Co-operatives are important contributors to a community’s quality of life, offering opportunities for economic and community development in areas citizens feel are important, such as housing, social services, retail, energy, recreation, and the sustainable management of natural resources and traditional economies. In combining economic with community development, co-operative businesses harness and contribute to, the energy and success of both.

An example of how co-operatives impact on communities’ well-being can be seen on the ‘Inspiration File’ story of the Furrows and Faith Retirement Co-operative at Mossbank, Saskatchewan—selected by Mitchell Nemeth of the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association (SEDA) as an inspiring demonstration of co-operatives in western Canada.

How did CIP get started?

In November 2013, the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan (now, the Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives) entered into a first-of-its-kind partnership with Federated Co-operatives Limited to explore co-operative development in rural and Indigenous communities in western Canada. If you would like to learn more about Federated Co-operatives and their amazing community work and public profile, check out their website.

The Co-operative Innovation Project (CIP) team spoke with communities, municipal managers, and co-operative developers across western Canada throughout 2015.

One of the critical components of the research was a ‘snapshot’ of rural and Indigenous western Canada in 2015. They asked: what are your community’s needs? Are those needs being met by conventional solutions or would a co-operative solution be a good fit?

Why this is unique: CIP spoke with Indigenous and rural communities, using the same questions and guidelines. That gives us some ability to consider how rural and Indigenous communities might differ, and how they might have similar needs.

The goal of the CIP was to create a model of co-operative development that responds to the unique and changing needs of rural and Indigenous communities across western Canada.

Lastly, the CIP led to the creation of Co-operatives First, a non-profit organization that provides co-operative start-up resources—such as feasibility studies, business plans, online courses, and incorporation support—to rural and Indigenous entrepreneurs across western Canada. Co-operatives First's goal is to help leaders in these communities build new businesses, grow local economies, and support community development.

Strategic direction for the project management group came from the following partner organizations:

Final Report

The Co-operative Innovation Project (CIP) team visited communities from British Columbia to Manitoba, spoke to over two thousand people by phone, had over 350 community administrators answer a web-based survey about their community, and had invaluable opportunities to learn from co-op developers on the ground about the intricacies and challenges of co-operative development. The final report can be accessed in its entirety below.

Co-operative Innovation Project Final Report

Table of Contents:

Executive Summary.CIP A short look at the Co-operative Innovation Project (CIP) findings.

Overview.CIP An overview of the CIP, including partners, research direction, constraints, and timelines.

Research Research design and methodology, for those who want to know how we went about this project.

Plunkett Model of Development A look at "Plunkettism" as a way to think about co-op development.

Western Canada. By the numbers Snapshot 2015: A statistical overview of western Canada’s rural and Indigenous communities.

1 Co-operative Development Some thoughts on: what is co-op development?

2 Co-op Development with Aboriginal Communities Some initial thoughts on good practices for co-op development with western Canada’s First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities.

3 Co-op Development in western Canada A look at the landscape of co-op development in western Canada.

4 Co-operative Development Building Strong Co-operatives Some perceptive insights from western Canadian co-op developers.

5 Model of a Robust Co-operative Development Environment The CIP model of robust co-op development environment.

Telephone Survey.CIP Results from the CIP telephone survey asking over 2,000 western Canadian rural and Indigenous citizens about their needs and those of their communities.

Web Survey.CIP Results from our web-based survey with over 350 municipal administrators and leaders in rural and Indigenous communities.

Comparison telephone and web surveys. CIP Comparing the two surveys—what’s the same, how and where do they differ?

Community Needs.Western Canada.CIP When we visited communities, what did people say were their top community needs? Find out!

Community Capacity.CIP Are communities working together, across rural and Indigenous western Canada? What did people say about themselves during CIP community visits?

Conclusion.CIP Some final thoughts from the CIP team on larger issues at play in western Canada.


Community Events and Related Documents:

   N SK and N MB CSDs grouped.CIP2015

   Community Planning Document

   C.2-Participant Consent Form

   Meeting Agenda

   Note Takers Template


   D.3-Moderator Guide


   Plotting Exercise2

   B.1-Poster_Solutions Chart

   B.1-Evaluation Form

Interview Questions for Co-operative Developers:

   Cooperative Development questions

Telephone Survey Questionnaire:

   Telephone Survey.CIP2015

Web-based Survey Questionnaire:

   Web-based Survey.CIP2015


Note: with so many people working on this project, a full scale bibliography of all works read that contributed to CIP knowledge was not possible to reference throughout the report.

Community Reports

The Co-operative Innovation Project (CIP) co-hosted meetings with community leaders in 26 rural, First Nations, and Métis communities across western Canada, from southern Manitoba to northern British Columbia. Each meeting had regional appeal: in all, fifty rural and thirteen First Nations and Métis communities were invited—and in some cases, more communities came than were invited. 

These events sparked community-level conversations on what do we need, here in this place, in order to have a better life?

Each community received an individualized report that combined information from both community visits and statistical data related to rural and Indigenous communities in western Canada, broken down by community type, by province, and down to the community level.

These reports aimed to help communities do three things:

  1. learn about the state of rural, First Nations, and Métis communities across western Canada in 2015;
  2. see where and how their needs were similar to and different from other rural, First Nations, and Métis communities across western Canada;
  3. learn what each community had to say about local needs, as a way to inspire local solutions that fit.

Community Reports:

Arborfield  Bow_Island  Buffalo_Lake  Buffalo_Narrows  Clinton  Cross_Lake   Dauphin    Fruitvale  Gillam   Gitanyow   Gitsegukla   High_Level   Humboldt  Laird   Maidstone   Masset   New_Denver   New_Hazelton   One_Arrow  Pinawa   Rimbey   Smoky_Lake   Sundre  Warfield  Whitefish_Lake   Yellowgrass

If you are interested in reading more, see the chapters on Community Needs and Community Capacity as part of our Final Report.

You are also able to check out results from the Telephone Survey of ordinary people living in rural and Indigenous communities in western Canada and the Web-based Survey of municipal and band administrators. We also compared those two surveys, to see where they were the same, and where they differed.

Finally, we split out rural and Indigenous communities across western Canada, by community type and by province, to dig a little deeper into their similarities and differences. Find those thoughts in By the Numbers.

Co-op Development — What is that?

Co-op development is about building something together with other people that does what you need it to do for the people who need it.

It can be helpful to get inspiration, bounce ideas, and have some support from an experienced co-op developer. They can help you navigate from inspiration, through exploration, to the process of creation, and into realization of a thriving operation. Chances are, you creating something new, and when it thrives it will inspire others to do so, too.

Want to learn more about developing co-ops?

Visit Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada to find a host of resources as well as connections to people across Canada who can help you create what you need in order to do what you want to do. There are also provincial associations, government co-op supports, and private developers from coast to coast.

Check out:

What about some REAL co-op examples?
What’s going on out there? Who is creating rural and Indigenous co-ops, and what do they look like?

Co-ops can be very small or very large. If this is your first look at co-ops, you will be surprised: chances are, you already are a member of a co-op, and maybe you didn’t even realize it!

There are a few experts and great initiatives out there, too:

Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada: Canada’s co-operative clearinghouse. Find all kinds of information here!

The Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives: The University of Saskatchewan’s internationally-recognized research and study centre.

Plunkett Foundation: a UK group dedicated to creating community co-operative businesses.


Provincial Associations:

British Columbia Co-operative Association: a great resource for BC groups looking to start a co-op. Check out their hilarious videos comparing credit unions and banks!

Upper Columbia Co-operative Council: a community service co-op in partnership with BCCA, to work locally to develop new co-ops in British Columbia.

Alberta Community and Co-operative Association: where Alberta gets co-operative. Home of the Unleashing Local Capital initiative: a fantastic way to harness and direct local investment.

Saskatchewan Co-operative Association: Helping promote and support Saskatchewan’s co-ops. Some of western Canada’s early co-operative roots can be found here.

Manitoba Co-operative Association and CONSEIL DE DÉVELOPPEMENT ÉCONOMIQUE DES MUNICIPALITÉS BILINGUES DU MANITOBA: great resources for Manitobans collectively solving local problems. See also the provincial government's co-op development work!

Ontario Co-operative Association: for an in-depth look at co-ops at work in Ontario.

Co-operative businesses are strong in Quebec!

Nova Scotia Co-operative Council: where innovation and community are watchwords.

In Newfoundland, the provincial government is a major supporter of co-op development.

There is also a national co-op developers' association which has a list of experienced co-op developers and legal counsel in most Canadian provinces. Find them at Co-op Zone and follow their links.

Short Summary Papers