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How can Systemic Design Path the Way to Innovation in Social Cooperative?

A Systemic Design Exploration on Social Cooperative

Caterina Rosini & Silvia Barbero, Politecnico di Torino Italy

Read the working paper ⇒

The increasing of old and new social needs is characterizing modern societies all over the world. Traditional business models propose a hierarchical organization based on a capitalist pattern, which is restrictive for enterprises aiming to put the social dimension at the core of their organization. In opposition to the capitalist model we are witnessing the development of social organizations. The strength of these organizations lies in their ability to promote a growth model opposite to that of normal profit-enterprises, which results in the creation of economic and social opportunities, responding to socio-economic emerging needs (Linzalone R. and Lerro A., 2014). Among the types of organizations, you can find voluntary organizations, non-governmental organizations, foundations, cooperatives, social enterprises. It is necessary to clarify the distinction in this respect.

The term Social Enterprise means a qualification that can be acquired by any private organisation that produces and/or delivers goods and services in order to serve a general/social interest. The term Social Cooperative, on the other hand, identifies a form of organization made up of people who join voluntarily to meet economic, social and cultural needs. Among all social enterprises, the Social Cooperative is the most widespread form of organization. (European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, 2016). In Italy, social cooperatives are not the dominant form of enterprise, however, they play an important role in the national economy.

During the years of the economic crisis, social cooperatives had a positive trend: while hundreds of Italian workers lost their jobs in private sector companies, the number of workers in cooperatives increased (Borzaga, C., Calzaroni, M. & Lori, M. 2016b). However, the development path of cooperatives in general and social cooperatives had to face their close dependence on public policies, which have increasingly resorted to bidding process at the lowest possible level, with consequent negative repercussions on the development of these enterprises. This, on the one hand, reduced the possibility of consolidation and growth of social cooperatives and, on the other, spurred the search for new markets and differentiation of supply.

It is precisely the desire to seek other markets and to differentiate from the present offer that has contributed to categorize social cooperatives as resilient enterprises because they have largely demonstrated to be able to adapt to the context and remain in the market while preserving their social mission (Riva & Garavaglia, 2016). Therefore, for reasons that vary from region to region, the model of social cooperatives is gaining interest in relation to the urgent need to move towards new business models capable of driving local and national economies in a more sustainable way for people and the planet.

Literature shows that most studies focus on understanding and quantifying the social impact that social organisations can produce (Cordes J., 2017); or in the analysis of the differences in the individual countries, at legislative, social and political levels, which have allowed their birth and development (Spear R. & Bidet E., 2005). However, the capability of social cooperatives to meet emerging social needs and to stay active in the evolving market deserve a greater deepening. So, much research is needed to explore the organizational strategies and solutions put into practice by social cooperatives that make them able to resist crises and changes. It is important to question more deeply the winning links or dynamics which may exist inside the socio-technical system generated by cooperatives. At the same time, it becomes necessary to identify the barriers that social cooperatives must face and overcome in order to preserve their resilience, despite the sudden changes in the market and in today’s working dynamics.

The research questions we want to answer are:

What are the strategies implemented so far by social cooperatives to remain active in the market despite the global economic crises?
How can Systemic Design intervene in the analysis and resolution of the management and organizational problem of a social cooperative?

We suggest investigating how functions a social cooperative in a real-life context conducting a case study. Specifically, we study the organizational structure of an Italian work integration social cooperatives and the flows that characterize its socio-technical system, considering the organization of work, roles, tools and technology as interdependent (Jones, P.H., 2014). In the socio-technical structure of a social cooperative, there are multiple relationships between different actors. Specifically, the work organisation must interface with many different actors and different ways of carrying out the work. A social cooperative for work integration relates with public bodies, the major suppliers of the bidding process, with private individuals who require services, with other cooperatives thanks to which temporary associations are created to help mutually in winning tenders. Moreover, the social mission of the cooperative provides for the employment of socially disadvantaged people who must be trained for a working autonomy that helps them to feel part of a community. The numerous interconnections and interdependencies involving many factors create complex problems (Capra, F., 2014).

Such complexity generates systems that require holistic study and analysis, that is, capable of grasping at the multiple interconnections and interdependencies that characterize them. Among the approaches able to perform this task, Systemic Design proposes itself as an orientation able to develop sustainable solutions for complex scenarios (Battistoni C., Nohra, C.G. & Barbero S., 2019).

The aim is to reach a detailed understanding of the dynamics that characterize the social cooperative. For doing so, we apply an innovative context framework for the Holistic Diagnosis (HD). HD is applying to the management organisation of the cooperative including both aspects of work organisation with related material resources and the social aspects inherent in the cooperative’s mission. HD is performed according to steps that are not consequential but reiterative (Battistoni, C.; Nohra, C.G., 2019) to obtain the vision of the state-of-the-art we proceed with the collection of information through formal sources such as literature, databases. This information must be integrated with direct data collected in the field through interviews, photos, etc. Finally, provide a research synthesis, facilitate the understanding of the data collected by displaying the potential and controversial aspects and data correlation (Gaiardo A., 2016). The results emerging from HD highlight the main critical issues and potentialities within personnel organisation and resource management. HD allows us to have a holistic view of the reference context. In the specific case, it allows us to clearly identify the management and organizational aspects that are less functional and not strategic. At the same time, virtuous strategies already implemented and resources with the potential to be developed emerge. The HD results are the starting point on which designing innovative work fluxes organisation from a systemic perspective in order to reach social-economic benefits.