Democratic control of the co-op by members is an inviolate cornerstone of what makes co-ops different from other kinds of businesses. Yet at the same time, co-ops operate in competitive markets and boards need to ensure responsible management of the co-op's assets, including business information.
How can we deal with balancing these two interests? How can we deal with proprietary information in a way that is responsible to the co-op and at the same time provides co-op member-owners with clear, useful information about their co-op?
We offer four short articles on this topic - including factors to consider as well as practices to follow. The study guide for this issue offers four typical scenarios for potential role-playing and discussion to help the board be prepared for these situations.
Through the Looking Glass: Make Your Board's Transparency Obvious – Martha Whitman
“But considering our democratic structure, it is useful to develop practices that demonstrate transparency. Usually it's not a question of whether or not we're following such practices; it's that we don't always provide an easy way for members to see it.”
Down the Rabbit Hole: A Look at Executive Sessions – Cindy Owings
“Suffice it to say, there are not hard and fast rules about conducting executive sessions. However, establishing a general list of topics to be addressed during an executive session is prudent.”
Avoiding the Pool of Tears: Sometimes We Share; Sometimes We Don't – Gail Graham
“It is worth the effort to ensure that the co-op board is comfortable with the need for some confidentiality and is comfortable insisting on it. If you have guidelines in place before situations come up, you will be better prepared to respond appropriately and will avoid the appearance of acting hastily to withhold information by hiding behind newly created rules.”
In the King's Court: Being Judicious with Information – Marcia Shaw
“Good business process, well-articulated policies, and good communication skills will go a long way toward satisfying the member who wants more information. Once satisfied that the board has followed a well-thought-out process, the member will be less anxious.”
Study Guide – Your Own Tea Party: How Would You Handle It? – Paige Lettington
Here are four scenarios related to the issue of transparency that could easily come up at your co-op. We suggest you use one or more of these as a role-playing exercise or to help guide the board's policy-framing discussions.
We welcome your comments, suggestions, and stories. Did you learn something? Were the discussions that came out of this issue useful to your board? How did your board use this issue in improving its handling of issues related to information-sharing and transparency? Send your suggestions, comments, experiences, and/or reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org.