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Co-operatives and elections

Stage 1: Encouraging member participation

A strong election process starts from the basis of an active membership.

Good member engagement

Co-operatives should engage with their members beyond simply the formalities of an election process; it is a common misconception that member engagement starts and ends with elections to the board.

In smaller co-operatives, members may engage with the co-operative on a constant basis, according to the type of organisation, as tenants, workers, or customers.

Larger co-operatives with a significant membership base, in particular, should have a clear strategy for engaging with members, which goes beyond simply encouraging members to consider becoming part of the board and offers a range of ways of getting involved.

Engagement should cover a range of options, both physical and virtual. For example, many co-operatives:

  • Have an accessible, engaging website
  • Offer invitations to both physical and virtual members’ meetings and other opportunities for involvement

A 'vibrant democracy'

The Co-operative Corporate Governance Code (“the Code”) makes it clear that the board of a co-operative are expected to "promote a vibrant democracy and communicate with members in ways that encourage active, democratic member participation". This includes:

  • Communicating with members in a variety of ways on a broad range of issues
  • Ensuring members can participate outside of formal processes

The Code also notes that the board should keep member engagement under review, so that it remains effective.

The Worker Co-op Code ("the Worker Code") notes that worker co-operatives should "agree and delegate authority to individual members to act on behalf of the cooperative when and where it’s necessary" and "ensure there are democratic processes, or democratic accountability, in all governance and management functions."