Co-operative practitioners in Scotland – what do they want from researchers?

The Global Co-operative Research Conference was told the sector faces issues when it comes to funding access to research

How do practitioners in the co-operative sector use research? In a separate session at the Global Co-operative Research Conference in Stirling, Co-operative practitioners from Scotland shared some their main research areas.

Bob Yuill, deputy chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), argued that agriculture was ahead of many other industries in terms of how to adopt technology, but not when it came to how to share it. The SAOS is focusing on fostering co-operation and exchange between members.

At Capital Credit Union in Edinburgh the main source of access to research is the Bank of England, which published studies on a regular basis. As a small credit union, the organisation struggle to buy quality research, according to chief executive Marlene Shiels.

Only 2% of the UK’s population is member of credit unions, a percentage far smaller than in Ireland (75%) and USA (40%). Ms Shiels said research on credit unions was welcomed particularly to make the case against some of the restrictive regulations credit unions have to face. She called on researchers to conduct studies on credit unions to help make the case for regulatory changes. “We need to convince the British government that credit unions have a future,” she said.

Scotmid, a co-operative retailer with 4,000 employees, also places a strong emphasis on research. It has conducted or commissioned paid research focused on retail, its brand, industry trends, consumer insights or the future of the high-street.

Chief financial officer John Dalley said that getting hold of comparative data for Scotland was difficult. He called for research into how co-ops can co-operate in spite of competition law. Another area of interest for Scotmid is how to best contribute to communities, whether via a dividend or by investing in them.

Sarah Deas, chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland, also talked about the organisation’s research needs. She said the CDS had looked at specific issue such as access to funding or the perceptions of the population and business communities regarding co-ops and their role.

Sarah Deas
Sarah Deas

As well as carrying out internal research, CDS has worked with academics, consultants, and universities. The organisation would welcome research on the resilience of co-ops, she added.

Researchers at the conference also raised concerns about the lack of funding available for co-operative research, arguing that self-funding could lead to limited results.

“We can pool research funding. Come talk to us, we can create networks to pool finance together to look at research,” said Mr Yuill.

Ms Shiels added: “We want to employ someone to do big piece of research and it’s part of budget. We don’t always manage to get people who understand the co-operative and credit union model who do research.”

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