The beginners’ guide to platform co-ops

Handy intro written by Maira Sutton, Cat Johnson and Neal Gorenflo to Platform Co-ops here: 

there is an alternative — one that places control and ownership of digital services into the hands of its users. It’s called a platform cooperative, or platform co-op.

The guide from Shareable covers

On the specific matter of personal data the authors suggest:

There are two key issues in how corporations handle data obtained from their users. First, algorithms can manipulate users’ data in ways that bias and discriminate against them in harmful ways. Second, there can be serious privacy implications regarding when and how much of this data is handed over to unknown third-parties like advertisers or government agencies without judicial warrants or other types of public oversight.

Platform co-ops, by the very nature of being owned and democratically-controlled by users, would be obligated to follow procedures that do the utmost to protect privacy. Sound privacy practices may include the refusal to sell or provide personal data to third-parties unless required to by a warrant and using encryption tools to ensure that data would not be intercepted or lay vulnerable to malicious hacking.

Calling @DSearls! VRM anyone?

Cool. HT @aprilrinne  and Open Coop 

Co-operating to overcome #peakstuff; the Library of Things

Library of Things: what a terrific idea. From the Grauniad (where else):

Is the Library of Things an answer to our peak stuff problem?

New social enterprise lending everything from spades to wetsuits is one of a new breed of organisations pitched as a democratic alternative to Uber and Airbnb

The Library of Things in London
The launch of the Library of Things in London, which encourages people to borrow not buy. Photograph: Sebastian Wood

Surely a natural for a co-operative approach? We want one here, soon!

“The dawn of the practical”


by Peter Couchman.

The history of co-ops is long and rich, with thousands of publications. However, it is filled with the what not the how of co-ops. It is filled with how many there were and how big they became, but not how they were developed. I hope that the new strategy will focus on the how.

Looking at how co-ops are developed gives fascinating insights. It shatters the English view that Rochdale is the only source of co-operative innovation. It played a vital role, but other equally rich development traditions emerged around the world. Raiffeisen, Schulze, Arizmendiarrieta, Desjardins and Coady to name but a few, all developed different approaches. Our challenge is to constantly ask ourselves the question: how can this wisdom be applied to the challenges and opportunities we face today and tomorrow?

One of those traditions is that which we have inherited at the Plunkett Foundation from our founder, Sir Horace Plunkett. He created over 1,000 co-ops in rural Ireland. More importantly, he had to adapt the approaches used in Britain to the world of conflict that he found himself in. An approach developed in a world of turbulent change is one that is likely to be of use to us today.

There are a number of key elements to the approach he developed.

The best way to achieve social change is through economic change

Co-operatives are an economic solution being applied to making the world a different place. Like Plunkett, we will engage with the political, social and cultural leaders and movements of our day, but be clear what our part of the solution is.

Co-operatives have to be supported to succeed in the technical, economic and social

To achieve the aspirations of the co-operative sector, support needs to be a blend of advice on how to operate in the business sector that each co-op wishes to, how to make the economic model of being a co-operative work and ensuring a co-op stays connected to its community and its social mission.

Co-operatives have to stay connected to the communities from which they have come

Of these three, staying connected is the one that we cannot take for granted. It needs significant support and constant refreshing.

How we attract people to form co-operatives is a vital part of the process

Too often, co-ops talk among themselves rather than reaching out. Our challenge is to inspire several generations at once who have lost all connection with the idea that a co-operative may be the solution to the problem they face.

Co-operative development is a team activity not the work of one heroic individual

None of us have all the answers by ourselves. The most effective forms of co-operative development are team based, drawing on the expertise and skills of a range of individuals and organisations.

Government has a role in the development of co-operatives, but it is a limited one

Sitting back and waiting for Government is not a strategy that works. We need to support what needs to be done ourselves and treat Government support as an added bonus.

The National Co-operative Development Strategy is a unique opportunity to bridge the divide between talking about the Co-operative Movement we would like to have and the lack of resources to help get us there. As such, it is vital that we focus on what it will take to make it happen. Only then will we have what Sir Horace called for over one hundred years ago: “the dawn of the practical.”

Peter Couchman is Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation.

Mexican indigenous community co-op becomes world’s first mobile phone not-for-profit

Here’s a co-operative heart-warmer in today’s Guardian (where else?)

Now, a legal triumph by indigenous activists has cracked the monopoly enjoyed by Mexico’s powerful telephone magnates – including the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim – and opened the door to new services which will slash the cost of communication.

Co-op housing: it feels good to move in

Lovely simple story, well worth reading, of a school admin worker being first to move into new co-operative housing in Loftus Garden Village, Newport:

Jane Karagianis, an admin worker from Rougemont School purchased a 1 bedroom coach house apartment, and is very enthusiastic about both her home and the community-focused style of living.  Jane said: “I was initially bowled over by the quality of the build and felt the garden village was a very special place, definitely something I wanted to buy into”.

That quality of enthusiasm for every part of  building project from craftsmanship to governance is priceless. And I’d suggest it’s largely missing in conventional shareholder-value-driven property development work. The difference in underlying intention makes all the difference.



What If… The Co-operative Sector Could Build Its Own Development Fund

by Dave Hollings

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 17.26.45
The website

In honour of a longstanding tradition in the co-operative movement, it began in a pub.

After Co-operative Congress in Birmingham in 2015, several members of worker co-operatives discussed the problem of funding specialist support for and to promote worker co-operatives in the UK in a nearby pub. Worker co-operatives, because they are employee owned, are excluded from most ‘social enterprise’ funds and the dual role of individuals as employees and the employees collectively as employer throws up business and governance issues that conventional business advisors just don’t grasp.

But we went beyond bemoaning our lot. An idea for creating our own fund financed by small contributions from worker co-operative members was sketched out. Over the following weeks the idea was developed and deepened to become the Solid Fund:-

  1. Members of worker co-operatives are asked to contribute £1 per month.
  2. Contributions are paid by the worker co-operative – it is up to each co-operative whether their members pay in, whether the co-operative pays on their behalf and whether contributions are compulsory or voluntary. We don’t pry.
  3. The fund is managed on-line through Loomio, to keep overheads to a minimum
  4. The funds are held by Co-operative and Community Finance for a small fee
  5. The priorities of the fund are mutual support where worker co-operatives help each other out and activities and events which promote worker co-operatives
  6. We have a rule which says that we only spend a proportion of the total funds each year, so that the fund grows over time

The worker co-operative sector is one of the smallest parts of the UK co-operative sector and most worker co-operatives are small or micro enterprises. So what might a fund drawn from such a small constituency achieve? In the first 12 months we have grown to:

  • 491 members
  • Contributions of roughly £2,200 a month
  • Total in the kitty of around £40,000 (and we have released a bit of money this year.).

And, slowly but surely, the fund is getting bigger.

What if a properly resourced similar fund at scale, marketed to the 15m members of UK co-operatives was set up?

If just one co-operative member in a 1000 signed up, there would be a fund of £200 000 a year for co-operative development UK. If we could aim for the not overly ambitious target of one co-operative member in 100 signing up, there would be a fund of £2m a year for co-operative development in the UK.

This fund would be ours. It would not be subject to the vagaries of government policy. It would not be hedged in or limited by exclusions by geography or sector imposed by outside funders, it would not be entirely at risk if one of the larger co-operatives got into difficulty and had to reduce its contribution. The fund would be sustainable.

If you’re interested in joining the Solid Fund, visit


When is a platform co-op not a co-op?

There’s a lot on platform co-ops, and a lot more to come. We’ve referred already to pieces by Bill Thompson, Trebor Scholtz and Jerry Fishenden.

Articles such as this by  Cat Johnson (Eleven Platform Cooperatives Creating a Real Sharing Economy) refer to services such as FairmondoStocksy (a Canadian co-op providing royalty-free stock photography, based in Victoria BC and Backfeed. Also to a bunch of Uber-challengers:

  • Juno a New York based Uber challenger:  drivers can be contractors or employees (but not, it seems, owners or Members)
  • Union Taxi – taxi co-op in Denver, Colorado with e-hailing (like Uber) and driver ownership and control of the business
  • PDX Yellow Cab founded by Somalis and the Union Cab Cooperative  both in Portland (tho neither yet offers e-hailing)
  • VTC Cab – Parisian Uber competitor
  • Modo Vancouver-based consumer car sharing co-op, lets Members hire cars for $4/hr

Then there’s Timefounder – Barcelona based equity split system, the New-Zealand based collective Enspiral which self-describes as a DIY social enterprise support network and Tapazz, a peer to peer carsharing co-op in Belgium and Peerby – partially crowdfunded Dutch neighbour-to-neighbour goods sharing platform.


The reaction to Cat’s article is interesting too (and see her update below). Because not all the services she refers to are strictly co-ops. This raises the question: is it the quality of co-operation that matters, or is it the strict legal co-operative form? Is it meaningful to speak, as she does of using

the term “platform cooperative” in a non-legal way

Surely co-operative is a legal term, and a clear legal form. Is it one member one vote that matters to us, employee- or customer-ownership, or an outcome that we can loosely describe as co-operative or collective?

We need to set a a boundary to what we discuss. But what is the shortcoming we see in, for example, social enterprises that achieve a co-operative outcome but do not have a strictly co-operative legal form?

Continue reading “When is a platform co-op not a co-op?”