Can the co-operative model help to open data?

As part of the I’m Open campaign, co-operators and open data experts came together to discuss if co-operatives could be used as business models for publishing open data. 

As part of the I’m Open campaign, co-operators and open data experts came together to discuss if co-operatives could be used as business models for publishing open data.

Participants came together to discuss the benefits of using open data in the co-operative model in the event organised by Co-operatives UK, Co-operative News and Open Data Manchester last Friday in Manchester.

Speakers from Open Data Manchester, and Co-operatives UK opened the discussion with talks about the governance of co-operatives, successful open data models and how the two can be linked.

Ged Devlin, Legal Officer at Co-operatives UK, opened the meeting with a talk on co-operatives and governance. He explained that co-ops can be: producer, consumer or mixed ownership, but there are pitfalls when trying to find an appropriate level of influence in mixed co-operatives.

Looking at how co-operatives could work with open data, he said: “The fascinating opportunity for what we’re discussing here is that most co-operative organisations we work with still operate on governance models from 100 years ago, we’re so far away from that.

“The way we participate, the way we consume, there’s something interesting to explore the way this could look from a co-operative perspective.”

The next speaker, Ric Roberts from Open Data Manchester, shared his already existing open data business model. The company, Swirrl, publishes data for companies openly. The site links data to make it easier to find and many public agencies are being encouraged to open up their data, but they often don’t have the skills or resources to do it themselves.

The final discussion of the day came from Tim Davies, co-director of Practical Participation and Web Science/Social Policy PhD student at the University of Southampton, who discussed the benefits of open data for co-operatives. He said open data is “accessible, standardised and re-usable”. He continued by saying it promised: “Better policy, better practise, participation and economic growth. We need to get into communities, to get data to people, to use data to a make a difference.”

The meeting ended with a discussion on how open data can be put back into co-operatives such as: making the data available publicly would help to increase awareness of co-ops, sharing data might support the wider social aims of a co-operative and it would allow better transparency and accountability.

In his blog after the meeting, Tim Davies said: "As businesses, co-operatives have a wide range of data they might consider making available as open data. Discussions in today’s workshop highlighted the wide variety of possible data: from locations of retail coop outlets, to energy usage data gathered by an energy co-operative, or turnstile data from a co-operative football club.

"Co-operatives might also hold datasets that contain personal or commercially sensitive data, such as the records held by the co-operative bank, or the shopping data held by the retail co-operative, but that could be used to generate derived datasets that could be made openly available to support innovation, or to inform action on key social challenges."

• An open document for contuining the conversation is available on Google Docs. Also follow the conversation that took place online during the meeting.

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