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.
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.
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.
We wrote up our findings in this series of blogposts:
Supported by the National Lottery Community Fund.