Considering being Cooperative

I have long had the inkling of an idea that a co-op would be an interesting model to use in setting up a social web business of some kind.  According to the International Cooperative Alliance a co-op is

an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.

I think this sums up quite nicely the view many of us have about the social or open web and it fits in an awful lot better with my lifestyle than the win at all costs attitude of alot of start-ups you read about.

For quite some time I was bouncing around some ideas around a co-op that focused on running innovative conferences and events and in particular the ‘amplified‘ elements of those gatherings but apart from conversations with a few friends and colleagues I never really explored it very deeply (in part because I joined Jiva just as I was starting to find some focus for my ideas.)  I still have some interest in this area as any reader of this blog would realise and often return to those topics as a way of regaining my positivity about the work I do.

Recently the Analog Coop was launched and it got me thinking about this all again.  Analog is something very different to the ideas I had in mind but at its core it demonstrates the possibilities a co-op offers.  They have put together an international team of very talented folk in their fields who I am sure will be great things but I was always thinking of something much more local and also something that included a shared, bricks and mortar space.  Whether part of that need for a ‘home’ is because I also think co-working is something that will become more and more mainstream and I’d like to be involved in that or just the fact I know I’d go crazy working at home is unclear!

I do like the idea of working in a team that is democratic at its core and not led by the whims of any individual but I also wonder how you remove the ‘death by committee’ element from things?  I also wonder who ends up doing the business end of things if you end of with a group of people only interested in the ‘fun’ stuff?  I soon realised I would be a failure as a freelancer due to my complete lack of interest in anything that wasn’t what I found interesting!  Despite these questions I think it is something I would like to try out one of these days – maybe at the end of my current JISC contract I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

2 thoughts on “Considering being Cooperative

  1. Hi Matt. Happy new year to you!

    Regarding the business end of things: This, and other tasks not directly related to ‘the fun stuff’ can be shared on a rolling rota as one option. Even if the co-op was informal, as long as those tasks are treated as billable work, it can work out fairly. Another options is to have some on a rota, and others done by those best suited to them on a voluntary basis. A third (and infinitely preferable one) is to buy in expert help with the boring stuff; book keeping for example. In that way a co-op is no different to any other organisation.

    The ‘death by committee’ question is a tough one although it has been solved many times over by other co-ops. The members of a co-op elect a management committee. Empowered by the co-op agreement and policies that committee runs the co-op just like a normal board would. The democratic principle is served without interfering with actually running the business. Fundamentally, all one has to do is be clear what one wants to achieve and measure decisions made at setup against that. More than happy to talk to you privately about it at some point if you wish.

  2. Matt says:

    Jon – thanks for the comment and hope 2010 has started well for you.

    I think the combination of the rota and the outsourcing is probably the kind of solution I’d go for (If I was to take the plunge!) and I guess the ‘death by committee’ stuff can be avoided with the right people involved and a clear purpose (although in my experience agreeing a common direction is often the hardest thing no mater what the business model is!)

    Hopefully once the city thaws out I’ll catch up with you one evening on one of your ‘Mild Bunch’ if Jamie and any of the Jiva guys are around..

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