“The economy of our daily lives” – the voice of Robin Murray

Robin Murray, the distinguished industrial economist, who died early this week was, among other affiliations, an Associate of Co-operatives UK.

As a quick tribute to Robin, we have released in an open form the chapter that he wrote as part of the multi-authored 2015 book, Co-operative Advantage.

Here, he takes an overview of the landscape for co-operative innovation in a text called Taking Stock, Looking Forward

In this, he comments “the great national aggregates of GDP, employment, the rate of inflation and the balance of trade are the data of those who control the macro economic levers in London. They obscure the specific character of the economy of our daily lives – the shops, the buses, the farms and the streets of a city. The chapters here come down to a human level, and describe the hidden structures and forces that are shaping the economy as we experience it. In doing so they allow us to think how things could be done differently and map some of the promising paths opening up for co-operators to follow.”
His voice shines through and shines on – so feel free to share of course.

4% and 14% – report back on the #BuyTwitter vote and two key statistics

So, the Twitter Board and shareholder voted down the proposal to convert to a co-operative model. Is that the end of the story? No.

The vote in favour was 4%, including a swathe of the smaller individual shareholders, whereas the big guns voted against, on the advice of the Board.

That was the first statistic that mattered, because below 3% and the Board could block the resolution coming forward again. With 4%, that option is now open.

The second statistic that counts is the number of Twitter users that would consider investing in the service if it were run co-operatively – 14%.

This was our initiative at Co-operatives UK – Catherine Howarth of the activist shareholder group ShareAction, was kind enough to call it ‘a masterful stroke’ as it moved us from suggestion to signs of proof.

CityAM covered our release. “I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the most affirming piece of coverage about our campaign – and we’ve had a lot.” Danny Spitzberg, #BuyTwitter campaign hero and coordinator

KWmCIHoh_400x400Danny, Mark Latham and Jim McRitchie, who presented the proposal, were at the Twitter AGM in San Francisco. Nathan Schneider, who was the originator of the idea back in a newspaper article back in September, was watching and commented “I just want to note how much gratitude I feel for the energy and creativity and organising that has gone into this effort.” 

Nathan went on to say how the campaign has helped to educated thousands and thousands of Twitter users about the possibilities of co-operative models.

ChuckCharles Gould, Director General of the International Co-operative Alliance, said the same to me last night – we should not let it go at this point, but build on this.

If you have followed this, waved us on or signed and tweeted – thank you.

For now, the Board is holding on to Plan A for Twitter. But with confidence in digital advertising waning, if the share price dissolves as confidence dissolves, Plan A may not last for long.

4% and 14%. Can we hope? Yes.

Can we get to 50%? It is possible.

Buy Twitter or Bye Bye Twitter – a campaign for our future

The first phase of an imaginative worldwide campaign, to convert Twitter into a user-owned co-operative, finishes today in San Francisco at the Twitter AGM.

The future of one of the world’s leading social networks has been the subject of speculation for over a year. Twitter’s viability as a business depends on finding new income streams from its users, yet its users look for a clean service with minimal advertising.

There has been a worldwide #BuyTwitter campaign leading to a formal resolution at the AGM to explore turning Twitter into a co-operative, owned by its users. The campaign was kicked off by an article by Nathan Schneider, advocate for a new generation of platform co-ops online, in the Guardian in an op-ed

Danny Spitzberg, an inspired and inspiring California-based sociologist, researcher and now campaigner, picked this up and started the #BuyTwitter campaign – with a @BuyThisPlatform twitter handle and #WeAreTwitter added hashtag.

I siged up early on myself, and in the run up to the AGM, Co-operatives UK completed market research for the AGM which shows that two million active UK Twitter users would invest in Twitter if it became user owned. That translates into fourteen million potential user investors worldwide.


The proposal for the AGM – on https://www.buytwitter.org/proposal/ – was eminently reasonable. Developed by James McRitchie, expert in Corporate Governance at http://CorpGov.net  it asked the Board to explore the option, not to do it overnight – options are set out on the campaign website – buytwitter.org/thiscouldwork. The Board is recommending to vote against.

The context is that Twitter has a commercial challenge, because it can only bring  more money in by cluttering the platform with advertising, potentially losing what has been core to its success. This rant by Chris Sacca, activist investor who recently sold most of his shares sets out some of this. My own analysis is on http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ed-mayo/buy-twitter_b_16623194.html

In recent days, the International Co-operative Alliance issued an Open Letter to Twitter Shareholders, offering to support the conversion with advice and connections. In the UK, the activist investor group ShareAction helped to brief investment funds on the proposal, encouraging them to vote in favour. Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive of ShareAction, explains that “our guidance for Twitter investors, in particular the Socially Responsible Investment funds, is to back Proposal 4, both to promote a visionary new model of co-operative ownership for Twitter.”

The campaign has generated over 100 commentaries in media outlets support and put the idea on the map. One of the most imaginative forms of support is a song by #Jez3Prez – Buy Twitter or Bye Bye Twitter

Twitter is one of a new generation of businesses which do something that goes beyond the market. What future do we want for it? Do we want to try to find ways monetise Twitter in order to provide a return for shareholders? Or do we want to find a way to preserve what its users love?

This has been a campaign for our future.

How do you engage people? Five simple steps

For an event run this week for healthcare professionals by the Electoral Reform Society, I have pulled together some key tips on how to encourage the active participation of users and staff – a process in a UK setting now often called ‘engagement’.

You can tell the story of any society or time by looking at how it handles the health and care of its people. If so, we are in a pretty shocking state today, because, for all the advances in health outcomes over time, we treat people involved in the health system in a shabby way. This is not just the indignities of waits and cancellations for patients, but the sufferance of staff in the system, often, in the care system in particular, on low wages and with poor conditions.

When looking at the UK data for staff working in Government, I find that staff working for the Department of Health have the lowest levels of staff engagement of any main department – down 25% over ten years and now at rock bottom. How did we end up with such shocking levels of disengagement, when people who work in the health sector have such rich motivations at the start, to care and to meet the needs of others?

Slide39So, how do we chart a way back from this?

My full presentation is up on Slideshare, but here are five simple steps that I would pick out. Yes, they will take time, but each of these steps is tried and tested.

Step 1 – Develop an engagement plan

Engagement isa process through which people can interact with an organisation in a meaningful way for mutual benefit.’

So any organisation can ask…

  • Is it a systematic process?
  • Is engagement meaningful for those who participate?
  • Does it lead to positive outcomes?

It can also track the journey to systematic engagement over time.Slide06

Step 2 – For service users, start by focusing on the experience of the service  


Step 3 – Create decision making that is responsive, based on short feedback loops


Step 4 Pass over power and decision making to users, to the extent to which they want it Slide32 

I call this the Participation Fruit Tree, rather than the classical Participation Ladder, as users may want different forms of power and participation than straight self-management.

When it comes to the top of the ladder, and high on the fruit tree, with self-management, then the best organisational form, which embeds member engagement at its heart, is a co-operative.

Step 5 – Invest in valuesSlide42

As I explore in my 2016 short book, Values, the way to engage people at a deeper, emotional level, whether employees or customers, is through the purpose and values of what people do together. We engage more if we feel we belong.

And three conclusions

These five steps come together into an engagement value chain.


What I have learned from my work on engagement over time, with the National Consumer Council, Co-operatives UK and as Chair of the participation charity Involve, are three facts that are hopeful that we can do better in health and public services and in society more widely.

1.Engaging users is not a trade-off, because a user focus is key to the satisfaction and motivation of staff.

2.Engaging staff is not a trade-off, because empowered staff are better able to satisfy service users.

3.Engagement works. We need to harness its potential to improve the daily public services that are so essential to people’s lives.

Comments welcome!

A co-op compass – or how to measure progress when you are different

Sometimes when you are walking, you have a clear sense of direction. Sometimes you don’t really need one because the paths, the pavements and the signs lead you on. Sometimes it helps to have a compass.


Co-operatives are unusual businesses, because all the usual pathways and signs don’t necessarily point in the right direction for them. Making money for investors counts less than meeting member needs, even if trading and competing successfully matters for both. Co-ops need a compass.

Britain’s largest consumer co-operative, The Co-op Group, has been going through an extraordinary process of change and renewal in recent years. And one of the key innovations has been a new compass for the business, jointly agreed by the National Member Council and Board.

The vision for this came from Nick Crofts, the dynamic and impressive President of the Co-op’s National Member Council. The Council was a new body formed as a voice for members in a new governance structure agreed in 2014. The new rules set out that the Council was charged with holding the Board to account on behalf of members, Nick probed and focused on the key question – how was it to do this?

Nick asked Co-operatives UK, in work led by my colleague Shelagh Everett, to support the Council to develop an accountability and performance framework, anchored back to co-operative values and the principles and co-op difference. What emerged proved to be as valuable for the dialogue that led to it, as the framework that resulted. Across the different points of leadership in the business, Council, Board and Executive, there emerged far more of a shared conception of what success looked like in practice and in depth.

The Co-op Compass is a balanced scorecard, focused on what it means to be a successful co-operative, and the difference this brings. The four component lenses used are:

– member value

– member voice

– co-operative leadership

– ethical and sustainable leadership

compassEach lens then drills down into a set of metrics that reflect the key components of these. In member value, for example, this includes earnings retained for future value & growth. In member voice, it includes active member engagement, measured through a series of interaction points. At the heart of the compass if demonstrating the co-operative difference, and this is used as a further lens to test past and future business activity against.

The compass was set in place last year and has quickly become a key tool to structure reporting and dialogue between the National Member Council and Board. This month, for example, and for the first time, it forms part of the Council’s Annual Statement to members in the new Coop Annual Report 2016 (see page… 91). It helps to organise the diverse work programme of the National Member Council in its role to hold the board to account on behalf of members. It also gives the business a clear set of directional pointers to guide thinking in terms of what matters to the Member Council.

How is the Co-op doing? The compass tells you.

In my experience, measurement can be transformative if you focus on what matters most and you act on the results. The co-op compass is a good example, although to succeed, it also needs to endure and to adapt as it does so. Without that action-focus, as in a generation of work on sustainability metrics since the Stockholm and Rio Earth Summits, measurement can be a displacement or at worst a distraction.

The signs are positive for the Co-op Compass. Not only is the National Member Council committed, but the Board and the new Chief Executive has put ‘being a better co-operative’ at the heart of plans for the next round of commercial renewal in the business.

There has been a growing effort around tools such as this worldwide in the co-operative sector, set out in the book Co-operatives for Sustainable Communities compiled by the MeaScreen-Shot-2015-08-12-at-3.01.05-PM-e1439406130427suring Co-operative Difference network -http://www.cooperativedifference.coop/tools/ Researchers involved in this and related work will be coming to the UK next month in a conference in Stirling under the auspices of the International Co-operative Alliance Research Committee.
Later this year, Co-operatives UK will follow up its work on metrics with The Co-op by issuing a complementary set of guidance on narrative reporting for member co-operatives, developed by our Co-operative Performance Committee.

Where do you head for, when you are trying to do something different?

At such times, we all need a compass.

Re-imagine the economy

We are working towards one of the most exciting co-operative events for years, Co-operative Congress, which takes place on Saturday July 1st in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

It is a special day, because it is not just the culmination of the UK Co-operatives Fortnight, it is the UN International Day of Co-operatives.

On the day, we are also launching a new National Co-operative Development Strategy, under the theme of Do It Ourselves.

The title for the event is ‘Reimagine the Economy’. The event aims to bring together a wide range of people working to build a fairer economy to share ideas, get inspiration and take action.

congressposternoborder_1It features speakers on the gig economy, work, housing, technology and social care among others, a host of workshops an Dragon’s Den style pitches from co-operative entrepreneurs.

The location, Unity Works, is a special, co-operative venue, purchased by people in Wakefield in recent years using the model of community shares that with many partners, we have been able to champion.


Come along!