Who counts the co-ops?

We kick off the new year with a series of articles on issues around co-op growth – starting with statistics

Before you can look in depth at the question of co-operative growth – both in terms of quantity and quality – it helps to know where you’re starting from. Who is responsible for collecting, sorting and analysing this information about co-operatives?

Data is collected at regional, sectoral, national and international level – but there has historically been an issue around a lack of standardisation. This is a problem, as good data is essential to quantify the impact of co-operatives on their members and the economy as a whole. Currently, reliable and comparable statistics on co-operatives are missing in most countries of the world. 

To this end, in 2018, the ILO’s Department of Statistics published Guidelines concerning statistics of co-operatives. It recognised a need for national policies to improve national statistics on co-operatives – with a view to forming and implementing development policies.

Globally, one of the most comprehensive sources of information on co-op statistics is the World Cooperative Monitor, produced by the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Euricse) and the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). It is the successor to the former Global 300 project and aims to develop a “multi-dimensional database reporting on the socio-economic value and impact of co-operatives” – in regional, national and international contexts. 

The monitor is produced annually. The 2019 edition collected data for 4,575 co-operatives and mutuals (1,152 from Europe, 3,218 from the Americas, 197 from Asia-Pacific, and 8 from Africa) from 10 sectors of activity. The Top 300 co-operatives and mutuals reported a total turnover of over two trillion USD (2,034.98 billion USD), based on 2017 financial data.

But how is this data used, and what purpose can it serve in the future? On the publication of the 2014 Monitor, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Cooperative Alliance (2009-2015), said: “The importance of the World Cooperative Monitor cannot be understated. Not only is it a crucial tool which we can use to raise the profile of co-operatives to policy-makers and industry professionals, but it also provides an incredibly useful starting point for researchers and academics alike.”

The 2020 Monitor is due to be published in early 2021, and will include a special focus on Covid-19 and Sustainable Development Goal 13 (climate action) produced in collaboration with the International Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank (ICETT). It will also include the usual Top 300 and sector rankings.

According to the ICA, there is no global-level comprehensive database of co-operative statistics because statistical offices analyse co-operatives differently from country to country. Therefore, it is difficult to get a complete picture. 

Alongside the Monitor, key reports and tools that provide some global data on co-operatives are the Global Census on Cooperatives (produced by David Grace in 2014), Cooperatives and Employment (produced by CICOPA in 2014 and 2017) and the Data Explorer produced by the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC). 

In the UK, Co-operatives UK monitors a range of data sources to provide the most comprehensive intelligence available on the country’s co-operative sector. These sources include annual returns submitted to the relevant authorities (FCA and Companies House), annual returns submitted by Co-operatives UK members, the Department of Education data on school finances, Prudential Regulation Authority data on credit unions finances and other data from other federal organisations and collaborators. This data is made openly available to allow anyone to access, analyse, build upon, share, and help improve it.

Co-operatives UK’s data collection and monitoring work sees it publish statistics annually in the Co-op Economy report, where it reveals turnover, membership and employee figures for thousands of co‑op businesses across the UK. The Co-op Economy 2020 report highlighted that new
co-op start-ups are almost twice as likely to survive the first five years, compared with traditional businesses. 

In January, the organisation will be repeating the Big Co-op Census, which it last ran five years ago. “This in-depth research will gather information from members and the wider co-op sector on the issues and challenges they face in the wake of Covid 19 and Brexit,” says Co-operative UK chair, Don Morris.