Co-operative Performance Index

Non-Financial Impact Assessment for Co-operatives: Demonstrating the Co-opertive Difference

Project Updates

December 2017

October 2017

May 2017

November 2016

Research Objectives

The primary objective of this research is investigate the measurement of non-financial impact of co-operatives in Canada. By way of this, objectives include:
  1. Identifying social and environmental performance indicators that the Canadian co-operative sector could report for their co-operatives;
  2. Identifying the appropriate process through which co-operatives will report their social and environmental impact;
  3. Collaborating with a select group of co-operatives on the development of indicators and process; and
  4. Collaborating on a knowledge mobilization and sustainability plan to ensure that social and environmental impact assessment of co-operatives will continue beyond the life of SSHRC funding and can lay the foundation for future research, take up and funding.  

Research Questions

To accomplish these objectives, there are four research questions guiding this study.
  1. What drives the adoption of reporting and measurement by co-operatives?
  2. What indicators could form a co-operative social and environmental performance index?
  3. What process of collection would best suit co-operatives?
  4. What types of analysis, reporting and dissemination would co-operatives like to see and are most beneficial?

Importance of Research

We are seeing a great change in how impact is regarded and measured, and thus how organizations, businesses, different orders of government etc. are evaluated and evaluated themselves. We are seeing a new array of metrics being applied that measure and evaluate beyond the purely economic to include social and environmental indicators of impact. We are seeing an expansion of what is labelled as impact and how impact in measured to include a vast array of methodologies and frameworks such as corporate social responsibility, sustainability reporting, corporate accountability or corporate citizenship and many others.  We are seeing take up of these methodologies and frameworks within the private, public and social economy sectors.

Co-operatives are not immune to the new impact assessment ideologies that are emerging and the changes in reporting and measuring that go hand and hand with them. In fact the co-operative sector should be a leader in expanded impact measurement because of co-operatives’ inherent social (and increasingly environmental) nature. There are examples of co-operatives from the Canadian co-operative sector that have successfully and fully embraced an expanded reporting ledger including Vancity Credit Union, The Co-operators and Mountain Equipment Co-op. Whereas, other co-operatives live and breathe sustainability in terms of a triple bottom line without recording or measuring their impact such as renewable energy co-operatives, sustainable food co-operatives or housing co-operatives.

It is time for the co-operative sector in Canada to fully embrace the measurement of their social and environmental impact as standard practice, using universal indicators which can be used as benchmarks, for comparison purposes and as guides of what to aim for. A participatory action research project with the goal to create a sustainable measurement tool for the ongoing practice of the recording and measurement of social, environmental, sustainability and co-operative impact is in the best interest of the co-operative sector.

This research will mobilize the Canadian co-operative sector to not just think about their non-financial impact in terms of anecdotes and vague results; but, to begin to ask co-operatives to report, measure and evaluate themselves not just using the economic metrics but also social, environmental, sustainability and co-operative indicators. 

Project Advisory Team

Daphne Rixon, Project Lead: Professor, Accounting Department, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Fiona Duguid, Project Lead: Researcher, Chelsea, Quebec, Canada
Denyse Guy, Executive Director, Co-operatives Mutuals Canada
Yuill Herbert: Sustainability Solutions Group Workers Cooperative, Nova Scotia, Canada
Kate Martin: Policy Analyst, Canadian Credit Union Association
Sonja Novkovic: Professor, Economics, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Coro Strandberg: President, Strandberg Consulting, Vancouver, Canada
Barbara Turley-McIntyre: Vice President, Sustainability and Citizenship, The Co-operators Groups, Guelph, Canada

Funding and Support (to date)

CEARC has been the lead funder of this research with grants provided by CPA Canada. Additional funding has been provided by the Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network (SSHRC CURA 2010-2015) and through Mitacs (2016 and 2017). Support has also been provided by individual co-operatives.

Research Outcomes

The intended outcomes of this research are the following:
  1. List of ten indicators and metrics that co-operatives can collect, report on and evaluate themselves on.
  2. An online, non-financial indicator collection tool that has been beta tested and is ready for populating.
  3. A process whereby co-operative can successfully participate in the collection, reporting and evaluating of non-financial indicators.
  4. A fruitful collaborative approach involving researchers and co-operatives to developing and implementing non-financial impact assessment.

For Further Information and Updates

For further information please contact Project Leads: Daphne Rixon  or Fiona Duguid