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Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

A co-operative model of infrastructure

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How Zebra Collective went about developing new partnerships and expanding their delivery of paid services.

Background

As a BIG Assist supplier, we were chosen to work with Zebra Collective, a cooperative based in Plymouth.

Zebra are not a ‘classic’ infrastructure organisation, they are a CLBT operating on a cooperative basis with an asset lock in place. They earn a large percentage, 50%, of their income through contracts and earned income and have transitioned from being largely a training provider to community development work.

The issues we faced

Plymouth doesn’t have a CVS and Zebra was keen to engage with other infrastructure groups in a facilitated conversation, to explore how they could work together better to improve infrastructure provision across Plymouth.

Plymouth City Council is a cooperative council, and the Collective felt testing a cooperative model for POP could be interesting model of infrastructure support provision for the VCS. Although Zebra had expertise as a co-operative, they felt external expertise in examining different models would allow for a thorough exploration of options and implications.

The actions we took

The Collective wanted to develop a range of new partnerships and expand delivery of its charged-for services. Already enjoying good partnerships with some providers, such as some housing associations and local authorities, they felt there was still a large market of untapped customers. In order to build these relationships effectively, Zebra felt it needed to refresh its marketing and communications strategy. 

Positive outcomes

Short term

In the short term we worked with Zebra to:

  • Facilitate the Collective to clarify its aims and determine its direction of travel
  • Raise an understanding of how the new contracts had implications for the Collective’s structure, staffing arrangements and aims of their current business
  • Disaggregate its business into discreet service areas, so as to explore potential for ‘floating off’ any potentially self-standing businesses
  • Negotiate around forward plans for all of the newly identified individual service areas and for the Collective at core
  • Agree change management plans for the Collective core, Infrastructure Project, Timebank etc
  • Agree an operational procedure and processes to support the on-going change management
  • Work through cultural issues and history in the context of current requirements for service delivery
  • Put a strong emphasis on working with Zebra Collective’s people
  • Better co-production, both internally and externally.

 Expected Longer term outcomes

  • Clear and objective mechanisms to decide the future shape and scope of the ‘business’
  • A clearer sense of purpose, both at core and when taking on contracts especially for delivering infrastructure services
  • Better able to identify the difference the Collective makes (impact)
  • Knowing how best to achieve impact, including in co-production, and what this means in terms of equipping the sector for new inter-relationships.

Negative outcomes

This isn’t a negative outcome, more something to be aware of, but when working with the Collective (rather than the usual structure of a board of trustees) we saw the importance of working with them both as a group and as individuals. A Collective is composed of people with a very strong commitment and a real passion for what they do. Relationships are therefore very, very important.

Lessons learnt

Although not lessons learned, we think the following may be of interest to other infrastructure organisations:

  • Business development: you can’t put your income on a new footing unless you are prepared to radically rethink your business model, governance, relationships and your place in the market.
  • Culture: an organisation’s cultural history and local context have to be central in initial discussions. By dealing with these factors first, it enables organisations to be clear-eyed and take a fresh and objective look at their capacity, capability, supply and demand. If you don’t follow this process, and jump straight into change, muddle and backsliding will follow - Zebra Collective took the right approach.
  • Co-production: this is one of our mantras about the new operating context for infrastructure. It’s about being innovative on who to work with, being clear about shared aims and sharing designs – Collective were good at identifying who to work with to achieve co-production in infrastructure services. The Timebank especially.
  • Change: you need an understanding of both Change Theory and Change for People. Ignoring either the theoretical (impact, risk etc) or the human (emotions, relationships) will scupper your plans. The Collective bravely worked through some hard issues about both impact and feelings and reached a consensus for a change management plan that included risk minimisation on both fronts.

This was a very interesting experience for us, both working with a Collective and with an organisation outside the boundaries of usual infrastructure. Although it was challenging, it was thoroughly enjoyable, on both sides.

Contributor

Page last edited Jul 10, 2017

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