Chapter 10: What motivates members to participate?
Are we really cooperators or are we self-motivated individuals who are just pursuing our interests through cooperatives? To answer these questions we need to review the evidence about cooperation provided by behavioural scientists. Then, to sharpen the analysis so as to understand what makes people cooperate in some activities but not others, we need to switch to the more active concept of participation and review the evidence about what motivates people to participate in governance of cooperatives. Twenty years ago it would have been difficult to get started answering these questions, because the experts were better at explaining why people do not cooperate than why they do. Their basic mistake was to begin from a very limited set of premises: that humans are rational, self-interested individuals looking to maximise their own utility, who calculate in every situation whether it is worth cooperating. Political scientists were wedded (many still are) to a rational actor model of participation that predicted people would not vote; the argument was that one vote counted for very little and the cost of voting would always make it rational for people to stay at home. Nor would they take part in collective action, because again it was more rational not to participate: people would realise that in a large group it was possible to ‘free-ride’ on other people’s actions while sharing the results.
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