THE Co-operative College is calling for co-operatives to work closer together to increase their active membership.
The Just Ask toolkit, just published by the College, concludes there is a great potential to bring together a wider range of Co-op organisations and member-based social enterprises to address issues of common concern.
The project has worked with housing and consumer co-ops to raise issues of real concern. Addressing these will prove central to the long-term survival and success of co-ops.
Diversity is perhaps the most important issue and work has been done on involving young people, ethnic minorities and disabled people in co-ops.
The report says there is further potential for co-ops to work together with a wider range of member-based businesses and social enterprises to address problems together.
Joint author Johnston Birchall says: "When we set out on the journey that became this project, we expected to find different issues in different co-operative sectors that would provide comparisons from which we could learn.
"However, much of the research told us the opposite ? that challenges and issues were common, whether in housing co-ops, consumer co-ops or in one of the latest forms of co-op organisation, football supporters' trusts."
Tom Woodin, the other joint author, added: "Producing this toolkit revealed the enormous power and sense of belonging that membership can bring. This opens up fantastic opportunities ? new routes to learning, to active involvement and participation in a society where democratic renewal is desperately needed."
The report, which was based on co-ops in the West Midlands, found evidence to suggest that co-ops operate on a word-of-mouth basis. When the College asked people why they joined or got involved with co-ops the reason was because someone asked them.
The Just Ask Membership Toolkit is designed to help co-operative and social enterprises recruit and develop active members. It builds on a series of action research projects carried out by co-ops in the West Midlands.
It says the importance of valuing and publicising membership cannot be overstated by co-ops and events should be promoted. Given the great benefits that can accrue from active membership, for co-operatives and society as a whole, there is a fundamental need to raise awareness of these benefits.
For co-ops to prosper further, the report adds that they should take a renewed interest in new membership models and look at improved ways of working. Over the past few years there has been evidence of an embryonic interest at government level, especially with the continuing foundation hospitals debate.
The report was produced by the Co-operative College in partnership with Stirling University. It compliments the first publication on membership, Getting Involved, a two-paper study looking at the position of membership, and what motivates members to become and remain active in co-ops.
Areas covered in this pack include: the current state of membership, developing a vision for membership, looking at where you are now, recruitment, membership participation and governance. Practical activities include quizzes, case studies, action planning tools and a CD-ROM for customised activities.
For further information, contact the college on 0161 246 2926 ? the full report costs £ 45.