The Co-operative Innovation Project

Collaborative, Community-Led Solutions

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Saskatchewan Economic Development Association

recently, we’ve been connecting with SEDA – the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association – with some of our recent work on co-operatives in western Canada.

Mitchell Nemeth of SEDA selected the Furrows and Faith Retirement Co-operative at Mossbank, Saskatchewan, as an ‘Inspiration File’ story. Find it here or below for your viewer. With thanks to SEDA for their continued conversation.

March Co-op IP.SEDA story on Furrows and Faith_001March Co-op IP.SEDA story on Furrows and Faith_002March Co-op IP.SEDA story on Furrows and Faith_003

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Robust Co-op Development Environment

One of the most interesting activities of CIP was to visualize what is co-operative development, and see how the people, groups, and activities required to build co-ops fit into a robust co-operative development environment.

Using ideas from the Plunkett Foundation of the UK, combined with our on-the-ground research with western Canada’s active co-op developers, we present the following model as a way to think about, measure, and support co-operative growth in western Canada.

robust co-op development environment

See our chapter on Co-operative Development Environment in our final report for a richer explanation of how we built this model.

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Needs in rural and Aboriginal communities in western Canada

What are the top needs in rural and Aboriginal communities across western Canada?

It depends, a little, on who and how you ask. But not as much as you might think.

CIP conducted three major data capture points on needs: a telephone survey of over 2000 respondents, a web-based survey of municipal and band administrators, and 26 open community engagement events.

While the surveys had a pre-set list of needs that were ranked by respondents, community meetings were wide open. Respondents could say what their communities needed most. Some of the more interesting: break down community barriers, and grow the volunteer base.

The following table compares across the three data points. Find out more about data collection and other results in the various chapters of our final report.

All Needs.Combined.ThreeDatasets_001

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Co-operatives First

Today, Federated Co-operatives Ltd. announced the creation of a new non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people in rural and First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities in western Canada, using the co-operative model.

What they’d like to see: more people talking about co-ops.

We’d like to see that too! In fact, Co-operatives First benefits from the Co-operative Innovation Project: the research and data collected by the Project will be ported forward into Co-operatives First, so that its rich resources can continue to benefit the entire co-operative community.

Below are the remarks from Murray Fulton, CRS Chair in Co-operative Governance, who was project lead for CIP.

Exciting times ahead…!

Notes for FCL Announcement of Co-operatives First p1Notes for FCL Announcement of Co-operatives First p2

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Releasing Findings

The Co-operative Innovation Project defines rural western Canada as a combined and indivisible rural and Aboriginal space. Neither can be viewed without the other.

As such, CIP was one of the largest projects ever to ask both rural and rural Aboriginal residents and communities the same questions, at the same time. Patterns of both similarity and difference provide a path forward to work together.

We are pleased to show you what we’ve found. Some of our Final Report is now ready for viewing. Find the chapters in the page marked Final Report. More are forthcoming; check back frequently over the next few weeks.


On November 30th at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives in Saskatoon, we held a limited-link recorded public presentation and overview of some of our findings. You can view the PDF versions of those presentations here.

We have also been working to distill our findings into short, two-page notes from the Co-operative Innovation Project. The first of these can be found here.

And for those of you who love to hear, as well as read for yourself, our recorded videos can be found on the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives YouTube site. Open the first roundtable, with Murray Fulton and Darcy Overland, here. The second roundtable, with Dionne Pohler and (in a reprise role!) Murray Fulton, can be found here.

If you have any comments, questions, feedback, or just want to connect with us, please leave a comment or call us at 1-306-966-8502 or send one of the project members a direct email. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Innovation — all the time

Innovation — what does that mean?

One of the things that we at CIP believe is that ‘innovation’ means continually innovating. It DOES NOT mean innovating once, then never again. There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ or a ‘silver bullet’ that will fit community, in every instance, all the time. Communities change rapidly; their co-ops have to change with them!

For some great insight into continual innovation and the way it should work, check out this article by Rosanne Haggerty and Becky Kanis Margiotta in the World Economic Forum asking “How can social entrepreneurs embrace continuous innovation?”

We think it asks the right questions.

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Community visits — feedback

When we visit communities, those who attend get a chance to tell us how we’re doing.

When we ask: What will you take away from this community meeting? some of the responses have been:

  • Better understanding of co-operatives. Better understanding of what citizens feel is needed in the community.
  • Better understanding of everyone’s needs. Chance to open lines of communication with people in other communities and maybe start working together.
  • Networking with others
  • Reaffirmation of strength in community members.
  • A great turnout that showed a tremendous amount of community caring. Thank you!
  • Keep an open mind for opportunities to improve community.
  • That there are people in my community interested in development to meet local needs
  • Connected with some new people
  • More curiosity about the coop options. Greater awareness of other community members ideas and values
  • Feeling good about my community and the energy of the people around the table.

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La Ronge & Stanley Mission Site Tour

In the summer of 2014 the CIP team was joined by representatives from the UK-based Plunkett Foundation to visit the communities of La Ronge and Stanley Mission in northern Saskatchewan. The team had the pleasure of two days of co-operative development training and dining with representatives from the La Ronge grocery co-operative, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Amachewespemawin grocery co-operative (Stanley Mission) and Connexus Credit Union.

The team was treated to an amazing tour of the Amachewespemawin Co-op grocery store and gas bar – and some of the team even got to experience their first try at Chester Fried Chicken!

(Other team members said: Really? Did you grow up in a bucket? Chester Fried Chicken is the bomb!)

We would like to thank the following organizations for their support of our trip north:

  • La Ronge Co-op Market Place Food Store
  • Lac La Ronge Indian Band
  • Amachewespemawin Co-op (Stanley Mission)
  • Conexus Credit Union
  • Northlands College (La Ronge Campus)
  • La Ronge Hotel & Suites


The CIP Team. From left to right: Dazawray Landrie-Parker, Nicole McLaren, Peter Couchman, Murray Fulton, Ken Coates, Hannah Barrett, Dionne Pohler, Dawn Brinkmeier, Wu Haotao. Missing: Audra Kreuger (behind the camera).


Eva (GM) and The CIP Team. From left to right: Peter Couchman, Eva McKenzie, Wu Haotao, Nicole McLaren, Dazawray Parker, Murray Fulton, Dawn Brinkmeier, Dionne Pohler, Hannah Barrett. Missing: Bob Walker (behind the camera).

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Article: Co-operative Development in Rural and Aboriginal Communities

Check out Page 36 of the April/May 2014 SaskBusiness Magazine for a thought provoking article about the Co-operative Innovation Project.

Written by Murray Fulton Professor, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and Director, Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan, and Dionne Pohler Assistant Professor, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and Fellow in Co-operative Strategy and Governance, Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan.

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Introduction to the Project

In November 2013, the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan entered into a first-of-its-kind partnership with Federated Co-operatives Limited to explore co-operative development in rural and Aboriginal communities in western Canada.

Co-operatives are an important contributor to a community’s quality of life, offering opportunities for economic and community development in areas citizens feel are important, such as housing, social services, retail, energy, recreation, and the sustainable management of natural resources and traditional economies.

The goal of the CIP is to create a model of co-operative development that will work in rural and Aboriginal communities across western Canada.

Our approach follows the UK-based Plunkett Foundation’s model of co-operative development, although we anticipate that the model will need to be adapted to the unique features of rural and Aboriginal communities in western Canada. A key part of the project is this adaptation, which will be informed by the wealth of knowledge possessed by people in communities across the region and by those working with regional co-operative associations, credit unions, government agencies, NGOs, and community associations.

In addition to the qualitative data that will be collected over the next two years through interviews and conversations, the CIP will compile a broad range of quantitative socio-economic data on western Canadian communities. Together, these data will be used to create a set of characteristics that are likely to make communities conducive to successful co-operative development.