Wed 29 Apr 2020 4:33PM

Where do we go from here?

G Graham Public Seen by 87

At a meeting the other day of the directors of Platform 6, a conversation began about the role that Platform 6 could adopt in the context of the multiple crises that we all find ourselves in. Right now we're in the midst of a major global health crisis. This is very rapidly becoming a global economic crisis (I saw a headline today talking about 1.5 billion people being put out of work in the short term - which I understand is nearing half of the world's workforce). And of course we are also up to our hips in the climate crisis. Crisis is the new normal.

So how can we respond most effectively in this context? @Austen Cordasco – one of my fellow directors, talked about the collapse of our civilisation, and, in the context of the Roman Empire and its collapse, identified the P6 community as the Barbarians.

Clearly there's a major job of work to build a new economy that puts planet and people first rather than last, but what should be our strategy in working towards that aim? Where and how can we focus our energies for maximum impact?

We're really excited by the potential of the new Barefoot Co-op Developer cohort that will emerge over the course of this year, and I'm interested in trying to ensure that P6 does everything it can to help make that more successful and more effective.

So, rather than continue the conversation within the four or five of us that were on the call, we agreed that it would be far more sensible and useful to open the discussion up to our members and fellow travellers. Hence this post.

So, what do you think?


Kate Whittle Wed 29 Apr 2020 5:29PM

Bit of a vague ramble, but I thought i should have a go because if I put it off I won't come back to it. So .. In a Paradise built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit says that in times of disasters - earthquakes, floods, hurricanes - people come together in new ways to solve problems, to organise to help the injured, to feed people - and that it is nearly always the authorities that mess things up. She describes how in the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 areas of the city were burned by troops' misguided efforts to burn housing to make fire breaks and that people were prevented from saving their homes. I think soemthing similar si happening now - people are coming together in new ways, making connections, working together, making and distributing food, making masks and scrubs for health and care workers. We have this great opportunity now, when everyone can see what is precious to us and what is not, which companies are helping and which are exploiting a ££ making opportunity. (See Ethical Consumers' list of top ten companies to avoid). But we have to seize the day. We know what kinds of business model works both for consumers and employees, for the environment and for the future. We have to - as ever - promote the hell out of it and demonstrate that it doesn't have to be like Dragons Den or the Apprentice. We have to identify, join and work with all the new networks that are springing up. We have to show solidarity with co-ops overseas who we can learn from. Our great strength, and something that has always given me hope is that the co-operative movement is a truly international movement - because this great new world cannot happen in one country. Not quite sure where I'm going with this i need to think on, but here's my tuppence worth for starters.


Kate Whittle Wed 29 Apr 2020 5:31PM

Not sure if I've answered the question about where to put our energies for maximum impact, I'll think on ..


Nathan Brown (Co-op Culture) Wed 29 Apr 2020 8:15PM

Unless we create an actual new economy, revolution style, abolishing or seizing property and wiping all debts, monetary instruments and ownership then my big concern for all the existing and new co-ops & alternative economic set ups is how they survive the next 12 months to be around to provide the solutions. Loans and community share offers are not the answer to the profit and loss problems. Something to focus energies on? Getting those with the money in the movement (is it one?) to spend it in the right places could be crucial. Previously it was just nice or desirable. All those assets that the movement has been slowly building up could be swooped on by the vultures as debts are defaulted on. Joining up the richer parts of the movement with the cash strapped pioneers might be a start.


Graham Thu 30 Apr 2020 11:05AM

Outside of the co-operative "movement" they call this stuff community wealth building. You are of course correct in stating that there are immediate issues of survival through the short term - the next few weeks and months. We're happy to be a fund where people can pool resources than can be quickly re-distributed to co-ops in distress - we're already doing this is small way through our operations on the Open Collective platform, where people can contribute to P5 directly here, or set up a collective under our fiscal umbrella here, and of course people are very welcome to become members of P6 here, and we're very happy to accept additional donations/contributions as part of that process, or separately. I fear that without heavy duty influence at senior levels within the large co-op orgs the impact we can have may be rather modest on that front, although of course we could launch a campaign to raise awareness amongst those players and others, and would be up for that if there's an appetite and enough people willing to put their shoulder to that wheel. Does anyone know if any other co-op orgs have yet set up a recovery/survival fund?


Nathan Brown (Co-op Culture) Fri 1 May 2020 8:48AM

I wasn't just talking about funding. I'm talking about goods and services too.


Austen Cordasco Thu 30 Apr 2020 10:04AM

Just to clarify and elaborate on the comments I made that @Graham picked up on to start this thread: our fossil-fuelled civilisation is crumbling and there is an analogy between the continual disasters that we are living through and the fall of Rome. Rome wasn’t felled in a day – an aqueduct fell into disrepair here, a bad governor was appointed there, there were local outbreaks of civil unrest and starvation and exactly one pandemic. The military was recalled from the edges of empire but eventually the centre couldn’t hold and barbarians took the capital. Those who are building the new economy are the new barbarians – we do things differently, we have a new sustainable, regenerative, responsible and ecological paradigm and we will use different currencies.

Moving from the general to the specific, what co-operative developers need to do to plan for a post-covid world is identify what sectors will need our expertise and services to repair, renew, rebuild and integrate into the new economy, exactly what services we will need to provide to them and how we manage our currency. It’s great to see that conversation has already started.


Graham Thu 30 Apr 2020 11:08AM

I'm keen to read your thoughts Austen - and others - on what those sectors and services will be. Food, clothing, shelter: can we be more focussed?


Kate Whittle Thu 30 Apr 2020 11:42AM

education? identify and get involved with 'co-operative' schools as trojan horses to get real co-operative ideas into their thinking. Talk to teachers. This is off the wall thinking I have no idea how it could be done, but seems to me useful to do a sort of brainstorm here, and filter out the non or less achievable ideas later?


Graham Thu 30 Apr 2020 12:54PM

There's a co-op trust school near me. I'll get in touch. Good spot.


Sion Whellens (Principle Six/Calverts) Thu 30 Apr 2020 10:16AM

Perhaps acting as a ‘quick response’ network so that where we see emerging a collective self-managed response in a strategically important workplace, industry or sector, we can mobilise advice and information quickly?


Graham Thu 30 Apr 2020 11:09AM

I'm up for this Sion, as you know. What do we need to do to make this real?


Nathan Brown (Co-op Culture) Fri 1 May 2020 8:42AM

Likewise up for this. But if it is purely reliant on probono/volunteer time then it will be limited and piecemeal. We need the movement to get behind such a quick response network.


John Merritt Thu 30 Apr 2020 12:53PM

We (Social Enterprise Link) have been lobbying locally (the Solent area) and we are extending that lobbying the to organisations in the region (Anchor Institutions, Political Parties and Trade Unions) for them to invest time, money and intellectual effort into putting something in place to deal with the fall out of the UK's current malaise.

The two documents I have attached are some of what we have been using to explore the question, and have had a response of 'we are interested and will get back to you' from Bournemouth (BCP) and Southampton Councils. The Development Coop have a Board meeting tomorrow and we will have this on the agenda.

I know only too well, that Social Enterprises can be slippery fish and it was obvious at the New Economy event in Oldham in February, (facilitated by Jonathan Bland) where Ed Mayo, Peter Holbrook and myself talked briefly about a possible way forward, that coherence and conflict in the room of people of 'good will', were challenges that will surface. So there are good reasons for Coops to Do it Ourselves.

I think a multi-stakeholder approach on a grand scale is needed and we should (and do) encourage plenty of grass roots activism. Indeed, Transition and CTRLShift Summit, Stir to Action, Solidarity Economy Association, Coop Party and many others have been on the case for a few years. However, I do think infrastructure has to be in place and we did start the process in our proposals to the labour parties consultation.

Dark Ages and Dark Times do revisit humanity and it maybe we are already entering another. Concern about the rise of the right, anti-immigration sentiments, authoritarian and surveillance capitalism (state and private) and the rest, topped of with a pandemic and a couple of huge recessions, shouldn't be be dismissed. But is the answer different because of the Pandemic and looming recession?

I think 'we' the progressive alliance of red-green-black democratic political economic enlightenment and business consultancy (Barbarians as Austen might say) have quite a job on our hands.

There is some interesting work on Modern Monetary Theory and Positive Money are discussing Electronic Money systems. Local Currencies and Credit Unions should be part of the short term response to this as well.

Build Back Better https://www.unisdr.org/files/53213_bbb.pdf by a UN report and the hashtag used by Social Enterprises, Coops and Mutuals for getting government recognition that our sector needs to be supported, should be tapped into.

I agree with Sion, we need quick responses, (to workers, trade unions, politicians and others) and we need resources to draw on.

I agree with Nathan, we should be getting the wealthier part of the movement to support development

I agree with Austen and Graham that we need to work with industries and businesses that will be a core part of the recovery (Key workers in Key Businesses).

I also think we need to be able to present ourselves to governments, parties, trade unions and others as a flat but structured product and service offer. I think accountancy and audit alongside consultancy, technical innovation and cooperative finance and banking, should be part of that offer. How we put that together in a short time with no money, is a challenge I only have vague ideas about.

My tuppence worth - but there is lots more to come and I hope many more people will be throwing their hat in the ring


Shaun Fensom Sat 2 May 2020 2:23PM

Can we abandon the ‘fall’ of Rome parallel please? Aside from the fact that the fate in the East and West were quite different, the so-called barbarians that replaced the western empire with their Gothic kingdoms, were the ones who gave us medieval Europe - leading to the crusades and the inquisition.


Mark Simmonds (Co-op Culture & Platform 6) Tue 5 May 2020 11:30AM

Similar discussion going on in Community Business Mutual Aid Forum which is meeting on-line on a regular basis - Tuesday mornings. https://cbmutualaid.co.uk/


Cliff Mills Wed 6 May 2020 9:12AM

What do I think Graham? I think that it is a wonderful, if tragic opportunity. It's worth folk knowing that in Greater Manchester, the Mayor is pushing the Build Back Better theme - see the press conference he held with Steve Rotheram here. The GM Co-operative Commission, which reported in January, has been asked both to carry on working to help implement its recommendations, and now to contribute where possible to support the recovery phase. This creates another opportunity.

I agree with Shaun about Rome. I prefer the Monty Python take on it.

Here's something I've just published on Medium about cooperation, not competition.


Shaun Fensom Wed 6 May 2020 11:03AM

Two thoughts, one prompted by @Cliff Mills 's Medium post:

1. Yes, we have seen a surge in people self organising, locally and without bureaucratic fuss or indeed formal cooperative structures - as @kate whittle and others point out. Worth noting though that much of this organisation is fulled by or enabled by digital methods, including the dreaded Facebook.

2. Love the Maoist reference in the Barefoot Co-op Developers. But - thinking about previous coop development fixation with the number of coops - isn’t the lesson of the surge in self organisation that it is the cooperative behaviour that we want to preserve and extend, rather than the number of formal cooperative structures that we want to increase?

Taking 2. to its next step, shouldn’t we pursue the thinking around umbrella structures (eg SMART, and work @Graham and I did on Innovation Cooperative) ? Some work underway on this if anyone interested.


Kate Whittle Wed 6 May 2020 2:21PM

Totally agree with your point 2, @Shaun Fensom we have seen only too often where that fixation leads. Looking back at old copies of Lambeth CDA annual reports (as you do ha ha) it's desperately disappointing how few of the worker co-ops that existed in the late 80s, are still in existence now - Brixton Bikes the only one I think? Please someone correct me if I'm wrong? & we were held up as an exemplary CDA - with a management committee of worker co-op reps. but the only way Lambeth Council could justify funding us was job creation. I am convinced it is more important to work to support sustainability - (and that includes behavours, as you say, and a strong co-operative culture) in existing co-ops, then they will replicate because they are successful, because they work.


Leo Sammallahti Wed 6 May 2020 2:54PM

Regarding 2), it's probably also important to revitalise the existing big cooperatives. In Finland the biggest bank and the retailer are cooperatives with around 2 million members both. They have contested member representative elections with 16% and 21% voter participation in the biggest branch. If Nationwide Building Society would have 16% voter participation rate in a contested board election, it would mean a democratic exercise with around 2,5 million brits voting. That would demonstrate the cooperative/mutual difference to a lot of ordinary people.


Graham Thu 7 May 2020 9:28AM

Totally agree on behaviours: the key was always about the practice (the doing) of cooperation being how we learn.


Graham Thu 7 May 2020 10:01AM

On umbrellas - and https://www.docservizi.it/en/ is one of my favourites in this arena - I also agree. What' we've seen with the rapid - almost overnight - appearance of local Mutual Aid groups is that they don't need structures, or rules or bank accounts and all that paraphernalia, at least in the short term. Of course these things become hugely useful and valuable as things develop, but what comes first is the urge to meet a need and to cooperate to make that happen. In Platform 6 we've gone some way down this road by becoming an Open Collective host, which enables cooperative projects to get started and begin practicing cooperation without needing a bank account.

Some of the stuff I've done around the idea of "Co-operation as a Service" also stemmed from this umbrella approach: when initiatives start up they very commonly don't think too much about governance or rules and technical stuff like that - they want to get on and meet the defined need, whether that is feeding vulnerable neighbours or building software or making widgets. By offering places and services where these initiatives can flourish without having to be diverted by all the technical stuff of being an organisation, and by creating those places and services such that cooperation is the default from day one then we can encourage and accelerate the processes of practising cooperation.


Shaun Fensom Thu 7 May 2020 10:29AM

@Leo Sammallahti I worry that focusing on member participation in big cooperatives simply leads to member disillusionment. Take the example of the Cooperative Group. Member voting is in hundreds of thousands, but motions are passed with Stalinesque margins, and the relationship to everyday experience of your local Co-op shop is tenuous to say the least.

The Co-op has now “got” this to some extent with its member pioneer programme. Except that “getting” this means they are issuing top-down instructions telling member pioneers to be more bottom up and attempting to organise the community response with the Co-operate app and site https://co-operate.coop.co.uk/ . Tempted to say they should rename it “Co-opterate”

Surely more fruitful is for ‘big cooperation’ to be an enabling framework for small cooperation. I don’t think this is the same as the old ‘think global, act local’ slogan. I think it’s a shift that is driven by digital.


Shaun Fensom Thu 7 May 2020 10:36AM

@Graham That’s really interesting. So, are we really talking about flexing Coase’s ‘boundary of the firm’ in two distinct ways: Cooperation as a Service, or One Big Co-op (like https://www.docservizi.it). Both reduce the effort and friction. Both downplay the importance of the corporate boundary .

Or are they really the same thing?


Graham Thu 7 May 2020 10:39AM

I think they are the same thing.


Shaun Fensom Thu 7 May 2020 10:41AM

I don't :)


Graham Thu 7 May 2020 11:03AM

OK. Perhaps we can describe them as two facets of the same strategy.


Cliff Mills Thu 7 May 2020 12:49PM

You sound like a pair of lawyers


Graham Thu 7 May 2020 1:08PM

That's not good.


Leo Sammallahti Thu 7 May 2020 2:03PM

Good points, although I also think that the existing democratic mechanisms in big cooperatives are greatly under-utilised. The fact that there are very few motions and none of them are truly contested (just like almost none of the board positions in building societies) is a testimony of this.

For example, in the last Finnish S-Group retailer election my campaign pledges were putting forward motions (that in S-Group is voted on by elected representatives, not members) to fund an accelerator program for new coops and use worker cooperative job agencies when hiring temporary staff. I imagine Co-operative Group could implement something similar, perhaps through membership motions, although the latter might be tricky since I'm not aware of worker cooperative owned staffing agencies in the UK.

Electoral politics seem to be limited almost solely for public sector positions - local councils and the house of commons. Same sort of energy of ideas and candidates competing with each other seems to be lacking in other elections, such as those of coops and unions.


Shaun Fensom Thu 7 May 2020 3:50PM

@Leo Sammallahti That’s good. Did you get elected? I think for big coops to fund new cooperative business ideas is good - a sort of ‘corporate venturing’. But isn’t there a danger that the democratic input ends up all being about what the big co-op funds rather than what it is and does? A kind of coop CSR? So with the Co-op Group, the member pioneers are increasingly viewed as community workers, ‘engaging’ with the community on how the Co-op distributes largesse. Meanwhile the staff are paid just over minimum wage.


Leo Sammallahti Thu 7 May 2020 4:11PM

No - got exactly 100 votes, would've needed around 300 to get elected :(.

One way that would enable less top-down approach for big coops to support smaller ones could "Co-op Coupons" or vouchers that could be used in number of different cooperatives. Here's some thoughts about it:

"Many consumer cooperatives already issue coupons and vouchers - enabling those coupons to be used in more cooperatives could be one way to implement it, perhaps by requiring the other cooperatives to also issue similar coupons and vouchers. Could they join together as a cooperative that would be responsible for issuing the vouchers and the coupons?

Supporting cooperatives through coupons and vouchers could have some benefits compared to other ways of support, such as grants. The decision on how the support should be allocated would be done by a large number of people based on the ability of cooperatives to provide goods and services that people want, not by having a panel of experts evaluate applications and trying to estimate hypothetical future projections. For a big cooperative that wants to support new cooperatives, there might be additional benefits. If such a cooperative decides to simply donate money to new cooperatives with grants, the members might see it as their money being given away by the managers. If the same money would instead be used to give members cooperative vouchers or coupons, the members would be more likely to see it as an additional member benefit given to them."

This is more of a thought exercise than a precise plan.

However that doesn't address your main point about whether democratic input by members should be primarily about how to allocate funds for other projects - indeed it's just another way for them to do so.

I often hear people criticise big coops for not being true to their cooperative principles, which is not without merit. But it also raises the question - what should they do exactly to be more cooperative? Contested board elections in building societies would be one such thing. Don't have the answers but would be interested to hear thoughts from other people.


Shaun Fensom Fri 8 May 2020 6:05PM

@Leo Sammallahti I think your last question "'what should they do exactly to be more cooperative?" is exactly right. There is too often an expectation that big coops should conduct themselves as if they were a small worker coop. It feels like the bar is set at a level that a large organisation could not possibly meet. But there are real changes that can be made I think. When the Co-op Group was being restructured a group of us launched Coop Springboard. This used to be at springboard.coop (now gone) but I archived the pages here: https://chorlton.coop/7-propositions - as you can see, we put forward seven propositions. I’m quite proud of that work we did still.


John Merritt Wed 6 May 2020 11:40AM

The Coop Party are facilitating a video meeting event at 1.00 today on the economy. NEF leading it I understand. They had a huge influence of the Coop and Labour Party and a I stated earlier, I think we should be acting at all levels.

Shaun I am very interested in initiatives based on a SMart model. I met one of their organisers at a Coops Congress and use the example often with self-employed workers. I am trying to find people interested in a Trades Coop, based on the model (for self employed builders, plumbers, carpenters etc. Do let me know where you are at with your work.

I think cooperative behaviour and cooperative values and principles are obviously central to a broadly more cooperative economy, but without lots of formal cooperatives (and a broad range of solidarity enterprises), with rules, legislation, regulation etc. I fear that Coop decay will set in early.

Mark usefully mentioned Mutual Aid, and I have noticed Adrian Ashton is really active in engaging with the groups. I do think that conversions and start-ups are real possibility, but if they are advised by Accountants, Solicitors and the usual 'business advisors', we know they wont be best advised.

Cooperative Finance (inc Credit Unions, Community Shares, Coop Banks and social and solidarity investment banks need to be in the same discussions and I think coop Accountants and legal advice should be part of our collective offer. Dev Coop is talking to 3rd Sector Accountancy Coop about this including trying to get the Coop sector to use them.

I agree numbers of coops are not the key, but the number of coop members and their activity in their coops is. Coop Development the Development Coop and Platform 6 need to have a strong coherent profile. I would like the return of regional investment collaboration which we could do informally and to let a 1000 cooperative and solidarity flowers blossom.


Shaun Fensom Thu 7 May 2020 10:39AM

@John Merritt we are proposing a SMART-like co-op as something the Greater Manchester Combined Authority could help us construct (resource and political backing). Very early stage. May get nowhere.