Seminar 4

Practice: Democratic decision making in CSOs
Date: 29th March 2017, Location: Nottingham Trent University, Time: 10-4

To book: Please click here

The event is sponsored by the ESRC and includes free food and drink

Civil society organisations are often considered a good thing in and of themselves, contributing to making a more healthy and democratic society. Yet whilst attention is often focused on their external role, how they contribute to changing society, less attention is placed on their internal ways of organising. Indeed many civil society organisations are shaped by increase forms of business-like practices as they have to become more professional and managerial which can often result in them replicated many of the hierarchical practices that can leave them, at times, indistinguishable from their for-profit counter-parts.

This seminar will explore the possibilities of internal processes and practices through which civil society organisations arrange themselves in order to become more democratic. In particular it will look at different models and processes, which draw inspiration from anarchism and the alter-globalization movement through to political theory to examine not only why civil society organizations should consider working more democratically but also how to go about it.

More details to follow ….

Our confirmed speakers are:

Janet Dalziell, Greenpeace

Professor Ruth Kinna, and Dr Thomas Swann Loughborough University, will be discussing anarchism as a constitutional principle

Dr Ruth Yeoman, Research Fellow at the Saïd Business School and Kellogg College, University of Oxford

Further details to follow …

The Venue and Organisers

Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University, NG1 4FQ

The seminar is organised by Daniel King from Nottingham Trent University. Please email if you have any questions

Videos of seminar 3 are now live

The third of our ESRC seminars took place on the 29th November at the University of Leicester. All the talks were recorded and are available on this site. Please see the Tab on the left of this page, click on “About the seminars”; “Seminar 3 – ‘Democracy at Work: Co-operation and Civil Society” and then you will see a list of all the talks. Click on the one you want to see and it should play

Seminar three – Democracy at Work

Democratic Renewal in Civil Society Organizations

ESRC Seminar Three – University of Leicester

‘Democracy at Work: Co-operation and Civil Society’

Tuesday 29th November, 11-5, College Court, University of Leicester Conference Centre.

It is easy enough to imagine that ‘civil society’ is what happens outside and after work, a sphere which somehow stands in opposition to the economic. But work organizations are also an element of what it means to be a citizen, providing messages and models for hierarchy, decision making, expertise, reward and so on. This seminar will explore the role of the worker owned and controlled organization in producing democracy, in creating senses of empowerment and meaning, as well as encouraging decision making which is oriented towards organizational sustainability rather than shareholder value.

However, both New Labour and the coalition government were keen on co-operative structures for rather different reasons, because they offered an opportunity to move ownership and risk for certain public sector operations to the private sector. The idea of the ‘big society’ integrated the free market with a theory of social solidarity based on hierarchy and voluntarism. Whether supported by Red Tories or Blue Labour, it has been suggested that the co-operative and mutual are then used as a way to privatise public goods by using the idea of civil society as cover.

This seminar will consider both the positive and negative evaluations of a co-operative economy with reference to the renewal of civil society. We will ask about the relationship between co-operatives and mutual and the state, as well as considering whether workplace democracy is a model for wider senses of citizenship. Our speakers will provide analysis and provocation, and we will ensure that there is plenty of time for audience interaction. All with an interest in the area are welcome, but we do have a limit of forty participants so please book to reserve a place.

Our main speaker is –

Ed Mayo

Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, the UK trade association for co-operatives. Mayo rose to prominence as director of the New Economics Foundation, a leading think-tank, looking at ethical market activity, local economies and public service reform. He is also the former Chief Executive of the British National Consumer Council and CEO of the NCC’s successor, Consumer Focus. In June 2003 The Guardian nominated him as one of the top 100 most influential figures in British social policy and in November 2004 commented that ‘from cancelling third world debt to justice for working-class consumers, Ed Mayo is a key figure in social innovation.’


10.30 Arrival and coffee

11.00 Welcome, and context for the seminar – Chris Land (Leicester)

11.15 – Ed Mayo

12.00 – Response and Q&A – Martin Parker (Leicester)

12.30 –  Lunch

13.30 – 15.00 – Main Panel:

13.30 – Academic provocations – Marisol Sandoval and Peter Ackers (15 mins each & 15 mins Q&A).

14.15 – Practical challenges – Bob Cannell and Dorothy Francis (15 mins each & 15 mins Q&A).

15.00 – Tea break

15.30 – Breakout group discussions – ‘What can coops do to promote democratisation in civil society, and how can academics support that work?’

16.00 – Report back from groups

16.30 – Summaries from George Kokkinidis and Gareth Brown


Peter Ackers joined De Montfort University Leicester in September 2015 and was formerly Professor of Industrial Relations and Labour History at Loughborough University. His PhD was a biographical study of the link between Protestant nonconformity and trade union leadership in the Lancashire coal industry. Peter’s intellectual interests centre on the sociological and historical aspects of the employment relationship and how this affects ordinary people and society at large. His work stresses the moderate, constructive character of organized labour, with themes of partnership and pluralism, and challenges Radical and Marxist theories of Industrial Relations.

Gareth Brown is a Teaching Fellow at the School of Business at Leicester whose work focuses on an exploration of the imagination as a contested terrain of production in which struggles around commons and enclosures are central. Gareth is also part of a very large, multi-unit housing co-operative in Leeds.

Bob Cannell is a strategic thinker rooted by operational experience. He has 30+ years practical experience of most business disciplines at most levels in the private, public and third sectors. Bob implemented most of the people management processes at Suma, the UKs largest worker cooperative, where he was Personnel Officer.  Bob has supported and mentored many worker owned businesses as a member of the Cooperative Business Consultants network.   He was the UK representative to the European and World federations for worker cooperatives. He has an extensive overview of worker self-management, a subject which is seriously underdeveloped in the UK and hinders the growth of UK worker co-ops. He also helped write the Cooperative UK Worker Cooperative Code of Governance, the official ‘How To’ management manual for the sector and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Dorothy Francis is Chief Executive of the Leicester based CASE (Co-operative and Social Enterprise Development Agency). She has 30 years of supporting co-operatively run businesses to establish and grow, primarily through her service at CASE where she has been the Chief Executive since 2000 having started work with the agency in the mid-1980’s. CASE specialises in delivering advice, training and business support for co-operatives and social enterprises in Leicestershire and the East Midlands.  Dorothy has directly supported over 200 enterprises to start and develop and has worked with many more to realise and grow their potential. A number of these businesses have now traded for between 15 to 30 years and have grown to provide numerous local jobs and win national and local awards.

George Kokkinidis is a Lecturer at the University of Leicester whose research interests centre on alternative organisational practices and the social organisation of space and commons. Most of his recent publications and works in progress focus on cooperatives and workers’ collectives in Greece and their organisational practices; the emergence and evolution of solidarity initiatives in Greece as part of an anti-neoliberal resistance landscape, and the creation of autonomous spaces.

Marisol Sandoval is a Lecturer at City University of London. Her research critically deals with questions of power, commodification, exploitation, ideology and resistance in the global culture industries. In particular her work has focussed on the political economy of online surveillance, social media, alternative media, cultural labour and corporate social (ir)responsibility. Currently she is working on a study that explores the politics of worker co-operatives in the cultural sector. More information on this project can be found here: Her book From Corporate to Social Media? (Routledge, 2014) looks beyond common understandings of the term social media by providing a critical analysis of corporate social (ir)responsibility in the global media and communication industries.

The Venue and the Organizers

College Court is the University of Leicester conference hotel , 2.7 miles from Leicester city centre., Knighton Rd, Leicester LE2 3UF, 0116 244 9669.

Register here please –

The seminar is being organized locally by Chris Land and Martin Parker from the School of Business at Leicester University, please email, if you have any questions.




ESRC Seminar 2 – CSO’s and Independence discussion notes.

The final session of the seminar entailed two discussions surrounding Independence and Democracy. Below are some notes taken from the Independence groups discussion.

Number of statements highlighting society is bigger than the state and CSO’s are a part of that bigger society.

– They are founded on the notion of independence and the idea we can collectively influence thigs – own lives, local societies and services, global environment, national health and other significant issues.

– Independence is one reason why CSO’s are expected to provide better quality services, improve democracy and encourage local empowerment.

– Concerns however that resistance, advocacy and voice are being eroded by current climate of reduced funding, primacy of contracting mechanisms, pressures not to be campaign ,not just in UK but across Europe.

– Linked to this intensified neo-liberal approach are tensions between professionalization, the need to be business-like and display the characteristics of the ideal type – professional, enterprising entity – and connection to users and independent voice.

– Questions being raised around whether CSOs are shying away from advocating their own distinctiveness and need for new narrative.

– The state has power to impose changes to material resources within the welfare domain (Regulatory fiscal environment), they cannot necessarily easily manipulate symbolic resources (Cultural feature/identity of CSO’s)

– There is plenty of resistance to the coalitions and new conservative attempts to treat (In policy, funding and cultural terms) CSO’s in line with private/corporate organisations.

– A loss of independence, couple by growth of apolitical CSOs would likely put society at risk, especially those groups with least power.

– Returing back to the opening statement. Society is bigger than the state, I wonder how we shape a system in which independent CSO’s can help to reshape and improve society? Hope, discussions have started at a micro level today. We need to move towards understanding, as a relative term (Rather than something with universal meaning and applicability). Does/should independence mean the same thing for every CSO? The same wit professionalization.

– The starting point is within CSOs themselves – it is for them to decide a ‘mission appropriate’ approach to the issue of independence.

– If you don’t have minimal informal structures, much more powerful informal hierarchies take over. Seems to me both a pragmatic and ideologically driven approach balancing the need for difficulties of obtaining funding and reaming true to the values and purpose of their mission. X

Seminar 2 : June 22nd : Democracy and Civil Society: Threats and Possibilities

We are pleased to announce the second of the seminar series Democratic renewal in civil society is to be held at Nottingham Trent University on the 22nd June 10-4. The event is free for the first 40 places. To book a ticket please click here

Democracy and Civil Society: Threats and Possibilities
Date: 22nd June 2016, Location: Nottingham Trent University, Time: 10-4

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are widely praised for building a democratic society. They have a proud tradition of social activism, campaigning, and mutual aid that are part of a healthy democracy.

Yet there are concerns that CSOs are losing their independence and democratic voice. The shift from grants to contracts; the use of CSOs as service providers rather than advocates; the use of market-based models based on competitive tendering; the rise of managerialism and the decline in working conditions; and the ‘no advocacy’ or ‘gagging’ clause in grant agreements have all called into question the independence of CSOs. Their position as models for democratic organising and champions of the needs and interests of marginalised communities could be seen as under threat.

This free seminar explores the possibilities and limitations of democracy with in society by exploring the challenges and opportunities that are currently facing CSOs. The aim of the seminar is not only to look at the challenges that CSOs face, but also examine different ways in which new, creative and innovative spaces may be carved out to do things differently.
The session will have a number of key speakers including Caroline Slocock, the Director of the think tank ‘Civil Exchange’, Linda Milbourne, author of Voluntary Sector in Transition (Policy Press 2013) as well as Steve Griggs and David Howarth discussing the relationship between activism and civil society. The last part of the seminar will be a facilitated discussion by Martin Parker, exploring the reaction to the talks and exploration of positive responses to the challenges that CSOs face.
The event is free for the first 40 places and will include food and drink on the day. We welcome participation from members of Civil Society Organisations, activists, academics and policymakers. The day will be participatory and inclusive.
Our provocateurs include:

Caroline Slocock is the Director of Civil Exchange, a think tank that aims to help government and the voluntary sector work better together. She is the Secretary to the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, and played a key role in its latest report entitledIndependence in Question: the voluntary sector in 2016. She has worked in several government departments including the Treasury and was Private Secretary for Home Affairs to two Prime Ministers. She is a former chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission and of Refugee and Migrant Justice.

Linda Milbourne is the author of Voluntary Sector in Transition: Hard Times or New Opportunities (Policy Press) andrecently retired from the School of Social Sciences at Birkbeck, University of London. She is also an Associate Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, Birmingham. She has written widely on the Voluntary Sector and been an active campaigner in the public and community sector for many years, including contributing to recent research and debates with the National Campaign of Independent Action

David Howarth is Professor in Social and Political Theory at the University of Essex, UK. His research interests are in poststructuralist theories of society, politics and policy-making. His publications include Discourse, Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory (with Jason Glynos) and The Politics of Airport Expansion in the UK (with Steven Griggs). He has recently published the research monograph, Poststructuralism and After.

Steven Griggs is Professor of Public Policy at De Montfort University, UK. His research interests are in political discourse theory and its contribution to our understanding of policy-making. He has recently published The Politics of Airport Expansion in the UK (with David Howarth) and the edited collection, Practices of Freedom (with Aletta J. Norval and Hendrik Wagenaar).

Martin Parker is Professor at the University of Leicester School of Management and writes about alternative organizations and critical management studies.

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