How are co-operatives perceived by the public in Canada, France, Brazil and Japan?

A new study presented at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec looks at how the public perceived co-operatives in four different counties. The “Barometer on the image...

A new study presented at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec looks at how the public perceived co-operatives in four different counties. The “Barometer on the image of co-operatives” is a project of Chaire de Coopération Guy-Bernier, a department affiliated to the School of Management Studies of the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) in Canada. Its main partner is Desjardins Group.

At the Summit, the department presented a study that examines the public’s perception of co-operatives and mutuals and the way in which this has evolved throughout time. For example, the study asks whether co-operatives are seen as more “innovative” compared to previous years.

The report aims to highlight how perception has changed in order to understand what campaigns work best and what communication strategies co-operative bodies should adopt.

During the first stage of the research, the authors sought to identify different indicators with regards to the image of co-ops. The research included 40 interviews with French and Quebec consumers, who helped determine the terms most used to talk about co-operatives. Overall, 42 qualifiers were selected, such as public-spirited, democratic or innovative.

In addition, the researchers engaged with co-operative practitioners and experts, who took part in the 2014 edition of the Summit. They were asked to take part in a survey that asked them which of the 42 qualifiers were present within their co-operative. Their responses helped grouping these adjectives into different categories.

Once identified, these qualifiers were presented to various researchers, who verified the coherence of the results. In total 2,000 respondents from Brazil, Canada, France and Japan took part in the survey. In order to take the survey they had to be able to name at least one co-operative or mutual they were aware of.

The results point towards six main key words that consumers associate with co-operatives: responsibility, large scale, competitive, client-oriented, employee oriented and sustainable.

The research also shows that the perception varies from state to state. For example, in Brazil the public has a positive view of co-operatives but these continue to be associated with small local structures. By contrast, in Japan where co-ops are perceived as bigger enterprises not associated with one particular location, they are described in less favourable terms. In Canada co-operatives are seen as businesses that act in the interest of clients and employees while in France the public associated co-operatives with social responsibility and being client centred.

Speaking at a plenary session on how to build a Co-operative Decade, Professor Michel Séguin of UQAM presented the main findings of the survey. He said: “The objectives of a traditional enterprise are not the same as the ones of a co-op so performance needs to be measured differently.”

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