The International Co-operative Research Forum

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This document has been made available in electronic format
     by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA
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                     January 1996


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     The International Co-operative Research Forum
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by Sven Ake Book*

Thank you for putting the International Co-operative Research Forum on the
agenda. I take this as an appreciation of the fact that the ICA Research
Committee has paid much attention to co-operative values and principles
during recent years. So, here I focus on this subject.

The Manchester Forum

The Forum is organised every four years by the ICA Research Committee,
local co-operative research institutes, co-operative research societies and
co-operative organisations. We held one in Stockholm in 1988, one in Tokyo
in 1992 and the most recent was in Manchester a few days ago. In the years
between forums we organise one or more seminars.

During recent years there has, as I said, been much discussion regarding
issues associated with co-operative values and principles, and these issues
were the main theme of the Manchester Forum. The Forum was organised
together with the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), the British Society
for Co-operative Studies, the Plunkett Foundation and the Open University's
Co-operative Research Unit. Between 130 and 150 participants and observers
from most parts of the world attended, and we discussed more than 50 papers
and presentations in plenary and workshop sessions.

I will now turn to some of our views on the suggested principles, prepared
by our colleague Ian Macpherson. These (with some changes) are presented as
the proposal of the ICA Board. Of course, many of these views are research
oriented, as they were presented in this Forum and previously in our
seminars. This is natural, since the participants were individuals with
research-based views. We have not attempted to merge those views into
collective opinions or statements representing the Forums or seminars as a
whole, because that is not the aim of our activities. Our primary aim is to
promote the understanding of co-operative organisations and, subsequently,
the development of co-operative theories.

Nevertheless, as chairman for many years (now a retired chairman), I feel
that I am in a position to present some interpretations of the Forum.

Views from a Research Perspective

I am dividing my interpretations of the Forum's views into six main points.
For a more complete account I would refer you to the report which we intend
to publish subject to the necessary finances being raised.

Firstly, the overall reaction to Ian's approach to the co-operative
identity and the revision of the principles1 has been generally positive.

Since I have had some involvement in this process of reexamination I feel
qualified to say that I am impressed by Ian's work. It is not easy to
transfer the many ideas, experiences, opinions, etc. into so few  concrete
formulations. In my opinion Ian has managed to carry forward work begun in
1992.

The way in which the basic value identity is expressed might be discussed
for all eternity, but I think we now have a satisfactory formulation. And
the bridge from that value identity to the practice - in other words the
principles - is built in such a way that it will certainly be in use for
decades.

Secondly, we also consider the revised principles to be general enough to
include most of the co-operatives likely to be formed during the next
century. This is important, since the co-operative world will certainly
become even more pluralistic in the decades to come. We urgently need
principles that are universal enough to embrace organisations which are
basically co-operative in character but such principles must, at the same
time, be selective enough to maintain a co-operative identity. Ian has
succeeded in managing to handle this delicate balance.

Thirdly, most of us particularly appreciate the fact that Ian has managed
to include community responsibility among the principles. As I explained in
my report to the Tokyo Congress, this is a self-evident aspect of
Co-operation, embedded in its very nature. But it was not previously
explicitly expressed by the principles, and this led to some confusion.

So, it is good that Ian has made the community responsibility into a
separate principle: all the more so because co-operative models will
increasingly spread to those areas of people's needs which are
characterised by social and community relations.

I have observed that the proposal in the Congress document has been
amended. As I see it, the ICA Board's amendment introduces an unnecessary
mixture of principles and policies. The fact that co-operatives have a
community responsibility is, as said, embedded in their nature and
constitution: that is an issue about values and principles. The question of
how, and to what extent, such a responsibility should be carried out
concerns our implementation policy and consequently, as with other
policies, is a matter for the members to decide upon. It is not necessary
to point this out in the principle about community responsibility, since it
is covered by the democracy principle.

Fourthly, regarding capital formation. Some of us, including myself, have
hesitated before the fact that the issue about 'capital for independence' -
presented under many names in co-operative contexts (such as 'collective
capital', 'indivisible capital' and 'social capital') - is not included in
the wording of the third principle. It is a large issue, not possible to
discuss here, but I know that these issues have bothered many co-operators
in theory and practice.

Now I can observe that there is an amendment in the proposal in the ICA
documents from the ICA Board. That is satisfactory. However, the problem
about the distinction between 'collective capital' and 'social capital'
remains. This issue is probably best approached by the implementation
policy, since it differs in importance, and the preconditions are
different, according to the types of co-operative and the contexts in which
they operate.

Fifthly, I must state that some of us also have doubts about the fact that
employee and worker participation has not been explicitly reflected in the
principle of democracy. I know from the research for my report that this is
a long story with differing opinions, and I am not surprised that this
aspect has disappeared since my report to the Tokyo Congress. Perhaps it
might be considered as a part of the implementation policy of democracy and
not as a part of the principles itself. I have heard this argument many
times.

Anyway, the future will certainly and for various reasons, demonstrate new
(or renewed) forms of combinations of member and worker (employee)
democracy, to a large extent in accordance with the old model of
co-operative co-partnership. This is challenging for co-operative
development, consequently it is important to be prepared for the emergence
of such co-operative forms.

Sixthly, and lastly, the principle about education. In our research
meetings we spent much time discussing that crucial aspect of co-operative
development, as was the case in this Forum in Manchester. I might interpret
the majority view by saying that the basics of education are too cautiously
expressed in the proposed principle. And I will emphasise that we do not
claim this because we are researchers, and thus part of the educational
system. We have derived this view from much empirical and theoretical
study.

During the 1980s in particular, the subject of education has tended to be
neglected. By education, I mean the establishment of an understanding
community environment and working to encourage involved members, dedicated
employees and committed managers. Step by step this neglect has tended to
destroy the co-operative identity. Moreover, a long term co-operative
strategy for education should be considered as one of our strengths.
Co-operatives are people based organisations, within which it is crucial to
continuously develop and mobilise the human social capital.
The sooner we systematically recognise this, the better will be our
co-operative future. A principle about education should place a stronger
emphasis on such a basic view for the implementation policies.

A Co-operative Research Community in the Making

To conclude, I am, as I said in the beginning, a retired chairman of the
ICA Research Committee. I should add that I am a 'happily retired
chairman', because some of my younger friends and colleagues have decided
to continue my role as 'a driving force' for this International
Co-operative Research Community. We have gradually built up a reasonably
large international co-operative research community, and we are happy to
find that a big group within this community is ready to actively support
this change and to contribute to the future. This is good, because
co-operative development will increasingly need a strong,
internationally-based community to carry out the tasks of education and
research.


* Mr Book (Kooperativa Forbundet, Sweden) has been working with the
Co-operative Movement since his university days and with the ICA Research
Committee since 1984.

Note

1  Ian tells me he thinks it would be unfair to name the revised principles
and identity 'Ian Macpherson's principles and identity' since his
suggestions were subject to discussion and were ultimately proposed with
some changes by the ICA Board. Nevertheless, in my opinion Ian will go down
in the future history of the ICA as the person who 'revised the principles
in 1995'.