The way in which the public perceives co-operatives has changed throughout the past five years. Research conducted by Co-operatives UK shows how the reputation of co-operatives has fallen with the crisis emerging at the Co-operative Group in 2014. However, the sector is now starting to regain its credibility and people’s opinion of co-ops is now almost back to pre-2014 levels.
Co-operatives UK tracks the reputation of the sector on a regular basis. The model used looks at the key associations that the public has with the co-operative model. In a special session at the Practitioners Forum, which was organised by Co-operatives UK in Manchester in November, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, Ed Mayo, presented the results of the surveys.
Over the last year all indicators but one have moved in a positive direction. Co-operatives are still perceived as ethical, but the percentage has decreased from 51% to 46%. The democratic nature is now the leading characteristic that people understand about co-ops.
In 2014 6.1% of those surveyed viewed co-ops as unprofessional and 10.6% saw them as inefficient. The percentages have now dropped to 2.6% and, respectively, 6.6%. However, only 12.5% of people perceive co-operatives as profitable, compared to 22% five years ago. While co-ops were not seen as innovative, this has started to change, increasing from 12% in 2010 to 16.6% in 2015. This trend is particularly noticeable among young people, who perceive co-operatives as innovative, associating them with new co-ops in renewable energy or worker co-ops, explained Mr Mayo.
A main challenge remains the public’s lack of awareness of the movement. When asked “How many different co-operative businesses can you name?”, half of those respondents that were able to name any co-operatives could name only one co-operatives. Ed Mayo explained that while there was some broad awareness of co-operatives, the sector needed to deeped that awareness by building on the positive aspects. “Start from what people know and understand. Local came up so strongly so we ran the Co-operatives Fortnight on the theme Local, loved and trusted,” he said.
Chairing the session, Peter Couchman of the Plunkett Foundation said that co-operatives had a communication opportunity but that framing mattered as well. He added that co-operatives were leaders in terms of engagement, but that this was not as strong as other indicators in driving behaviour.
The analysis is based on national omnibus polling from George Street Research and YouGov commissioned by Co-operatives UK between 2010 and 2015.
- You can find more from the Co-operatives UK Practitioners Forum here, including slides from the presentations.