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Interviewing a Cooperator

If you're an individual or small group teaching yourself about cooperatives, you can use this resource to help you communicate with cooperators and utilize their experience to guide your attempts to start or participate in a co-op.

If you're an individual teaching about co-ops, you can use this exercise to help facilitate an experiential group learning exercise that will help your students gain insight from seasoned cooperators. They can also discuss and explore this information after their interviews to help guide their process of starting or participating in a co-op.

Exercise

Are there any co-ops near you? If so, it might be worth making contact with them. One of the best ways to learn is through experience. Therefore, if you want to learn what it’s like to work in or start a co-op, it would be to your benefit to speak with someone who has first-hand experience in this type of business. If you’re not sure if there’s a cooperative near you, you can use the following resources: http://go.coop/find or http://find.coop/ .

Remember, though – cooperators are regular people too, who are trying to work, make a living, and live their life. They may not have time to talk with someone if they are not getting anything out of it. That shouldn’t stop you from trying, though, because there will be people happy to speak with you – or they may know someone else who will. And, if they can, co-ops should assist other aspiring cooperators according to the sixth cooperative principle. There are several ways you might consider making initial contact with co-ops or cooperators. These could include: writing an e-mail; sending them a letter; and going to their shop, store, or office.

Before you interview a cooperator, ask yourself: what is it that you want to learn from the conversation? Try to write down one to three goals (e.g. “I want to start thinking about what major hurdles I may face in the development and founding process of a co-op”) and keep these in front of you during your conversation with the cooperator you are interviewing. If you want to have a free-ranging, organic conversation, that is fine. Otherwise, this technique will help you stay on track and guide your conversation towards answering your goals.

Below are some recommended questions you might want to ask a cooperator (even if you don’t interview a cooperator, however, these are some good questions to be considering yourself).

Questions for any kind of cooperator

  1. Why did you join or start a co-op?
  2. What has been different about being in a co-op than you expected? What took you by surprise?
  3. What materials would you recommend someone look at who is interested in starting or working in a co-op?
  4. Do you know of any other cooperatives or collectives in the area? Or cooperative supporters (such as people, institutions, development centers, and so on)?
  5. What recommendations do you have about getting start-up capital for a co-op? Do you have any experiences about this that you could share?
  6. What sort of decision-making process does your cooperative use? What are the benefits of this process and what are the downsides?
  7. What is something important that someone might not find in standard co-op resources that you’ve learned from experience?
  8. What sort of mindset does someone need when being a part of a worker co-op?
  9. What have you gained the most from being a part of a co-op?
  10. What kinds of frustrations have you experienced?
  11. What makes a worker co-op successful financially and socially?

Questions for Worker Cooperators

  1. What has your experience been like in a worker cooperative?
  2. What are the responsibilities of being a worker and an owner? If you’ve had experience working in non-coops, how is this different from that experience?
  3. What has been the best part about being a worker-owner?
  4. What has been the hardest?

Questions for Consumer Grocer Cooperators

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Questions for Worker-Consumer Hybrid Cooperators

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Potential Follow Ups

Group Discussion

In your group, talk about what you learned from your interviews. Here are some potential facilitation questions:

  • Who did you interview? Why did you choose to interview them?
  • What stood out from your interview?
  • What do you understand now about the cooperative experience that you were unaware of before?
  • Did your interview bring up any new questions for you about participating in a co-op? Do it reassure any worries you had?