Cooperation Town 2021

Cooperation Town

Collaborative prototyping with Cooperation Town to explore how they could scale up their grassroots, self-organised food distribution network.
Three screenshots of the Co-op Town prototype.

Cooperation Town was set up over the winter of 2019–2020, just a few months before lockdown. It evolved from a small self-organised group of Kentish Town council estate residents into a growing national network of neighbourhood food cooperatives.

Food co-ops are small household groups of 10-20 neighbours who benefit from the economies of scale of working together as a team. They arrange a regular supply of affordable food to all their homes by pooling money and time, making decisions together and then distributing roles to make it happen.

As the Co-op Town network expanded, they came across some issues around growth and reproduction that are common to self-organising groups. We facilitated a week-long design sprint with a few of Co-op Town's organisers to explore these challenges and potential online-offline solutions.

Design sprint process

The design sprint goal that we agreed on together was to find a way to give each of the co-op members the confidence to see themselves as an organiser. This was to directly address a challenge that repeatedly resurfaces in the 'lifecycle' of each group and the network at large: although people are enthusiastic about the idea of a food co-op in theory, it can be hard to transform that enthusiasm into action.

Experience map for Cooperation Town with our focus circled.
Our storyboard for the prototype.

After an intensive ideation process in collaboration with the organisers, we honed in on one of our ideas — a conversational style app where local organisers could ask questions of each other as they learned how to set up and run their co-ops. We wanted to test how food co-op organisers might work with the rest of the network to overcome the puzzles of starting and growing their groups, mediated by a digital platform.

There's no one-size-fits-all process for starting a food co-op, so any plan distributed by network coordinators will inevitably be either too general or too specific, and thus not align with each co-op's individual situation. We wondered if we could encourage new organisers to take inspiration from and then adapt a plan, rather than just following instructions.

We prototyped this idea in one day using a tool called Framer, featuring video content created by the Co-op Town organisers. We tested this prototype with four existing organisers, observing how they used the app and asking them open-ended questions to understand the desirability and viability of our ideas.

Screens from the onboarding flow of the prototype

Supported by the National Lottery Community Fund.