How can co-ops develop and maintain a co-operative culture? La Fédération des Coop’HLM, a French co-op housing federation, has published a guide to help its members and other co-ops disseminate a real co-operative culture.
In its short guide, the federation offers its member co-ops practical tips to create or strengthen their co-operative culture using a four-step methodology. The guide features four chapters with action ideas, practical recommendations and additional resources for co-ops to get started, each focusing on one step.
The first step suggested is taking stock of the situation of the co-operative in terms of the development of membership and co-operative culture. The guide suggests doing so by conducting interviews with the people directly concerned, particularly the employees and tenants (users) of the co-op.
This action will inform the second step, which is formulating clear and shared objectives. The guide suggests associating a set of indicators for each objective, as well as getting the management’s support to ensure the message is communicated within the co-ops.
As a next step, the guide proposes prioritising actions, starting with the most essential ones. This could include developing a joining/subscription policy for both tenants/users and employees and starting an educational process, creating a discourse around the co-operative model, and facilitating the participation of members in general assemblies and the board of directors. The guide suggests identifying and training certain people to deliver this message and focusing on attracting interested individuals rather than aiming to get everyone involved. In terms of communication, the guide highlights the importance of spreading the co-operative message both internally within the organisation, and externally.
The fourth and final step suggested is a planning exercise to establish a pace of work and medium and long-term perspectives. Measures suggested include identifying the resources (budget, human time, tools and actions already existing), relating to the co-op’s agenda to avoid periods of overload or scheduling certain actions on this agenda, and planning a schedule of the first actions (validated by the management).
In its concluding remarks, the Federation points out that the development of a co-operative life and culture is a long-term process that “must be experienced positively by everyone”. The guide advises co-ops not to move forward at a forced pace, put pressure or rush.
“It is better to adopt the strategy of small steps and value each small success,” it says. “The co-op culture will spread gradually. Please note: it often happens that time is dedicated to launching an approach or a project but that the time needed to make it last over time is underestimated.
“In addition, the more participatory the mode of operation, the more time and work it will require for those carrying out the approach. Anticipating the time to dedicate to it is therefore essential.”
Coop’HLM stands for Habitations à Loyer Modéré, or rent-controlled housing, which was first introduced in France in 1908. Since then, housing co-ops have grown to include 400,000 housing units.
The full guide is available on the federation’s website (in French).