Sam Toland is a member of the Co-ordinating Body (our board of directors) and serves as our current Co-op Secretary.
It sometimes sounds like a cliche, but like most cliches it holds a lot of truth. The lifeblood of every Co-op is its members.
Despite often record breaking turnout to the many General Meetings these last two year, 90 members attended our Special General Meeting in July for example, an undeniable disconnect has been slowly developing between those more involved in the running the Co-op and the broader membership.
As many members will know our Co-op developed over many years a “Working Group” structure that sought to bring members into the heart of decision-making – with many groups working successfully over a number of years.
Notable achievements were the drafting of a Members’ Code of Conduct by the Ethics & Governance Group, and product recommendations by our Products Group. The tireless work of Premises Groups over the years deserve an honourable mention too.
By the time I began to serve as Secretary in 2017 however, none of these working groups were functioning in any substantive or co-ordinated way.
I served on a number of working groups before joining the CB, and in my experience these working groups were not given a clear enough role within the Co-op. They also suffered from a general lack of administrative support.
This often led to poor record-keeping, little communication between groups, an absence of clear objectives and eventually burnout amongst their members.
There was a very high turnover of working group members as a result, making it hard for a group to remain focused on any particular task.
As a result, many passionate and engaged members have given a lot of time to the Co-op by serving on working groups, with many left frustrated by an ineffective use of their time.
I believe that the most valuable thing a member can give to the development of their Co-op is their time. Every member deserves to have the best opportunity to ensure their time is meaningful and impactful.
Recent Times and a Way Forward
The CB has sought to bring the membership into the big decisions faces the Co-op over the last two years. Particularly on matters like our future strategy and our premises.
However many on the CB felt that the Co-op did not have the capacity as an organisation over the last two years to invest the necessary resources needed to reinvigorate the working group structure.
But it has always been the collective priority of the CB, and indeed my personal priority as Secretary, to ensure that once we got into our new home we rebuild meaningful ways for members to get engaged once more.
That time is now.
It is my own conviction that we should propose a future model that learns the lessons of what went before, and indeed from the successes of our sister Food Co-ops around the world.
A Members’ Affairs Committee?
A number of members have been working on a proposal for a ‘Members’ Affairs Committee’ which we hope can function as an important means to allow more people to engage with their Co-op.
This is the model that a number of other Food Co-ops have used to provide a regular open meeting at which any member can attend and contribute to a number of important decisions at the Co-op.
They serve as an open spaces were members can input into important decisions, hold the board to account and serve as a think-tank for new and innovation ideas.
“I am sure many members can think of the obvious idea they have for the Co-op, without an obvious idea about how to share it in a way that might see it implemented.”Co-op Member
The Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, Washington State have a very developed and success Members’ Affairs Committee and were kind enough to share their experience and their associated documentation. This model is replicated in Food Co-ops around the world, and even a number of non-Food Co-ops.
This model also bears the resemblance to the ‘Member Council’ proposal agreed by members at past General Meetings, and in operation across other Co-ops too.
Finalising a MAC Proposal
A number of members and myself had an informal meeting on Saturday 9th February to discuss the feasibility of starting such a group within our Co-op.
There was a lot very inspiring conversation about the possibilities that a permanent members committee presented to the Co-op.
It was highlighted that this committee needed to have the right resources to give members a meaningful place to get involved and make an impact.
This might include dedicated administrative support (so that volunteers weren’t being relied on to schedule and record meetings), professional facilitation or training for a team of volunteer facilitators.
There was a broad consensus for the need for this kind of committee to give a space for members to engage in an ongoing way with the running of the Co-op, and that we should bring a proposal together as soon as possible.
It was decided that I would co-ordinate pulling together a draft terms of reference based on the Community Food Co-op MAC Handbook, and circulate it to the group for feedback.
It was also felt that feedback from a broad group of members was needed before bringing the proposal to the CB for approval.
Broader Input from Members
A number of members felt that it was important that the role of this committee should be very clearly set out and recommended that members be involved to proposing a number of issues that the committee could focus on in the next 12 months.
We have therefore created a survey to give members a chance to input into this very question, amongst others! Find it at the end of this blog post.
Once a draft terms of reference is complete, we will then bring this to a Talkin’ Co-op for discussion amongst the members, and if there was broad support for the proposal, recommend that the CB approve this new committee.
Based on our conversation, I am optimistic that members will see the exciting possibilities of this committee and I personally look forward to having a forum to discussion the affairs of our Co-op with our vibrant and diverse membership.
If you would like to be more involved in getting this proposal completed – feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deadline for the survey is the 2nd March 2019.