Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Interview with Chiara Carini, Senior Researcher at the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE), and Massimo Lori, Senior Researcher at the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT)

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Chiara Carini, Senior Researcher at the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE), and Massimo Lori, Senior Researcher at the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). They work together on the Italian case as part of the ILO’s initiative on advancing the Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives.

Article | 20 juin 2023

Could you tell us about yourself and how you became involved in the work around cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy?

Chiara Carini: I am a senior researcher at the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE), where I am in charge of analyzing economic and social data on cooperatives. And, more generally, I work on the social and solidarity economy (SSE), as part of initiatives aimed at investigating its characteristics, dynamics, evolution, and impact at the local, national, and international levels. I edited the ISTAT and EURISCE joint report on Italian cooperatives. I have worked on the World Cooperative Monitor since its inception in 2012.

Massimo Lori: I received my Ph.D. degree in Sociology and Methodology of Social Research from Sapienza University of Rome (Italy). Since 2001, I have been working as a researcher at the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) mainly in the field of non-profit sector and social economy statistics. At ISTAT I am currently in charge of managing the Statistical Register of Non-Profit Institutions. I am also a member of the Italian National Committee of the Third sector.

Could you tell us about your organizations (EURICSE, ISTAT) and your work within your organizations related to statistics on cooperatives?

EURICSE is a research institute based in Trento (Italy). Its mission it is to promote knowledge development and innovation in the field of cooperatives, social enterprises and other non-profit organizations engaged in the production of goods and services, and to deepen the understanding of these types of organisations and their impact on economic and social development. Since its foundation in 2008, EURICSE has conducted research aimed at measuring and assessing the economic and social value generated by cooperatives and other social economy enterprises. The projects promoted by EURICSE have made it possible to measure and monitor the economic and employment dimensions of cooperatives at the local, national and international levels over time, while also estimating the direct, indirect and induced economic impact of cooperation in different geographical and sectoral contexts. This line of activity includes the three-year research agreement ISTAT on "Dimensions, evolution and characteristics of the social economy" (2017-2019), which led to the publication of two national reports, the first on the dimensions and characteristics of cooperatives and the second on the social economy as a whole.

ISTAT is a public research organisation and the main producer of official statistics for citizens and policymakers in Italy. ISTAT is an independent agency and interacts regularly with the academic and scientific communities. The mission of ISTAT is, first, to serve the community by producing and publishing high-quality, independent statistics, analyses and forecasts in accordance with the strictest ethical and professional principles and the most up-to-date scientific standards. Second, ISTAT aims to promote a detailed understanding of Italy’s environment, economy and society that can support decision-making at all levels of society (citizens, administrators, etc.). ISTAT has conducted censuses of non-profit organisations since the 1990s and has been releasing annual data for the social economy within the framework of the permanent census strategy since 2015. In addition, with the Social Economy Satellite Account, ISTAT will release more statistics on cooperatives in the coming years.

How would you assess the current state of statistics on cooperatives available in Italy?

Statistics currently released at national level offer a fairly complete overview of the characteristics of cooperatives in Italy covering the number of enterprises, economic size and employment.

Several sources of data on cooperatives in Italy are available, both administrative and statistical. Among the statistical data, one of the main sources is ISTAT that releases annually official statistics on cooperatives within the framework of business statistics that follow European regulations and international manuals and classifications.

ISTAT’s statistics on cooperatives are in line with the ILO Guidelines concerning Statistics of Cooperatives. Available data provide information on the main aspects of Italian cooperatives such as number of enterprises, employees and self-employees and value added. There is room for improvement, however, with regard to data by type of cooperatives and data on membership. Statistics by type of cooperatives and on membership could be obtained by incorporating data from the Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy (MIMIT)’s Cooperative Register, although this has some implications on data quality.

Among other data provided, the Italian Central Bank, the Bank of Italy, monitors the entire Italian banking system and periodically publishes statistics on the Italian banks, including cooperative banks. Moreover, the research centres of the three largest cooperative federations (Legacoop, Confcooperative and AGCI), along with specialized research institutes, produce analyses on the economic and employment dimensions of cooperatives, as well as ad-hoc and in-depth studies designed to better understand the role and impact of cooperatives both at the national and local levels.

What are some of the key national efforts on statistics of cooperatives and what are the envisioned next steps in advancing statistics of cooperatives in Italy?

ISTAT is currently developing the Social Economy Satellite Account. The data published by this account will help direct social, economic and fiscal policies. It will also support the implementation of the European Commission’s Action Plan for the Social Economy, which officially recognizes the essential role of the social economy in terms of social cohesion and economic and employment growth. Collecting statistics on all units in the social economy is key to achieving these aims. Therefore, improving ISTAT’s current data on cooperatives will provide a better foundation for the Social Economy Satellite Account.

To enable policymakers to follow the path outlined by the European Commission in the Social Economy Action Plan, it is not sufficient to collect data on the economic and employment-related contributions of cooperatives; data on the environmental, social and community-related contributions of cooperatives must be collected as well. Indeed, if we want to show the difference of the cooperative business model, then more data are needed to understand the nature of these differences, which may include elements such as active participation, provision of services in marginalised areas, and impact of cooperative action on the communities.

What are some of the key challenges to developing statistics on cooperatives in Italy? How do you think statistics on cooperatives could be improved?

The key challenge is the need to strengthen the relationships amongst key stakeholders (ISTAT, public agencies, cooperative federations, academics, etc.) so that all stakeholders understand why collecting statistics on different aspects of cooperatives is essential and so that they can collaborate to improve the production of statistics.

In the future, improving statistics on cooperatives will depend on the action of national and international institutions. European regulations and policies and other international institutions certainly play an important role in promoting statistics on cooperatives. Growing interest in the social economy will also increase the need for data on cooperatives. At the national level, the history of the cooperative movement and the importance of sustainability can help drive the demand for more statistics on cooperatives.