We kicked off this series by announcing our decision to pursue a worker-owned cooperative model. In this and subsequent posts, we will be providing updates and learnings as we progress.
Last fall, after nearly two years of research and discussion, we made our first major step toward cooperatizing: Bocoup is now a member of The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC). We’re honored to be finding our way alongside this powerful network of aspiring and long-standing worker-owned co-ops.
USFWC values education, as do we. Accordingly, we’ve promised to share our progress and learnings publicly along the way. In this post, we will focus on some critical learnings during the research and planning phases. At a high level, this included:
- Internal information-gathering to better understand the team’s needs
- Formation of an opt-in committee to implement our process, and appointment of a project manager
- Landscape and legal analysis of worker-owned cooperatives
- External interviews of existing coops, cooperatization partners, and other experts in the field
- Evaluation of potential cooperatization partners
- Selection of USFWC as our partner
Even at this nascent stage, we’ve encountered considerable trial and error. Though it seems obvious in retrospect, we learned mid-way through planning to take the same structured approach we do with our external projects and partnerships. Here are some of our key takeaways.
Ensure alignment from the start
This isn’t Bocoup’s first time exploring cooperative ownership. Back in 2014, leadership and select team members investigated a co-op model, but didn’t have a clear plan for engaging the full team at every step of the way.
This time, we made sure to start with plenty of full-team groundsetting. Once the team had given input on the path forward, we set up an opt-in committee to conduct initial research, both externally and within the company.
Incorporate it into your annual plan
In our first year of co-op research, we found ourselves deprioritizing it whenever “business-essential” needs emerged. So in 2022, we shifted to incorporate it into our definition of business-essential.
As part of our annual strategic planning, Bocoup sets goals and corresponding quarterly success measures. For the past two years, one of our annual goals has explicitly referenced our investment in “collaborative decision-making.” Our quarterly outcomes related to collaborative decision-making required specific and consistent action on our cooperatizing work. Within a few months of adding it to our goals, we’d made more progress toward worker ownership than in the entire year prior.
Create intentional structure
Structure exists whether or not you formalize it, which is why we so highly value project management in our day-to-day work. Our volunteer committee was moving forward, but lacked intentionality in the roles and habits we’d fallen into. Starting in 2022, our fantastic Operations Manager, Ashley, stepped in to project manage our committee’s process. We scheduled recurring meetings, and set an agenda for each. Ashley continues to manage our progress, including coordination with our cooperatization partner.
Find a cooperatization partner
For many of us at Bocoup, this was relatively new territory. But so many others have gained meaningful expertise in this subject over years of dedicated study and hands-on experience. We’re glad we decided to collaborate, rather than figure it out on our own. And as we navigate the financing and governance planning phases of the work, we’re relieved to have a partner to guide us.
To help us identify our cooperatization partner, we created an interview guide and evaluation criteria for determining alignment with our company’s needs. While the USFWC ended up being the best fit for us, there are a number of resources available to companies at the early stages of their cooperatization process. Here are a few organizations we either researched or had the opportunity to learn from as we explored our options:
- Project Equity
- Democracy at Work Institute
- Third Place Design Cooperative
- LA Co-op Lab
- Cooperative Development Institute
- Nexus Community Partners
- Boston Center for Community Ownership (BCCO)
- The Working World
- Center for Community Based Enterprise
We’re immensely grateful to everyone who helped us get off the ground, including current and past team members who’ve pushed for cooperatization and dedicated time to research and exploration. We’ll continue chronicling our learnings as we go.