A special meeting of the DC Cooperative Stakeholders group was held via teleconference on December 9, 2020.
The purpose of the meeting was to think more broadly about the current co-op ecosystem and how we can collectively move forward. There are many moving pieces in the effort, but it is unclear how they best come together. In particular, the group was asked to focus on the idea of a smaller Steering Committee within the Stakeholders Group.
These notes are comprised of notes on the live conversation that were captured in the Zoom chat by Kate Mereand and Margaret Clark, plus notes contributed by Justin Franks. It also takes into account other comments made exclusively in the chat. Except in a few cases, no effort has been made to associate particular comments with particular people.
What is the background of the DC Cooperative Stakeholders Group?
WACIF and DSLBD teamed up 4 years ago to run 6 months of monthly Co-op Stakeholders meetings. Lots of very knowledgeable and dedicated folks joined, and it became self-organizing. The group is volunteer-based, with lots of people who are interested in seeing more coops and coop resources. They have periodically set missions and had events, and subcommittees. More history of the group here: Our History – DC Cooperative Stakeholders Group (dcstakeholders.coop)
What might be the relationship between the Stakeholders Group and a proposed Steering Committee?
Editor’s Note: The group discussed many things regarding the possible structure and roles of the Stakeholders Group and “Steering Committee.” I have tried to put these in categories that will be helpful for next-step conversations and decision-making.
If we are seeking a balance of effective action and ever widening involvement of stakeholders, some threshold questions need to be answered:
What is the ecosystem most lacking:
- Broad base of stakeholders?
- Strategic direction?
- Effective execution?
What model will best meet the perceived needs?
Is it this: Larger Advisory Board (Stakeholder Group) and smaller Executive Team (Steering Committee)?
Or is it this: Smaller Strategic Planning Team (Steering Committee) that engages larger Stakeholder Group in specific activities?
Perceived Value of (Smaller) Steering Committee
As Executive/Operations Team:
- Steering Committee can take the lead in organizing people around actions that the Stakeholder Group identifies as mission critical.
- A Steering Committee could help support moving strategy forward.
- A smaller, hyper-focused Steering Committee would be action-oriented, and more effective.
- Stakeholder group has been most successful when a subcommittee was formed to push the work forward.
- It is more effective to have subcommittees doing work between general meetings.
- A Steering Committee could be a repository and source of technical assistance to co-ops.
As Strategic Decisionmaker
- A Steering Committee could be a smaller group that sets priorities, i.e., a launchpad for maintaining forward movement while still being inclusive of the whole group.
Perceived Value of (Larger) Stakeholders Group
- The Stakeholder Group is suited to focus on co-op policy.
- The Stakeholders Group can be a core group of people who have a certain amount of capacity to stay focused and active on the policy aspects.
- The larger group can be a space for continuously inviting new folks to the table.
More Issues, Obstacles, Questions and Resources
- We had a steering committee 3 years ago, but no one wanted to lead it.
- There was a committee that drafted roles and responsibilities for steering committee members. That would be a great starting point to revise, refine and determine what a steering committee can Should we first identify specific responsibilities for the steering committee before trying to recruit?
- Would the Steering Committee stand between Stakeholders Group on the one hand and the Co-op Developers/Members on the other hand?
- If what we are calling “Steering Committee” is actually doing the execution, it would be more of an Operations Committee, or Executive Team. Whereas the stakeholder group would be more like board/advisory board.
- If the Stakeholder Group is a larger group with a very fluid membership, is that an appropriate design for making strategic decisions that will guide the work of a Steering Committee?
What might be the relationship between the Stakeholders Group/Steering Committee and Wacif’s soon to be launched Greater Washington Employee Ownership Center (GWEOC)?
Per Wacif’s Jennifer Bryant, GWEOC’s advisory group includes members of the Stakeholders Group, but will not focus on coop policy, but rather around coop conversions. There will be an information session in January about how to get involved with the center. Jennifer said she would support a Steering Committee in any way she can and will GWEOC and the Stakeholders Group can work together to build our local ecosystem. If anyone would like to reach Jennifer, she shared her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What might be the relationship between the Stakeholders Group/Steering Committee and coop developers and members?
Core questions that need to be answered are:
- How the stakeholders group is useful to co-op members?
- What would co-op members like to see from this group?
There is a hunger for technical assistance and easy access (e.g., links) to the resources that already exist in areas such as:
- Practical experience of those who have operated co-ops in DC
- Answers to legal, tax, operating questions (e.g., bylaws, operating agreement, shared ownership, profit sharing, democratic decision-making, etc.) Resource: WACIF entity formation webinar on YouTube: https://youtu.be/hdnVybBlHSE
What are some operational questions that need to be answered to move forward?
The following operational issues were discussed. (Editor’s Note: Some of these matters would be addressed during a design process; others would be addressed after implementation of a design.)
- Consider the possibility of a membership structure—free or very modest fee. To be a voting there is a minimum participation requirement. Otherwise, anyone is free to attend.
- Consider how to “incentivize” taking an active role in the group/steering committee or other subcommittees; maybe some sort of revenue or timeshare. An example is the Association for the Arts where members donate a certain amount to a pool and it gets allocated. What is a good payments receiving capability for sustaining ongoing donations or chip in amounts?
Leadership and Decision-making
- How is leadership of the Stakeholder’s group exercised?
- How does the Stakeholders Group make decisions. So far, it has been done mostly by consensus. Should it be formalized as voting?
- Who votes? How? and When?
- How to structure decision-making in a way that allows time for input, feedback, and paramount objections.
- Taking into account what this group has done and is able to do, what information would make it more clear when new people come in?
- It would help to have an clear orientation process as to what the group is all about.
- An on-boarding process called “Co-op 101” used to occur one hour before our regular meetings. I Is there someone like Rodney North who might be willing to resurrect that activity?
What are proposed next steps?
The following steps were discussed—either explicitly or implicitly:
- Conduct one-on-one interviews or very small focus groups to create a vision of what the Stakeholder Group and its Steering Committee should look like—structure, people, process, technology. (Margaret Clark has volunteered to design and lead this process with support from others.)
- That process would be informed by all of the above questions and comments, and should also include such additional questions as:
- Should the Stakeholder’s Group/Steering Committee itself be formed as a co-op?
- Do we need a consultant to assist with designing the Stakeholder’s Group/Steering Committee?
- Do we want structural/fiscal/financial sponsorship from another organization?
- Put the collectively devised organizational vision before the Stakeholder Group for a collaborative decision-making process.
- Once the Stakeholder Group/Steering Committee design is agreed on put out a call for interest in leading/serving on the Steering Committee.
- Form, onboard, and launch the Steering Committee.
- Have an orientation meeting of the full Stakeholders Group and Steering Committee.
- Determine the greatest areas of interest for collaborative work
- Determine who will do the work.
- Do the work
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