H I P I N V O LV E M E N T • Finding and keeping members • Maintaining a sense of togetherness and making activities participatory • Dividing and delegating work requires special effort • Very commonly a split between a few active members 
 and those who remain more passive (even if loyal)
  11. 11. "I think their idea is also that they don’t even think that 
 they could influence the type of things that we are doing. 
 For example, during this past couple of months, 
 I’ve had some emails from food members who say, 
 ’Well, it’s not exactly things that I would want to have in the food bag.’ 
 And then I tried to say, ’Well, we need this kind of feedback 
 in order to think and improve,’ and then they were surprised." 
 – Our Land S T R U G G L E S W I T H C O N S U M E R AT T I T U D E
  12. 12. • Democratic governance as an ideal and a starting point • Do-ocracy: In practice, those who show up both get to and 
 have to influence decisions more D E M O C R A C Y A N D D O - O C R A C Y "I call it kind of do-ocracy. 
 I don’t know if you are familiar with that word, 
 but do-ocracy ... who does it is who has the sort of right to decide." 
  13. 13. 4 I C T U S A G E A S A S I T E O F T E N S I O N A N D D I A L O G U E
  14. 14. • Combining tools that are conveniently available 
 & ideally already used by members • Seeking consensus over what tools to use and how • Placing a higher emphasis on inclusion than efficiency N E G O T I AT I N G I C T U S E
  15. 15. "So now that two out of ten [board members] are 
 not on [Facebook], it doesn’t feel functional anymore 
 and now we need to think whether we switch back to email or could it be something else. Like before we didn’t have that problem and the Facebook group was a clear improvement 
 to e-mail, so now it feels like, is it the right choice to switch back 
 or should we make a WhatsApp group or something.” –FreshFoods N E G O T I AT I N G I C T U S E
  16. 16. • Surviving hand-to-mouth makes it difficult to think about automating operations or adopting more effective tools • Scarcity trap (Mullainathan and Shafir, 2013): 
 ending up with less due to always being one step behind • Counterexample: A process for constant reflection regarding work practices, including ICT usage S H O R T- T E R M S O L U T I O N S
  17. 17. "We have tried to create a sustainable model all along 
 but one of the biggest reasons stopping that sustainability 
 has been having to think of short-term solutions 
 and cheap ones and those are typically not the best 
 so then we have had to repeat the same things 
 from one year to the next because of bad choices, 
 and use resources to things where we know already while doing them that we’ll have to do them again the next year." –FreshFoods S C A R C I T Y T R A P
  18. 18. 5 C O O P E R AT I N G T O WA R D S A LT E R N AT I V E S
  19. 19. • Back-up plans and safety nets • Vehicles for alternative-making & activism • Opportunities to learn and experiment together • Collective self-help C O O P E R AT I V E S S E R V E A VA R I E T Y O F P U R P O S E S F O R T H E I R M E M B E R S
  20. 20. • Acknowledging the work of democratic governance and participation • Rethinking success and scale – valuable outcomes can have little do with money • There are opportunities for both platforms and cooperatives if we bring the two closer together C O N C L U S I O N
  21. 21. Due to commitment to their members 
 and to democractic decision-making
 processes, cooperatives provide 
 a productively challenging site for CSCW 
 to think anew the goals of the organisations 
 we design for, as well as to re-imagine 
 the world of work and how it is organised. C O N C L U S I O N