Does co-operative research need to involve co-operation?

Research into co-operatives can also lead to a more co-operative approach to the researching process. A panel of researchers attending the Co-operative Education Conference in Manchester looked at...

Research into co-operatives can also lead to a more co-operative approach to the researching process. A panel of researchers attending the Co-operative Education Conference in Manchester looked at what it means to do research co-operatively.

The five researchers are PhD students at different universities and work with the Co-operative College closely. They believe that co-operative principles can be applied when conducting research on co-operatives.

Jo Darnley, who started her PhD in October, is researching the co-operative women leaders of the interwar period, focusing particularly on historic magazine Women’s Outlook. “Practically it means working together, collaborating, sharing insights,” she said referring to co-operative research.

The conference took place on 21 and 22 April at Manchester Metropolitan University
The conference took place on 21 and 22 April at Manchester Metropolitan University

Debbie Ralls, who is doing a PhD at the University of Manchester, said she had received support from the College even though she is not co-sponsored by the organisation. She is focusing on exploring the practice of engagement in a newly established co-operative school. “The key in my research is a more relational approach to engagement, do with rather than do to. As co-operators we should try to promote this in any research, aiming to bring voices together and share different understandings of what engagement meant.”

Pauline Hadaway, a researcher at Manchester University using the National Co-operative Archive to uncover the active role of women within the co-operative movement, also added: “Part of the research is individual. There are opportunities to share and present ideas, having to think through what our values are, there is a co-operative approach, it might be also about why we’re doing this and how we’re working together, that doesn’t happen a lot in universities, they’ve become quite corporate”.

Can co-ops maintain the momentum and further develop co-operative research?

Natalie Bradbury, information co-ordinator at the college is also doing a PhD in art, education and reconstruction in post-war Britain. She questioned the idea that research is only valid if it is academic or if it is setting out to prove something. “Research is a much bigger thing. I don’t think that by any means that’s the only kind of research,” she said.

Another PhD student at the Manchester Metropolitan University, Joanna Dennis also added that her research has been co-operative in some ways. She is looking at the role of the co-operative movement in education.

The panel’s chair, Hazel Johnson, added: “Often you start going in with a set of questions and then after evidence you realise they aren’t the right questions”.

  • You can find more coverage of the Co-operative Education Conference here.
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