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Focusing Ideas for Your Co-operative

When forming a co-operative, there are often more people to work with and more ideas to draw from than other business models. This can be a good thing. But, it’s important to discuss options and prioritize next steps. Organizing in this way helps manage goals, expectations, and resources early on.

The process can also engage people, giving individuals a chance to ask questions and learn more – especially those in the meeting from outside the steering committee or organizing group. This outside engagement can help increase support for the initiative and manage broader community or market expectations once the business or organization is up and running.

Creating an idea funnel

Think about your business path as a funnel. As you progress towards the best ideas for realizing the opportunity, it narrows. In early stages, it’s good to gather a large number of ideas. Including input from community members is also important. But those leading the initiative still need to find ways to focus these ideas so that they’re manageable.

Consider using the following structure to help shape this process.


Based on an illustration from: Westcoast Development Group, Venture Development Basics – A Workbook. Port Alberni, BC: Centre for Community Enterprise, 1999.

Community or Market Participation

Like funnelling ideas, weighing or measuring the benefits of an idea against the challenges of realizing that opportunity is a critical step.

Feasibility studies or cost-benefit analyses are great tools for understanding how to balance these aspects of an opportunity. That said, they can also restrict community or market participation. Plus, not everyone can afford them. Including more people in the discussion can be an effective solution. Plus, it’s a positive way to gain more realistic, informed ideas and initiate some early buy-in.

Of course, creating an effective forum for a large number of people can be daunting. Here’s a couple things you can try.

The dotmocracy exercise

Materials needed:

  • Markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Dot stickers

Dotmocracy provides a group the opportunity to share and prioritize ideas, and allows organizers to capture these ideas.  We like to do these types of activities in an open forum, such as a community space. Here’s the steps to a dotmocracy exercise:


  1. Write the ideas down. Each participant writes down their ideas on sticky notes and posts to them to a large board or wall. If you wish, you can use different colours to capture different themes. Ideas can be grouped and discussed as needed.
  2. Vote on the ideas. Give your participants a set number of “dots” and have them place the dots on the ideas they consider the most important.

Here’s an example of dotmocracy in action. Let’s say a community has decided to build a grocery store, and would also like it to contain other services (like post office, library, or bank). Local residents write the services they prefer on sticky notes (one idea per note), and stick them on the wall or a whiteboard. Next, hand out dot stickers (everyone should get the same amount — 3 or 4 should do it). Then folks use their dots to select their top 3 (or whatever) picks. The ideas with the highest number of dots get discussed further — generally at a stakeholder or steering committee meeting.

Focusing ideas: Impact versus Ease matrix

A great tool for prioritizing the tasks involved in setting up your business is the “Impact versus Ease” matrix. This tool helps a group to outline what needs to be done, and also identify ‘low-hanging fruit’ (ie. things that will be easy to check off the to-do list). Identifying easy wins can help motivate the group, and focus on ideas that are important to you.

Come up with a list of tasks that need to be completed to move your co-op forward, and then decide where they fit best on this template:

For example, here’s what the matrix might look like for a group starting up a co-op store (there will of course be more tasks than this, and these can be broken down in small, more specific tasks, but you get the idea):


Set goals and create a plan to focus ideas

Once you have a manageable set of tasks to complete, create a preliminary plan. This will give your group some direction and provide overview of what needs to be done. Planning allows the group to regularly evaluate their progress, identify resources they need, and create a timeline for the development. Here’s what your plan might look like:

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