Co-operatives as a strategic network

Science Direct - Tim Mazzarola, Elena Mamouni Limnios, Sophie Reboud

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Intermediate


  • The co-operative enterprise as a coalition of small firms is examined.
  • Multiple cases of Australian and French co-operative enterprises are examined.
  • Findings suggest a conceptual framework that can be applied to co-operatives.
  • Small firms can use co-operatives to achieve enhanced competitive positioning.
  • Member identity with the co-operative and member loyalty building are critical.


Co-operatives have been likened to a ‘network of contracts’ or ‘coalition’. This is particularly the case for ‘producer owned’ co-operatives that have small business operators such as farmers as their members. Although there has been some research into the strategic networking of co-operatives, there has been little attention given to the network behaviour and benefits to small firms as members of co-operatives, in particular to the benefits, risks and management issues associated with such networks.

This research draws on case study data from Australian and French producer co-operatives to examine how small firms use co-operatives as a strategic network. It uses a conceptual framework for small firm alliances and networks originally developed by Street and Cameron (2007), and examines three research questions proposed in that study along with three interrelated theories (the resource based view, resource dependency and punctuated equilibrium).

The study finds support for the conceptual framework and the theories as useful research tools. It also provides insights into the way small firms can use co-operatives to secure access to resources and mitigate environmental risk. However, the sustainability of these co-operatives is contingent effective network management, adaptability and the maintenance of member trust and loyalty.

2013 - Australia - Science Direct - Tim Mazzarola, Elena Mamouni Limnios, Sophie Reboud
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