8. The Step by Step Guide to Setting Up a CDA

Although the following tasks are presented in a linear form, they need not necessarily be undertaken in this exact order, and many may be carried out concurrently.

8.1 Investigate existing provision:

Many CDAs are or began life as voluntary organisations. They were an amalgam of local co-operators and representatives of co-operative organisations who came together to discuss ways in which new and existing co-ops could be fostered by the local movement - as is consistent with the 6th Co-operative Principle.

The first step, therefore, is to pull together an inventory of any and all co-operative life in the locality. If there is a co-op shop of some description, this might be a useful starting point. If not already a member, join and find out when their relevant Board meetings take place and see if it is possible to attend. A list of their members would be a great help.

Regrettably, it is unlikely that the local library will have any local listings, but they may have the addresses of the various federal bodies (fortunately for you, some of these are listed in the appendices of this manual). The federals - The Industrial Common Ownership Movement, the Co-op Union, the Association of British Credit Unions, the Federation of Housing Co-ops, etc - should be in a position to notify you of any of their members operating in your area. Individuals involved with any of these may be interested in either assisting directly with your initiative, but even letters of support can make a difference.

The duplication of services wastes resources and can cause confusion amongst potential service users. It goes without saying that it is a pointless exercise to establish a CDA in an area where one already exists. However, even where there is no CDA, there may already be some co-operative development provision, for example:

An initial task, therefore, is to identify and assess existing provision, ensuring that there is a need for a new CDA, and liasing with existing service providers to ensure that the new agency will complement - and not duplicate - extant facilities.

8.2 Recruit a steering group:

A CDA is an independent organisation and requires people to own and direct it. Section 6 deals with issues of membership and management, but the first stage is to draw together a steering group to oversee the establishment of the agency.

This will normally be achieved by making direct approaches to organisations which are likely to have an interest in the subject, such as:

There are a number of factors to take into account when recruiting a suitable steering group. One particular issue which may arise at this stage in the process is the potential for tensions arising from steering group members' visions of their own roles within the CDA once it is functioning. For example, some individuals may be interested in seeking employment within the agency. Others may see it as competing for resources with some other agency with which they may be associated. Consequently it is necessary even at this early stage to have systems in place for declaring interests in certain subjects which may come under discussion.

8.3 See what others are doing:

The UK has over 25 years' experience of co-operative development. There is a wealth of information available, and a great deal can be gained from visiting other CDAs throughout the land, reading their annual reports, and studying the many documents which have been produced on various aspects of co-operative development.

8.4 Establish objectives:

Not all steering group members may share the same vision for the CDA. Possible key objectives for a CDA include:

It is therefore essential to agree a vision and clear objectives before seeking to develop a more detail strategy. For example, if job creation is a key objective, then less priority is likely to be given to converting solvent businesses into co-operatives (as this does not create new jobs); whereas such conversions would be highly desirable if the CDA is mainly concerned with local empowerment and changing socio-economic relationships.

The steering group will also have to decide upon its geographical area of benefit, detailing the reasons for its decision.

8.5 Assess local support:

The embryonic CDA will now know what it wishes to achieve. Are these objectives shared by others? An assessment will need to be made of the extent of local political and community support for the aims of the agency. If such support is found to be lacking, it will need to be developed. This will involve some initial promotional activities, aimed not so much at potential co-operators but rather at local politicians, council officers and voluntary sector activists.

8.6 Draft a business plan:

Once objectives have been clearly established, it will be possible to draw up a business plan indicating how these objectives are going to be achieved. A specimen business plan for a small agency is given in the Appendices.

The business plan will include an analysis of local demographic data, the aims and objectives of the CDA, its planned structure, the services it will offer, and some projected outputs. The basic business plan may well have to modified for use in different circumstances, for example in applying for funds from different sources, where outputs may have to be expressed in a form suitable for the funder being approached.

8.7 Formalise the structure:

In order to be judged a suitable recipient for funding, it will be necessary to formalise the structure of the CDA. This may involve incorporation as a limited company, or simply adopting a suitable constitution (see Section 7). At this stage, some or all of the steering group can assume the role of management committee or board of directors of the agency. The constitution adopted may require that others be recruited (perhaps to represent other interests), and it may be that some members of the steering group no longer qualify.

Once properly incorporated or constituted, the CDA will enjoy a formal legal status, and its future direction—in terms of developing a membership etc.—will be clear.

8.8 Secure funding:

With a formal legal status, clear objectives and a business plan, the CDA can now seek to acquire the funding it needs to execute that plan. Inevitably the development process up to this point will have indicated likely sources of funding: the local authority, European funds, regeneration grants or what have you. Applications may be submitted to finance the whole of the business plan, or discrete elements within it, according to the priorities of funders being approached.

As indicated in 8.6, above, it is likely that the business plan will have to be amended to take account of the available sources of funding and the output requirements of funders being approached. One of the tasks of the CDA's governing body is to balance its own objectives with aims which are truly realisable in the light of accessible finances.

8.9 Locate premises:

A suitable home will need to be found for the CDA. The type of premises which will be suitable will depend to an extent on the activities envisaged for the CDA. For example, being based in a community centre might be ideal if prioritising social exclusion work, but may offer less credibility if working mainly with the owners of existing businesses. Equally, being housed in a very formal, high-security business centre can be off-putting to members of the local community who may lack self-confidence in such environments, although it may suit corporate clients. Many CDAs have found that being housed within local authority offices can undermine their organisational autonomy, identifying them too closely with the authority and blurring the agency's work with that of council officers.

8.10 Establish systems:

A whole rage of systems will have to be implemented to ensure the effective running of the CDA, including:

Examples of documentation for such systems are included in the Appendices.

8.11 Recruit staff:

Most CDAs operate with relatively small staffing levels, and selecting the right people is crucial to the agency's success. It is common for CDAs to advertise nationally for development officers and locally for administrative staff. See Section 5.

8.12 Produce promotional material:

As discussed in Section 3, an essential function of a CDA is to promote the co-operative option: without any such promotion, there is likely to be little demand for the agency's services. Consequently effective promotional material needs to be prepared before launching the agency. Examples will be found in the Appendices.

8.13 The launch event:

While not essential, a high-profile launch event is a tried and tested way of ensuring that many prospective partners of the agency (see Section 3.8) are aware of its existence, location, and facilities. One or more guest speakers, a showing of the Co-operative Advantage video, and an endorsement from a locally respected figure (local celebrity, MP, well known co-operator) may provide an adequate basis for such a launch, which may be supplemented with display materials, exhibits from local co-operatives, and of course complementary drinks and a buffet. If local press coverage can be achieved, all the better.

8.14 Get on with it:

The launch over, it is time to attract some prospective co-operators and start to help them develop their own business plans. See Sections 3 and 4.

8.15 Regional and national links:

Although it can place additional demands on limited resources, much is to be gained from contributing to regional and national co-operative networks: through Regional Co-operative Councils (which mirror Regional Development Agencies), and through ICOM nationally. Such contacts can lead to participation in multi-agency projects (with attendant funding streams), additional support (for example, when renegotiating funding with a local authority), and a ready source of new ideas and information.