Four models of innovation

by Ed Mayo

How do we innovate?

A study of co-operatives and innovation was launched at the recent Quebec International Co-operative Business Summit, which offers a useful framework for thinking about how we do this.

The report was based on a survey of co-operatives, including some of the largest financial co-operatives in the world. The four ‘logics’ they explore are:four-innovation-logics

Four models of co-operative innovation 

– reinvention: adapting current businesses to new market opportunities and new channels

– extension: developing new aligned services and offers on the back of the existing business model

– seeding: partnering and supporting new co-operative ventures

– open innovation: exploring new models in a collaborative and open way.


The report points to plenty of examples in each of these categories. If I had to offer a sense of how the UK co-op sector lined up against these, I would suggest that:

– the larger consumer and farmer co-operatives are focusing largely on reinvention

– there are good examples of extension, such as for consumer retail co-operatives around energy and childcare

– the sector has a great track record over time of support for new co-operative ventures, but these are rarely tied into an innovation strategy so they tend to develop and grow, or fail, on their own rather than the learning feeding back into the co-operatives that may have been a source of support.

– It is the smallest and least resourced of the co-operatives, particularly in the digital space, that are focusing on the opportunities of open innovation.

The work was led by the Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins International Institute for Cooperatives. The authors are asking for input and comment now to shape the areas for their further work on innovation.

How do we innovate? You can add your views here. 

The Politics of Co-ops

We are living in times of global crises: environmental destruction, social inequality, war and conflict, poverty, racism, sexism, ever-rising levels of mental health problems to name just a few.

Through my research on worker co-operatives in the cultural industries I have met many people who do not want to contribute to perpetuating these problems but instead feel passionate about creating alternatives. Many co-operators I have spoken to feel that in order to address the global challenges society is facing, we need work together rather than against one another.

I found that co-ops inspire people because they are about economic democracy and collective ownership, about solidarity and mutual support, about creating workplaces that serve people, not profit and about building economic organisations that have a positive impact on individuals, society and the environment instead of exploiting them.

Clearly, co-operatives are not perfect and they will not solve global problems on their own. But co-ops are a powerful practical example of how people can work together and make a difference – to their own lives, their relationships, their communities and environments. They suggest collective politics as an alternative to passive frustration and individualised self-blame.

By working together and connecting to social movements, trade unions and other progressive social groups, co-ops can increase the visibility of a radical co-operative alternative and contribute to lasting change. Widening the impact of co-operatives requires rediscovering the deeply political roots of the co-operative movement, as well as inventing new strategies for co-operative politics in the 21st century.


Take part in the first ever census of co-operatives. 

As part of Co-operatives UK efforts to understand what co-operatives in the UK need to develop and grow, we’d like to encourage as many co-operatives as possible to take part in the co-operative census. Find out more and add your voice.[link] The deadline to complete the census is Monday 31 October.

To find out more about Cultural Co-ops visit or follow @culturalcoops on Twitter.

For more information on my research on cultural co-ops see Fighting Precarity with Co-Operation? Worker Co-Operatives in the Cultural Sector. New Formations 88

For more on the politics of co-operatives see What Would Rosa Do? Co-operatives and Radical Politics. Soundings 63.

“We did it!” – Bath City FC fans celebrate passing CBS funding target

Bath City fans paused to celebrate at Twerton Park last night, as they passed a milestone from private toward community ownership and longer term operation as a community benefit society. Fans of the 125-year-old club have raised £350,000 with the Big Bath City Bid.


“We did it!” Ken Loach (here with Nick Blofeld) gives a rousing speech to Bath City supporters the week after the Big Bath City Bid passed its target.

With an outline agreement with the present owners and offer of matched funding to cover operations over the next three years the Supporters Society will now purchase 300,000 new shares issued in the club, and become the majority shareholder.

At that stage a new Board will be formed combining existing shareholder-directors with a majority of new directors appointed and elected by the Supporters’ Society. It’s a negotiated handover, aiming to avoid any crisis for the club and to preserve the goodwill and experience of the present owners and Board.

The new Board will appoint a professional general manager to run the ongoing business, and will oversee a partial redevelopment of Twerton Park. It will also set up six volunteer working groups, and a volunteer co-ordinator. Aims include getting regular attendance to 1000 per game.

The development is a major step for the club and for the ward of Twerton. Exploratory discussions are already under way. The ground was built in the 1930s; it’s full capacity of up to 10,000 is rarely used. The redevelopment needs to clear the club’s debts and provide a long-term sustainable community asset.

Speaking at the celebration Bath City fan Ken Loach and incoming chairman Nick Blofeld celebrated the success to date and roused fans for the long road ahead: “We need an army of volunteers.”

Attendance for yesterday’s 1-1- draw with Eastbourne was a three-year high at 1108. Bath City currently sit ninth in the National League South. 


With apologies to the fellow washing his hands this photo gives an idea of the scale of the task and the ambition of Bath City fans.

Mission Impossible: the co-operative remix

by Dave Hollings

A middle aged man enters a coffee shop in Manchester and retrieves a hidden recording device.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save the vital ferry service between Mallaig and the Isle of Skye using the co-operative model.

“You should assemble your team from the Co-operative Movement Force of specialists. This dossier contains details of key contacts and what we know about the business. You are up against a tight deadline as the service is due to close at the end of the month.

“As always, should you or any of your C.M. Force fail, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This device will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck.”

But what happens is more like this.

There is a public service or business reported in the media as in crisis. The co-operative model has obvious potential to save or revitalise it. There are a few Facebook posts saying ‘wouldn’t it be great if that was a co-op?’ Someone may write a blog post or some sort of outline proposal. Occasionally a chance contact might lead to someone from the co-operative movement making contact with someone in the organisation, only to be elbowed out of the way by the likes of KPMG who have an experienced, well prepared team promoting tried and tested ‘solutions’ such as privatisation, asset stripping or a sale to the highest bidder.

Wouldn’t it be great if the co-operative movement really could quickly assemble relevant teams of specialists to provide a viable co-operative option as an alternative to the usual investor driven solutions? The specialists exist, the co-operative model exists – but someone to pull them together and provide them with the dossier of contacts and information doesn’t.

Is it Mission Impossible for the co-operative movement to be able to co-ordinate responses so that the co-operative option is more often seriously considered as a realistic solution?

Buy Twitter!

Nathan Schneider in the Guardian (where else?)

Corporate sharks are circling around the platform we love. But there is another way: shared ownership, where the community takes control

And on Twitter:

#BuyTwitter is becoming a thing! Here’s the call:… And here’s the response: Join us!

Promoted Tweets, advertising and extracting value from our personal adata is anathema to Twitter users.

The way I feel after last week’s success is “We bought the local pub. We bought the local football club. So now we can get together to buy global online platforms worth billions of dollars, right?” But this just isn’t a local feelgood factor however important that may be; it’s an altogether bigger issue, one which could determine how we see and communicate about the world we live in.

Twitter matters. It reaches into our lives and politics. It equips humans with the sort of herd instincts displayed by a shoal of fish. It’s a communications medium already equipped to reach audiences, to campaign and get real world results (see how @Doctorow and @EFF made  HP climb down within three days on print cartridges, for example).

This needs a bold spirit, a few brilliant people at the core and all of us in support. Oh please step forward and support Nathan, you co-operative platform pioneers…


Pizza heaven, worker co-op style


by Ed Mayo

Forty years ago, Berkeley’s now-famous pizza parlour, the Cheeseboard, opened its doors. Organised as a worker co-operative, after a buyout from the first owner, the fame is in part due to the Pizza of the Day, a focus on one amazing Pizza rather than than the usual choice of seventeen. As I write, the Pizza of the Day is “roasted cauliflower, caramelized onion, mozzarella and Montalban cheese, toasted Pistachio, garlic olive oil, parsley”.


Constantly updated: click the image to see Cheeseboard’s special pizza of today.

The Pizza of the Day is aways without meat, and using local and organic produce where possible.

In 1997, inspired by their own success, they helped open another bakery based on co-operative principles. They named it after the founder of the Basque Mondragon Co-operative, Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta – the Arizmendi Bakery.

What they have developed is a way to spread success – which was the call of the very first post on this blog site, by Dave Hollings: how to spread the use of the wheel, rather than wondering how to reinvent it.

Joe Marraffino, Arizmendi Development and Support Cooperative, describes how they have done this: “When the Association is ready to develop a new bakery cooperative, we find a new site, draw new capitalization loans, recruit new worker-owners, and face the risks that any new enterprise faces.  However, these risks are reduced by what is not new: the enterprise adapts the same business plan that existing member bakeries have used, it offers a tested product line using the same recipes, it has a similar name and co-advertises to nearby markets, it uses proven governance structures, and it shares the cost of support services with other members.”

The result, he argues, is that the new worker cooperative bakery will cost less, start faster, and be more resilient than a new business venture. This initial advantage is reinforced by a network of similar businesses offering mutual aid, and by enduring technical assistance. Once the workplace moves into profit, then they pay for their membership of the secondary co-operative, but if it is not, then they pay nothing and still receive full technical assistance services.

The culture of the enterprise is key, and this is perhaps why the model has spread but still far more organically than an investor-owned franchise that simply rolls out a new format and proposition around the country. As the Cheeseboard Collective declares, alongside a passion for good food (with a ‘sourdough starter culture’): “the belief that every voice is central has sustained us over the years. We have never wavered from the original vision of a democratic workplace.”

I suspect that anyone who has eaten at the Arizmendi Bakeries will remember the pizza that they had. But they have another recipe we could learn from, which is how to spread proven success in a bootstrap way.

It is a different model to the lone start-up approach, a different model to the secondary level that provides the support, and perhaps is a risk to the starter co-op that has to commit to engaging with its fledgling worker co-op sisters, but it solves some of the issues that face co-operative development today.

It doesn’t necessarily cross borders. I was hearing from the founders of the co-operative development network in Canada, Coop Zone, last month about an attempt to use the same system to bring a worker co-op bakery to Canada. The hurdles were far higher, as so much of the core business is attuned to the legal and commercial context of the USA. Replication across borders is always more of a challenge, even if the inspiration to try is often richer, because you can see the possibilities in among the differences.

Here in the UK, the Community Shares Unit, a partnership programme of advice and support, over the last seven years has helped to catalyse a market for co-operative capital in which over 100,000 people have invested over £120m to support over 400 community businesses. Could a new replication unit, a new partnership of some form help to spread success? Which among our outstanding worker co-ops would be one to kick off with?

It could just be pizza heaven, worker co-op style.

Labour leader on platform co-operatives and other digital matters

Without wishing to make co-ops a partisan (let alone sectarian) issue Jeremy Corbin had this to say about platform co-operatives in his Digital manifesto launch today:


as part of Labour’s plans for a universally accessible National Education Service, we will create a free-to-use online hub which we’re calling an “Open Knowledge Library”, a digital repository of lessons, lectures, curricula.

“We will foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services. The National Investment Bank and regional banks will finance social enterprises whose websites and apps are designed to minimise the costs of connecting producers with consumers – in transport, accommodation, cultural, catering and other important sectors of the British economy.

“In the new sharing economy, we will reform copyright laws to ensure that cultural workers are paid properly for their labour. And we will introduce new laws guaranteeing a secure employment contract and trade union membership to everyone who earns most or some of their livelihood from digital platforms.

Making the case and expressing support for co-op ownership always welcome. But he went on to say this

“We are also interested in the idea of developing a voluntary scheme that provides British citizens with a secure and portable identity for their on-line activities. The Digital Citizen Passport will be used when interacting with public services like health, welfare, education and housing.

This sounds eerily familiar, but let’s not get into issues around national ID schemes, however voluntary. Except, perhaps, to suggest that an independent and co-operative one might have more interesting possibilities, and be genereally less dangerous and fraught than a government one.

Live report here (The Guardian); full text of launch speech here (from LabourList).