Last night we held our ‘experimental’ first webinar for the Co-operative Research Network. In describing it as experimental, what I am trying to reflect is that this is the first time we are trying out different sorts of technologies to create new arenas for debate amongst network members. Once the network has its online ‘home’ we anticipate that these discussions (in the form of films and audio recordings) will be available for people to listen to and view at their convenience. In addition, the planned discussion forum will hopefully provide a way for people to start or join in with discussions that echo their own research interests and questions.
This first topic, ‘How can co-operative research best meet the needs and aspirations of the co-operative movement?’ kicked off what should be an engaging series of online events, which will include stories from the National Co-operative Archive, and also live-streamed recordings of events. The discussion started with questions such as:
- What do we mean by co-operative movement?
- What constitutes ‘co-operative research’?
- What makes co-operative research different from any other research?
The key messages which came out of this conversation were that we need to be careful not to be too dogmatic and restrictive when defining co-operative research, and that co-operative research should focus on clarifying the co-operative difference and identity. The following statements also provided a rich seam of dialogue when exploring the question of whether co-operative research needs to:
- Be action research/ participatory – is it necessary for research to be undertaken with people (and communities) and to incorporate their perspectives? Is this fundamental to the concept of co-operative research and the principle of member involvement?
- Be collaborative/ co-production of knowledge – is research only truly co-operative if it involves collaboration and co-production of knowledge, not just with individuals and communities, but between different organisations/sectors?
- Be exclusively about co-operatives – should co-operative research focus only on co-operatives and collecting data which is beneficial to co-operation?
- Be open source and freely accessible – if research is truly co-operative, should the results/data be open-source and available to everyone in the spirit of co-operative principles and values?
- Build a case for co-operative difference and identity – is it the duty of co-operative research to focus on promoting the co-operative advantage?
- Incorporate co-operative values and principles – should co-operative research always use methods which are aligned with co-operative values and principles – or if not all, which ones are most important?
- Influence policy-makers to promote co-operatives – should the aim of co-operative research be to influence policy-makers and get co-operatives into the mainstream of political debate?
- Innovate and take risks – is it important for co-operative research to be innovative and ‘punchy’ or ‘provocative’?
- Market/promote co-operatives as a better alternative to neoliberal models – is it the role of co-operative research to surmount the communications and marketing challenges the movement faces, particularly in light of recent negative press, to showcase co-operatives in a ‘flattering’ light?
We ended the webinar with a discussion around how best to build a community of co-operative research practice in a complex and fragmented research landscape. This centred on encouraging and enabling more co-ordination and synthesis of co-operative research as there are many centres of excellence, and a lot of active researchers and institutions. This also asked questions around what are the steps needed to make the co-operative movement itself more proactive in initiating and commissioning its own research, acknowledging that the movement has some very wealthy co-operatives representing an ‘untapped resource’.