Getting started

To assist the growth and development of co-operatives, we have established a ‘how to guide’ which provides an overview of the key steps, as well as provides a repository of reports, journal articles and websites.

A Public Service Mutual delivers public services through a co-operative or mutual governance structure, whereby members of the organisation are able to be involved in decision-making, and benefit from its activities, including benefits emanating from the reinvestment of surpluses.

This information is intended to assist individuals and organisations (not-for-profits, for-profits and co-operatives and mutuals) to establish a co-operative or mutual to deliver public services. The information provides guidance for consumer, producer and enterprise co-operatives.

The information may also assist governments to understand the type of support individuals and organisations require in successfully establishing and operating a co-operative and thereby provide guidance on policy such as social procurement and regulations.

This ‘how to guide’ and repository is by no means exhaustive. It provides insights and access to a wealth of information and provides an overview of the key factors for consideration, required steps in establishment and operation, as well as supporting resources such as websites, organisations, and reports.

The guide comprises three phases:

Phase 1: How to establish a co-operative is the most extensive section of the Guide and is presented as a linear step-by-step process to make it easy to follow. In practice an iterative process will be needed with potentially two, three, or more tasks being actioned at any one time. For example, in this Guide we present stakeholder engagement in two steps, but in practice a co-operative is likely to be more successful if it has engaged stakeholders along the length of the journey from initial concept, to developing the business plan.

Two key resources were used to inform this Guide:

  1. Co-operatives Manual Australia: Understanding the purpose, start-up process, planning and running of a co-operative in Australia 
  2. Co-operative Entrepreneurship: Co-operate for growth (no live link)

The majority of the information and resources provided is focused on establishing a co-operative, given the depth of information available. In operating a co-operative, many insights can be taken from reading the Australian case studies.

In establishing a co-operative, we suggest that you consult the Co-operatives National Law, which is a uniform set of laws for co-operatives being progressively introduced by the States and Territories. As at June2015, NSW, Victoria and South Australia have commenced the introduction of the Law, with the parliaments of the Northern territory and Tasmania recently passing the laws.

The Co-operatives National Law, seeks to enable:

  • Co-operatives to have the freedom to operate on a national basis
  • Provide co-operatives with better access to external capital funding
  • More clearly defines reporting obligations for small and large co-operatives
  • The statutory duties of Directors and Officers of a co-operative to be in line with corporate governance standards under the Corporations Act 2011.

The three key steps in establishing a co-operative are:

  • Define the problem
  • Develop the business model
  • Form the co-operative

The key steps in operating a co-operative are:

  • Implement good governance practices
  • Measurement & reporting performance
  • Management practices

The three key steps for changing the co-operative structure or operation and winding up a co-operative: 

  • Change the structure, governance & membership
  • Overcome challenges
  • Close the co-operative