Researchers from across the co-operative world have said research is fragmented.
At a session on the state of research into the co-operative sector around, Dr Ann Hoyt from the University of Wisconsin in the United States joked at the start of her presentation: “I was asked to talk about research networks into co-operatives in the United States. If that’s all I did then I would be finished very quickly.”
For all the speakers – who each provided an overview of what co-operative research is being undertaken in their region – two common themes emerged.
First, with a few exceptions, research into the co-operative sector appears to be fragmented. There are fascinating pieces of research being done, but they tend to be scattered across a range of topics rather than clustered around particular issues. As such, a coherent body of research that academics are engaged with does not appear to have developed.
Gianluca Salvatori, Chief Executive of Euricse, the research organisation responsible for the World Co-operative Monitor among other pieces of work, said: “The research on co-operatives in Europe is fragmented, so weak, so a small research organisation like ours can make a difference.”
Second, much of the research undertaken is in the form of partnerships between universities and co-operative organisations, often with the latter providing some level of financial support.
As such, research is often practical and developed to fit with the current interests of co-operatives, such as understanding the factors that influence co-operative development or practices for good governance.
While this is important, there was a sense that a shift is needed in the way co-operative research is developed.
Rather than research being seen simply as a practical instrument to support the co-operative movement, the speakers suggested co-operative researchers focus on fundamental issues and debates in both society and the academic world.
From employee happiness to job creation and business resilience, there are important, current issues that research into co-operatives can address.
The question, therefore, is how to develop robust, topical research that can also be communicated in a simple and practical way for use by the co-operative movement.