The CooperationWorks Principles

The Madison Principles were first drafted in 1995 in Madison, WI by a group of cooperative developers that would become the first members of CooperationWorks when the organization formally coalesced in 1999. These principles provide guidance for cooperative developers to provide ethical and high-quality technical assistance, training, and education to their clients. The Madison Principles were last revised in 2005. Starting in 2022, CW began the process of revisiting and revising these principles to better reflect the current issues and state of the movement in today’s world. After countless meetings, deep conversations, healthy debate, and quite a bit of wordsmithing, CW members voted unanimously to accept the below principles to guide out work. This vote also accepted a name change from the Madison Principles to the CooperationWorks (CW) Principles to better reflect the connection these have to this organization and to more strongly affirm that these principles inform the cooperative development work done by CW members. Throughout 2024, members will create guidance notes for each principle to explore how these can be applied across sectors, how they connect with each other, and with the ICA Principles and Statement of the Cooperative Indentity.

Preamble to the Principles

Cooperative developers have as much in common with community organizers as with business consultants. The work of developing a cooperative means engaging in a human-centric enterprise and helping those people marshal their intellect, skills, and community to meet their needs in a democratic manner that honors each individual. Co-op developers become part of the international cooperative movement, aligned with the International Cooperative Alliance, and the values, ethics, and principles that define that movement. CooperationWorks! holds these principles to guide our work to create healthy and resilient cooperatives which in turn create strong communities. 

Principle #1: Commit to the Co-op

Co-op developers are committed to forming socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable enterprises that are focused on meeting the needs of member-owners. Co-op developers recognize their own power in the development process, are committed to sharing their expertise, but center that the co-op belongs to the members. They are open about any potential conflicts of interest of which the member-owners should be aware.

Principle #2: Build Upon Co-op Development Models

Co-op developers are committed to their professional development through ongoing education, networking, sharing knowledge within our communities, and learning. Co-ops benefit from repurposing and innovating upon development models that have been proven in multiple contexts, and also recognize that there are no immutable development models.

Principle #3: Achieve Resiliency

Co-op developers help co-ops identify markets (or spaces) in which the co-op will meet members’ needs, in a way that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

Principle #4: Foster Member Involvement

Co-op developers emphasize that member control through a democratic process is essential for success. Success depends on the commitment of the members’ time, financial resources and loyalty to the cooperative.

Principle #5: Commit to Anti-Oppression and Anti-Extinction

Co-op Developers invite (and encourage) co-op leaders to use the cooperative enterprise model to challenge the normalization of economic, social, and environmental oppression to the maximally feasible extent. This includes but is not limited to racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and human-caused climate change.

Principle #6: Commit to the Co-op Identity

Co-op developers steward the cooperative identity as defined by the International Cooperative Alliance. They educate and remind co-op leaders of the importance of operationalizing and living these values and principles.

Principle #7: Help Build the Movement

Co-op developers are the connective tissue in the cooperative movement, linking co-ops to one another by sharing knowledge, resources, and referrals. They encourage co-ops to connect to, and where useful and feasible form local, regional, national, and international networks. 

 Principle #8: Recognize that Development Never Ends

Co-op developers are instrumental for co-ops across their life cycle. They coach co-op leaders to co-create new and better ways to meet member needs: economic, environmental, and social.

Principle #9: Honor Our History

Co-op developers embrace the history of co-ops belonging to a global and innate human impulse of mutualism, which underlies the work of the Rochdale Pioneers and cooperators across the globe. Economic, social and cultural cooperation, in particular, is and has been essential to the survival of working class and marginalized people.

Principle #10: Encourage Workers’ Dignity

Co-op developers encourage systems that promote human dignity in the workplace and acknowledge the right of workers to collectively organize regardless of the ownership type or sector, and the value of engaging in solidarity with workers as key stakeholders/partners tied to the success of the coop.

Principle #11: Uphold Confidentiality

Co-op developers respect the confidentiality of cooperative members and stakeholders. Specifically, developers will not disclose to any third-party information that is personally identifying, is proprietary, or would risk competitive disadvantage to the enterprise, without the express consent of those whose information will be shared. Developers should also safeguard the identity of vulnerable individuals or groups.