Wednesday, July 14, 2010

do we need a new co-op model for Transition?

The Transition Towns movement is well recognised, credible and attracting increasing amounts of interest. It is also recognised and cited as being very closed aligned to the co-operative movement, no doubt due to the shared values upon which both are based.

However, to date, Transition initiatives have rarely (if at all) structured or incorporated themselves as recognised co-operatives, and many people in the co-operative movement are starting to encourage them to do so. (here, here, and here)

But after spending some time with a ‘Transitioner’ recently, I wonder if perhaps the reason for this apparent reticence on the part of the Transitioners is because the co-operative movement doesn’t have an appropriate model for them...yet

Co-operatives are recognised as taking many wondrous and diverse forms, all of which share the same underpinning and defining values, but which allow them to reflect their members’ interests and circumstances – for example, housing co-ops are structured to reflect the nature of members as tenants within the context of housing legislation, consumer co-ops reflect their members’ engagement as being intermittent (we don’t spend all of our time in the co-op shop) but we do expect to be regular and ongoing purchasers, worker co-ops where members expect to be in employment for the foreseeable future, and so on.

For the Transition movement, the members’ interests are transitionery – one of the principles of Transition is that obsolescence is built in from the outset, with the expectation that people will join the group based on a specific interest that may not be shared by all others, and that their involvement will ebb and flow over time rather than remain at a constant ongoing commitment (as in other forms of co-operative – see above). There is also the consideration that the group will be made up of a number of distinct themed ‘sub-groups’ who are united by their co-existing within the same geographical area, and that Transition initiatives will rarely share common sets of such groupings.

Perhaps then we need to create a new co-op model to reflect this and so better support and encourage Transitioners to more easily manage and strengthen their relationships through a co-op structure.
Such a model could be based around the existing consortia or secondary co-op models, with individuals becoming members of the wider co-operative, but then engaging primarily with their particular interest group within the wider Transition initiative. Each of these thematic groups would then nominate one of their number to the board of the co-op to ensure that (1) the co-op remains accountable to its members, (2) members shape and direct the co-operative themselves, (3) all parts of the co-operative are included and (4) allows individual members and the overall Transition initiative more flexibility about their level of involvement and engagement according to their own circumstances and that of the part of the initiative that they have an interest in.

What do people think?
Have I hit upon a ‘magic bullet’ here or simply ‘missed the point’?
Would be good to have feedback from people within both the co-operative and Transition movements.

1 comment:

  1. Being from the coop background and a big fan of Transition Towns I definitely think this is something we should all be looking at - its a great opportunity. Partly because the coop model does give you a structure for organising business and trade which will be a big part of the future plans of each group.
    Multi stake holder coops are already set up as structure - would that work - the different interest groups having their own class. This keeps everyone thinking about the wider picture and holds the group together going forward.
    I would be interested in following / getting involved in this work. There is also the Mondragon model to follow.