Social co-operative multi-stakeholder models are a unique and dynamic form of democratic social enterprise, according to a newly published report. They are spreading across Europe and have their roots in the Social Solidarity Economy movement that has been strong for decades in Italy and southern Europe.
Social co-operatives in Italy have a strong track record and have shown how to scale up co-production and embed this in genuine and democratic forms of mutual ownership and governance. The review has found several key developmental issues and challenges where strategic guidance is vital to position a social co-operative agenda so that it is primed for success in the UK.
Author of the report, Pat Conaty, has outlined the six key qualities of social co-operatives:
First, the involvement of multiple stakeholders in the ownership and governance of co-operatives is not straightforward. It is a major management challenge to balance conflicting areas of interest. Fortunately, there are lessons from abroad to draw upon for guidance – Italy and Japan have more than 30 years of experiences with these models, and Quebec has more than 15 years.
Second, collaborative partnerships are crucial to success with local government and other commissioning bodies, and also with co-operative capital investment partners, ranging from social banks to community development finance institutions.
Third, digital technology, volunteer involvement and social currencies can be used creatively to reduce organisational and management transaction costs and to mobilise the co-delivery of services. The Seikatsu Co-operatives in Japan and Elder Power in Maine, USA, offer exemplary best practices.
Fourth, co-operative consortia enable co-operatives to collaborate effectively, procure jointly, secure social finance, pool risks, share research and development and replicate services more rapidly. Aligning these institutionally through distributed and interdependent co-operative structures is essential for national expansion.
Fifth, open-source information, action-learning set education and the fostering of a ‘social solidarity’ culture of collaboration can facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge transfer and cultivate the development of horizontal forms of economic and associative democracy.
Sixth, care quality marks need to be developed to certify, maintain and enhance standards. Involving stakeholders in the ownership and governance of social and healthcare services enables transparency, accountability and trust to be built. Low-cost social accounting metrics like Prove It and the Balance Scorecard can measure well-being, aid ongoing improvements of service and build credibility.