(Source: ICA Review, Vol.91 No.2 - Annual Report 1997-1998, pp. 74-77)
Chairman: Roger Spear (UK)
Vice-Chairs: Akira Kurimoto (Japan); (Lou Hammond-Ketilson (Canada);
Yohanan Stryjan (Sweden)
Secretary: Alina Pawlowska (ICA)
This has been a busy year for the research committee with lively activities globally through our international conference, and within the regions good plans for a considerable level of activity during this and subsequent years. All members of our international team have been actively supporting one activity or another. Although we organise activities largely through electronic communication, we do generally meet at our conferences or other international meetings. We also enjoy the support of Mary Treacy (Director of Communications) and we thank her, as well as others in Geneva, who assist us from time to time.
This year’s major activity was our international research conference in Cork, Ireland,
13-17 May 1998. This followed hard on the heels of last year’s conference “The
co-operative advantage in a civil economy” in October 1997 at Bertinoro just outside Bologna, Italy. This was organised with the assistance of Bologna University, Dept. Economics of Co-operatives and Nonprofit Organisations, and the Italian Institute for Co-operative Studies - L.Luzzatti. We were made extremely welcome by our Italian hosts, who use the Bertinoro Centre, a converted castle, for training and a masters course in not-for-profit and co-operative studies. Well over 70 participants (from 20 different countries), plus a lively group of Italian postgraduates, met to listen and debate about
40 papers, on top of a hill. Debates continued well into the night, with the main complaint being that we had so many good papers that we had to have parallel sessions which meant missing hearing all the papers – an embarrassment of riches!
The RIC Special Issue on research was published in March 1998 - it includes some of the best papers from our Bertinoro conference. In many ways it was a pity to leave out other papers, but these are extremely worthy of a wider readership and I hope you find them worthwhile and stimulating.
Our participant database continues to expand. Research Committee participation is individual and institutional and we now have over 130 researchers and 50 research institutions from 30 countries listed . Although Europeans are the larger group, we are seeing increasing interest from other regions, particularly Japan, Canada, and USA. One important factor in this is our continually improving capability for communication and networking, through the ICA web pages, e-mail communications, and our conference and publishing activities. This year about three quarters of participants were communicated with by e-mail and fax, obviating the need for conventional mailings.
Research Conference 1998 Values and Adding Value in a Global Context
This was organised with the assistance of the Centre for Co-operative Studies, University of Cork, and held on 13-17 May 1998 in Cork, Ireland. Our theme raises a challenge – as we near the end of the current millenium, it is becoming increasingly clear that competition is becoming more and more intense, and with deregulation and the changing role of governments, the financial pressures on many co-ops has become extreme, and yet there are numerous examples where co-ops seem to have reinvented themselves - developing value based practices and adding economic value. Researchers can play a constructive role analysing such developments both theoretically and practically, and help create a robust dynamic independent co-operative movement in the years to come. This year for the first time we also invited papers for a special workshop on Training and Development in a development context, in conjunction with the HRD Committee of the ICA. The Irish are renowned for their charm and friendliness, and our hosts were no exception – the University Campus is very pleasant, and the O’Rahilly building where we met was excellent for our conference. On the second day of the conference we broke with tradition and made a visit to a dairy co-op and a credit union, finishing in a pub where we enjoyed Irish dance and music. Memories of that day will stay with most of us for many years – debates on the future of dairy co-operation, a priest’s enthralling description of the community roots of collective action, and groups of young children dancing the evening away in a time-honoured fashion.
During the two days of conference papers 50 participants from 20 countries (Argentina, Russia, USA, Australia, Palestine, Israel to name a few) enjoyed about 30 papers – many of which were very good, provoking a high level of debate. The training and development workshop also proved worthwhile with a presentation on internet futures generating almost unstoppable discussion! We thank our Irish hosts for all their hard work in making this a great conference!
Meetings and Projects Underway
We are currently planning a meeting in Paris on 12-13 October 1998 on Women, Entrepreneurship and Coops. The ICA Women’s Committee will assist us in this project, and we hope it will be of interest not just for researchers but for people engaged in developing projects for and with women to improve their position in co-ops all over the world. This is another in our series of specialist workshop/conferences and it could prove a particularly exciting and popular event. Lou Hammond-Ketilson will be playing a major role in the project, building on her already well known work in the area.
Next year in August we will be joining the rest of the ICA with our meeting in Quebec. If our meeting in Manchester (1995) is a good indicator, this will be a popular meeting with up to 200 participants. We hope it will be a great opportunity for Anglophone and Francophone participants to exchange ideas on their current research. In the same year (1999) we may be able to organise a specialist European workshop/conference on social co-ops and the welfare state.
Good progress has been made with the International Research Register, and this now has over 70 entries and could become a most useful source of easily accessed information on research work.
Other examples of our collaborative work are the conference later this year with the Women's Committee and others, and an International Register of Researchers which the UK Society of Co-operative Studies initiated, and we have developed jointly. We are currently launching it, and it is now available on the Internet, and can be searched, but development work is continuing, thanks to Mary Treacy and Hazel Wilcox.
Resources - We continue to ensure that the Research Committee plays a vital role in informing discussions about key issues of governance, management and membership with the aim of adding value. But current resources do not match these high aspirations or level of activities indicated above. The Research Committee has a minimal budget (CHF 5000 p.a.) and it relies on the goodwill and voluntary labour of many people. Without the financial and 'in kind' support of members, the Research Committee would not be able to continue its current level of activities.
In order to succeed we still need to strengthen our resource base. We regularly consider internal and external sponsorship of projects (internal - co-operatives/federations, external - research foundations, EC, etc.), and membership charges, however in each case we will have to increase our level of activity in order to offer something in return. We also would stress that we have a good case for a larger budget from the ICA, given the level of activities already undertaken and underway.
Our achievements this year and our future plans have been well regarded and supported internationally. We continue to strengthen our base for promoting global research activities and their visibility. And more and more people join us in believing that in an increasingly knowledge-based economy and society, good quality research will become absolutely essential to a dynamic co-operative movement.