Aspects of participation and social relations in consumer cooperatives in Trentino

Research Area: Economic theory
Scientific coordinator: Sara Depedri

Project status: concluded

Taking consumer cooperatives as its subject, this research project focused on the issues of attention towards members and attention towards the community, with the aim of delving into the mutual nature versus the social role that consumer cooperatives perform in their local areas.

Having arisen as organizations of consumer-citizens with the specific requirement of meeting their basic consumption needs (foodstuffs), consumer cooperatives are now facing the risk of seeing their members made loyal only by the economic exchange, with little interest in the social exchange and mutual participation. At the same time, consumer cooperatives need to renew their relationship with the local area, rediscovering their social, educational and relational function and therefore balancing aspects of attention towards members and the community in a wider sense. In light of the recent problems, some financial, faced by some consumer cooperatives, the question is if the relationship of shared exchange and the sense of a consumer cooperative as a cooperative organization, but with marked social objectives (support for the local area and activities of collective interest) are an integral part of the cooperative’s mission and its management policies.

The research shed light on these aspects by collecting data from consumer cooperatives in Trentino.

Objectives

The general aim of the research was an understanding of how social relations are perceived and developed within the cooperative families. In particular, the objective was to understand the different aspects to the structuring of the relationship between members and consumer cooperatives, on the one hand, and between cooperatives and the community in a wider sense on the other. The current relevance of these policies and their relevance within the prospects for growth and future renewal for consumer cooperatives were also examined.

Main Results

The collected data made it possible to observe how cooperatives balance attention to members’ needs with the activation of a social function. If both elements tend to be present in the Trentino consumer cooperatives interviewed, it is also true that the policies in which mutuality is structured rather than the social relations of the action vary depending on the specific area and the link with the area.

In particular, what emerged was how in regards to the themes of mutuality and social relations two consumer cooperation models can be identified. On the one hand, there is the model of the small cooperatives that are facing the economic crisis by seeking to bring back a cooperative sense within their own community. They have a markedly social mission, but nonetheless are not seeing an elevated social impact because they do not have formalized processes, they do not think about social innovation stimuli and even though they want to change, they do not know how. On the other hand, we have the medium-large consumer cooperatives, in which the component of pure attention to members and to the reduction of diseconomies and positioning on the market is more pronounced, but nonetheless, thanks to additional resources and more planned strategies, they are able to develop an important social function and to think concretely about social innovations and interventions for the benefit of the community.

One conclusion seems to emerge clearly: when faced with difficulties, but also when looking towards the future in an innovative way, aware of the social function and impact that can be generated for their local area, cooperatives are increasingly tending to expand their function and at times to transform into community enterprises.

Publications

Depedri S. e Turri S., (2015), Sfaccettature di partecipazione sociale e di socialità: la cooperazione di consumo in provincia di Trento, Report di ricerca Euricse.

 

This research project is part of a general scientific reflection on the role of cooperatives and social enterprises and empirical analyses aimed at testing them. The overall project aims to come up with innovative interpretations of the role of cooperative and social enterprises, based in particular on an analysis of organizations as a mix in which the cooperation coordination mechanism represents a central and establishing element for possible comparative advantages in relations with members and to generate cooperative behaviour among them. This research was therefore one of the elements of in-depth analysis within the following research project:

Towards an economic theory of cooperative and social enterprises and an understanding of their role and potential

Other studies are connected to the same research project, with the common objective of verifying the characteristics and rationale of cooperative and social enterprises and the relationship with their members:

Social participation and active volunteers: Analysis of motivation among Ancc-COOP members

I’m a member of a cooperative bank: Between economic, ownership-related and ideological participation

Partners

SAIT

Federazione Trentina della Cooperazione

Famiglie cooperative e Supermercati Trentini