Report of the Research Committee (1996/97)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
July, 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.2 - Annual Report 1996-1997, pp.67-71)

ICA Research Committee 1996/1997
Report by Roger Spear/Alina Pawlowska

Executive Committee

Chairman:	Roger Spear (UK)

Vice-Chairmen:	Yohanan Stryjan (Sweden); Lou Hammond-Ketilson 
(Canada) Akira Kurimoto (Japan) 

Secretary:	Alina Pawlowska (ICA)

This year has been another good year with excellent participation in
our conferences and good papers for our publications. We have also 
made progress extending our networks and support for research around 
the world. Last year we developed the current committee globally by 
taking onto our international team Akira Kurimoto (from Japan)
who along with the others  (Lou Hammond-Ketilson from Canada 
and Yohanan Stryjan from Sweden), has played an active role in guiding 
and supporting our activities.

Our committee operates largely through electronic (email) 
communication and through the support of local national research 
institutes for its conference organisation. More formal support and 
communication is provided through the good offices of ICA Geneva, 
by Mary Treacy (Director of Communications) and 
Alina Pawlowska (Officer).

Recent Activities
The major activity each year is our International Research Conference. 
In the past these have tended to be in Eastern or Western Europe, but 
we are trying to develop activities and networks in all rewas held in 
Tartu, Estonia. We were made very welcome by the Estonians at MAI, 
and it was very successful with over 30 papers given on a wide range of 
themes, and with about 50 to 60 people participating.  This was followed
 by a regional workshop in association with CIES (Isabel Vidal, Barcelona), 
organized to coincide with the ICA regional meeting. The subject was on 
Labour Markets, Unemployment and Co-ops, a vital area for co-op 
development. About 20 papers were presented and 
40 people attended from East and West Europe. 

In addition, at the ICA regional meeting, a small workshop was held 
to promote and develop research and activity on social audits. One of the 
aims was to encourage and promote joint research projects, and at least 
two funding proposals have gone to European and national bodies to 
continue this work; and further networking has taken place informally 
to continue this activity in this very topical area.

Following the success of last year's RIC special issue on research, 
a second special issue of the Review of International Co-operation has 
been produced. It comprises abridged versions of the best papers from
the Tartu conference last year, and many positive comments already. 
We are exploring ways of publishing papers from our meeting in Budapest. 
We have continued to extend our membership base. RC membership is 
individual and institutional and we have over 120 researchers and 
50 research institutions, from 30 countries. 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 through 
the ICA web pages, email communications, and our conference and 
publishing activities. 

International Co-operatives Research Conference 1997: 
The Co-operative Advantage in a Civil Economy 
This year's conference is on 3-5 October 1997, in Bertinoro, near
 Forli, Italy. It is organised with the assistance of Bologna 
University, Economic of Co-operatives and Nonprofit Organisations, 
Forli, and the Italian Institute for Co-operative Studies -L.Luzzatti. 
The theme highlights the context where: as the economic world becomes more 
global and competitive, most types of co-operatives are rethinking 
their roles within their sectors, in the global economy and in the 
civil society where their non-economic role has a continuing vital 
importance. The structures and strategies they adopt vary considerably 
from country to country, from one cooperative movement to another, and
from sector to sector. There have been economic failures, and some 
moves away from co-operative values; but there have also been
astonishingly successful re-interpretations of co-operation that 
bring considerable economic and social payoffs. Researchers have a 
vital role in identifying the key features of the changing tapestry
of co-operative activity and drawing out their theoretical and 
practical lessons. 

Our strategy will guide our activities for a number of years. The 
main aims are to strengthen and internationalise activities, and to 
make the work of researchers more visible, particularly to ordinary 
managers and co-operators. We will do this by improving the quality 
and scope of conferences and publications, improving our 
communications and our network organisation.

Our international annual conference will continue to be our major 
activity, but we intend to also arrange or sponsor regional workshops
 on topical themes, as we have done in 1996 with our regional 
workshop in Budapest. Next year we are planning a joint conference 
with the Womens Committee, as well as our own international 
conference which is planned to be in Cork, Ireland. 

It is vital to communicate research activity and disseminate 
research findings. Hence our clear focus on increasing the
 visibility of research to other researchers (and research
 institutions) and to co-operators (managers and members)
 world-wide through electronic communication, an internet web page, 
regular publications (a book of best papers every year), and more 
publications injournals such as the Review of International Co-operation. 

We have made considerable progress in this area with the support of 
Mary Treacy, Communications Director, who is progressively developing 
internet usage. Our web site has developed considerably, it looks and is a 
lively, interesting source of information. It provides information 
about our meetings and publications and has excellent links to other sites, 
including other researchers. 

Good progress has also been made with the International Research 
Register, and this could become a most useful source of easily 
accessed information on research work (see below). 

Electronic forms of communicating (web sites, email and fax) will 
become increasingly important and we are continuing to develop this 
side of our communication capability by compiling our member researchers 
database with email and fax addresses to facilitate and speed up 
future communications. It also reduces the costs, so please include
these in future communications! 

This continues to be an essential way of making our research findings more 
widely accessible, and is particularly important for those who do 
not have access to email/internet. I have been communicating with
a number of journal editors informing them of key papers from our 
conferences and encouraging authors to submit papers to such journals. 
In the medium term there is an aim of getting a publisher for an annual 
series of a book based on a selection of best papers from our 
conference papers each year, or special issues of journals on 
specific themes. 

With the support of Mary Treacy, we have continued our research 
series of annual special issues of the Review of International 
Co-operation. The recent issue provided abridged versions of 10
of the best papers from the Estonian Research Conference. 

Networking and Collaboration 
We are continuing over the next few years to develop the  membership 
base through national nodes or organising research institutions 
(such as national societies of co-op studies or co-op research 
institutes). We also continue to build up a lively network of 
individual researchers globally. This enables us to be more aware of each 
other's work, the potential of collaboration or comparative studies; we can 
also more effectively disseminate our research findings to other researchers 
and co-operators. The research register helps foster this development.  
The network is being built up organically ie gradually by identifying good 
quality research work. It is important to maintain high quality standards,
if research work and its findings are to be credible and influential. 

Some national research groups and research institutes are very active 
with annual conferences and regular meetings. We are well placed 
to try to ensure that this work becomes globally linked, by helping 
publicise their meetings (if desired), and stimulating other national 
groups to become  more active. 

Another important feature of the international research scene is the
existence of several active research networks, such as CIRIEC 
(Centre Internationale de Recherche et d'Information sur 
l'Economie Co-operative) and Research Committee, the International
 Sociological Association (meeting in Montrealnext July) and the 
International Association for the Economics of Participation 
(which met last year in Prague).Many of our more active members are
 involved with these networks, and we are exploring ways we can 
collaborate and communicate more effectively with them. 

There are two current projects with which we or our members have 
some involvement. Firstly, the CIRIEC working group on Co-op
Holding Structures and Strategies in a Global Context. Daniel Cote 
(HEC, Montreal) is coordinating this group with Peter Normark (Sweden). 
It has met this year in Koln and Paris, and it looks as if it could produce
 some important findings with useful international comparisons. We are 
also examining with Eric Bidet and Jean-Francois Draperi of RECMA 
(Revue Co-ops, Mutuels, et Assns) on how to develop stronger links with 
francophone researchers. We have established good links with their 
journal and have publicised the work of our committee in it. 

We envisage that in future research projects and working groups 
could be initiated or promoted by the Research Committee, possibly
in collaboration with other groups or networks. We feel there is 
considerable potential not only for us to stimulate and catalyse 
research activities, but also to make links with managers and members 
to ensure mutual exchanges of ideas and knowledge. We also aim to e
nsure the topics are related to ICA priorities and our findings feed 
into their debates in a coordinated manner. This will be a strong theme 
of our work for years to come. 

Other examples of our collaborative work are the proposed conference
 next year with the Women's Committee, 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. 

We continue to ensure that the Research Committee plays a vital role in 
informing discussions about key issues of governance, management and 
membership, (for example). 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. Its 
researchers are often members of the co-op movement, but university 
employees or contract researchers who often work for the Research 
Committee in their spare time. The success of our work depends on 
the work of these researchers, the support of national and regional 
organisers for our conferences, the work of Geneva support staff, and 
last but not least our committee. 

In another sense our success also depends on developing our relationship 
with the co-operative movement, by making our research findings accessible
 and amenable to members, managers and boards alike.  It is not always 
easy conducting research for both academic consumption and for that 
of the movement, but it is something to which we are committed, and 
will continue to strive for.  In order to succeed we will need to 
strengthen our resource base.  We regularly consider internal and 
external sponsorship of projects (internal co-opertive sponsors as 
well as external research foundations, EC, ect), 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.