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Co-operatives and elections

Stage 2: introducing the elections process to members

The election cycle

Prior to commencing any election cycle, every co-operative should take steps to bring the forthcoming cycle to the attention of members. This is not only for those who might wish to stand, but so that all members can begin to think about voting and being involved in the process.

Good practice would suggest starting the communications process at least three months before, and at least one month before nominations open, to ensure that members have time to review any material provided.

Good practice for co-operatives

How this is done will vary from co-operative to co-operative.

Community co-ops

A community-based organisation might:

  1. Write to all members in the neighbourhood
  2. Make announcements at regular groups or classes in community buildings
  3. Post notices in common or public areas
  4. Hold workshops or events for members who are interested in standing, including at various times of the day
  5. Email or send other electronic / social media communications to members, especially those who are less likely to access 'in person' communications.

Retail societies

A large retail society might begin the same process by:

  1. Emailing all members for whom it has information
  2. Putting information on its website
  3. Putting notices up in stores or other outlets
  4. Inviting members to “meet the board” or workshop events, again at a variety of times and locations
  5. Using social media

Worker co-operative

A larger worker co-operative might:

  1. Ensure that at staff or colleague meetings, in each part of the business, the election process is mentioned
  2. Place information about the process on a staff intranet or website, and on physical notice boards around the business
  3. Contact all colleagues and invite them to consider standing for election
  4. Encourage current board members to make themselves available to colleagues thinking of standing

What should be communicated?

Co-operatives should make it clear members can stand for election to the board, and that this is a key part of member ownership.

Information should be given on:

  • What being on the board involves
  • The nature of the role (see stage 3)
  • The legal responsibilities of board membership
  • The practicalities of the process.

Any criteria or particular skills that are required for the co-operative board should be made clear at this stage. Any skills-based 'filter' that will take place should be detailed, and an explanation of the nominations process and any documentation requirements. This may be particularly important where there are external regulatory criteria, such as those for credit unions.

Accessible communications

In any co-operative, consideration should be given to material that suits different learning styles and abilities, and support that might be required to members to enable them to participate.

The authors of this resource have worked with two member-based organisations which exist to serve people with a learning disability (who form a significant constituency of the membership in both cases). In these cases the organisation has gone out of its way to prepare documentation which explains the process in a clear (and largely pictorial) way.

The Code requires that: "The election and appointment process should be formal and transparent and ensure that the democratic rights of members can be exercised and should be based on merit and objective criteria."

It goes on to state that "Appropriate information should be provided to members, using a variety of methods, to enable them to make an informed decision whether to stand for election, including the responsibilities of a director, time commitment and any (mandatory) skills and experience required."

Diversity of the board

Larger co-operatives may set up a search committee or similar body to determine the succession plan or aspirations for the board. This can also include reviewing board composition, and identifying under-represented groups at board level.

Where there is a lack of diversity on the board, co-operatives should consider how they approach members and the method – or methods – of communication that will best reach the broadest range of members.

Accepting nominations

At this nomination stage, as a minimum, potential candidates should be asked to provide details of their name and address, and a short statement as to why they wish to stand for election.

Good practice suggests that proof of identification be recorded by the co-operative for each potential candidate.

Candidates should also be asked to confirm that they are not excluded from standing under the co-operative’s rules – see stage 4.