There is no human Leader, there is no human power capable of opening the door to conquer or dominate my heart, neither with cleverness nor with violence.      J. M. Arizmendiarrieta. Reflections. p. 46


Co-operative isomorphism project is about why co-ops become similar to ordinary investor-owned companies. In our co-ops, we thoughtlessly imitate investor-owned companies. Unfortunately, it also refers to the diagnosis and audit of co-operatives. Why, because it places “the co-operative organization” in the centre, while co-operatives are created to serve people. The person and not the institution should be first. To diagnose a co-operative, we should  ask individuals how their co-operative serves them and report to them, individually, what they can do to enhance the co-operative’s service role to them. 

In the process of discovering the roots of isomorphism, I started to look for new diagnostic tools. First, I tried to observe what efficient co-operativists have in common. They differ in political views, religions, goals, declared values. However, they have common lifestyle. It consists of  personal maturity, skill in teamwork, strategic business awareness in the contemporary world, and top professionalism in what they specialize in, be it accounting, software engineering or nursing. 

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My story

Why should a man spend several years, move his kids and wife to foreign countries, to study such an exotic phenomenon as organisational isomorphism?

In 1992, I wrote my Ph. D. on pausing behaviour. Only 3 persons read it because they were paid to do it. The dissertation took two years to write. I decided this is not the way I want to spend the rest of my life. In the times of great changes in Poland, I realised that people are good by nature, but their efforts are often dispersed and wasted because they are not properly organised. I decided Poland needs good management and organisation. I became an organisational psychologist and a management consultant. I had an occasion to help wonderful people in non-profits, local government, corporations, small family companies and catholic organisations. I prepared tens of students to do this job. But I also met people who were lost and caused unhappiness to themselves and their close ones. The most sad sight were the great people who got caught by "reality" and became what they did not want to be. I painfully observed this process with some of my students. Once, my student said: "I'd love to attend your course, but I can't as it takes too much time, and I have to earn my living." When I started to observe more and more of my training and educational efforts to disappear from daily organisational practice, I asked the question: why although people had such wonderful intentions and ideas it ended as usual. It is the question of organisational isomorphism. I transferred it to research grant application.

Examples of isomorphism


When you read the Gospels, the simple lifestyle of the first Christian communities seems so distant from the pompous celebrations of the contemporary world. Starting from the Middle Ages, the Church became isomorphic to kingdoms and the hierarchy and language is rooted in mediaeval vision of royalty.


Academic freedom and independence in the pursuit of knowledge and education were the hallmarks of early

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Research model

Any isomorphism, including co-operative isomorphism, is a complex phenomenon. There are many factors that influence the slow loss of identity. The universality of the phenomenon not only in co-operatives but also in other kinds of institutions allows us to presume there are some general reasons why co-ops become similar to ordinary profit-oriented businesses. The model (on the left) tries to show that the main roots of isomorphism are in higher or lower expertise in four domains: (on the left): (1) Co-operative and business literacy, (2) Economic literacy, (3) Team building expertise,(4) Personal development expertise. But the expertise influence on the co-op functioning (on the right) is mediated by assumed lifestyle (the violet triangle). The model predicts that the main characteristic of our lifestyle that predicts the lifestyle is agency that is to what extent we are self-determined. 

Invitation to participate

I believe any research process should be as participatory as possible. It is particularly true if co-op members and their co-ops are main beneficiaries of the research. The reason is very simple if the interested persons are involved in research as researchers, we have better chances to understand what we investigate. John Heron says people gain better understanding of a reality if their goal is to change that reality. Let us assume you have to understand how a bicycle works. You will understand it in a minute. If you are asked to repair the gears that do not change easily, you will understand the functioning of gear change much better than in the first instance. The same mechanism can be found in personal self-knowledge. We will understand ourselves much better if we are prepared for personal change. I invite anyone who would like to participate in the creation of the tools to join the project mailing list be clicking here.

Why co-operative isomorphism

First, co-ops are very important organisations. They are profitable and supply elementary needs where profit-oriented corporations see no business.  There are more than one billion co-op members around the world. They provide over 100 million jobs around the world. As estimated by United Nations in 1994, the livelihood of nearly 3 billion people was made secure by co-operative enterprise.

Second, co-ops are the only business organisations who all refer to the same set of values and principles. This set of values has universal appeal. They are accepted by all religions and the atheists. They are pertinent all over the continents and cultures. They refer to universal aspects of human dignity. It means the research can be conducted globally, and the results can be applied globally as well.

Third, education and training are one of the Co-op Principles. It means they should, by definition, be interested in this research and its results. If the results are interesting for them, they will be interested to implement them.

Fourth, co-operative isomorphism with investor-owned companies and loss of the co-op identity is noted in a number of studies. It is rooted in the way business professionalism is defined. It is present in patterns and practices in solving ambiguities, and it often results from legal and regulatory structures which support investor-owned companies.