Present-day ICAs

Since the first decade of the twenty-first century, the number of institutions for collective action has been growing rapidly throughout Europe. Citizens take matters into their own hand by forming citizen collectives and cooperative social enterprises as a reaction to a retracting government and markets that do not meet their needs. These bottom-up initiatives are active in many different sectors, from energy and infrastructure to food and care. Together, they address several societal and environmental challenges, e.g. lending a helping hand to people with a disadvantage at the job market, shortening the producer-consumer aimed at sustainability, product quality, and price control, or sharing goods that are available already instead of producing new ones. Collective action and self-regulation is also chosen by self-employed workers (platform cooperatives, bread funds) and former employees (cooperative supermarkets) to strengthen their positions. These new organizations do not necessarily restrict themselves to one particular sector: their aims are often quite broad and sometimes their focus shifts towards additional goals. 

The governance structure of these new institutions can vary: some are organized as foundations or associations, others take on the cooperative as a legal form. Some are financially completely independent, others thrive on subsidies and maintain close relations with (local) governments. What they have in common, is that the members of these collectives can exercise usage rights on the shared common resources and that rules on the management of these resources are made collectively. This means the establishment of an institution for collective action – a.k.a. a common-pool institution.

Read further: Three waves of cooperation

Running an organization such as a citizen collective or cooperative social enterprise can be quite challenging. These present-day institutions for collective action struggle with many practical questions and dilemmas. The route to a sustainable and resilient organization is not clearly defined and there are no guarantees of success. In contrast to this lies the “overcharge” of these collectives by scientists, journalists, and politicians. To help collectives sharing their knowledge, and to unite scientists, financiers, civil servants and other stakeholders committed to the community economy, research team Social Enterprise & Institutions for Collective Action founded the CollectieveKracht knowledge exchange platform. More information on CollectieveKracht can be found here. Or go immediately to the CollectieveKracht website (in Dutch).