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Inside out, outside in: “supporting members” in multi-stakeholder cooperatives

Myriam Michaud (Department of Management, Université Laval – Faculté des sciences de l’administration, Quebec City, Canada)
Luc K. Audebrand (Department of Management, Université Laval – Faculté des sciences de l’administration, Quebec City, Canada)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 13 March 2018

Issue publication date: 21 June 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine multi-stakeholder cooperatives (MSCs), a relatively new and understudied type of cooperative, by focusing on the impact of a new member status: the “supporting member.” Supporting members are included in the ownership structure, participate in the decision-making process and contribute to the share capital without being formally defined as users of the cooperative’s services, an important disruption to the traditional cooperative venture.


This paper is based on a qualitative study using in-depth interviews with 30 members (i.e. founders, managers, board members and employees) of 14 MSCs located in the Canadian province of Québec.


This study suggests that including supporting members in the cooperative venture impacts the three core features of cooperatives, which are traditionally user-owned, user-controlled and user-benefiting. Despite supporting members’ positive contributions to an MSC’s development and success, the inclusion of such members generates management challenges and organizational paradoxes.

Social implications

The inclusion of supporting members allows MSCs to become an experiment in “stakeholder democracy” and a space of negotiation between organizations, citizens and institutions, as MSCs represent and embody some of the community’s needs and desires.


This study constitutes an original contribution to paradox literature, as it describes the specific upward and downward spirals related to the inclusion of supporting members, highlights innovative responses to these paradoxes and extends understandings of cooperatives as hybrid organizations entangled in bundles of paradoxes.



Michaud, M. and Audebrand, L.K. (2019), "Inside out, outside in: “supporting members” in multi-stakeholder cooperatives", Management Decision, Vol. 57 No. 6, pp. 1382-1398.



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