Academic journal article Management Quarterly

An Assessment of Member Education and Communication Programs in Rural Electric Cooperatives

Academic journal article Management Quarterly

An Assessment of Member Education and Communication Programs in Rural Electric Cooperatives

Article excerpt

Introduction

A farmer giving witness in a Tennessee church in the early 1940s said, "Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this: The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house" (Crain, 1998, p.1).

NRECA defined a cooperative as a "user-owned and user-controlled business that distributes benefits on the basis of use. A business voluntarily owned and controlled by its member patrons and operated for them and by them on a non-profit or cost basis; it is an association with an economic objective owned and run by the people who use it and operate for their mutual benefit." They also see education as the act or process of imparting or obtaining knowledge or skill (NRECA, 1998a).

There are seven cooperative principles that cooperatives must adhere to. They include:

1.) voluntary and open membership;

2.) democratic control;

3.) member economic participation;

4.) autonomy and independence;

5.) education, training, and information;

6.) cooperation among cooperatives; and

7.) concern for communities (Hoyt, 1996).

The Importance of Communication

In April of 1996, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave orders that led to wholesale competition in the electric power industry. These directives were discussed in "The Energy Policy Act" which became law in 1992 (NRECA, 1998b). These orders have led to deregulation within the electric utility industry. According to Silberstein (1998), deregulation is "the process that states would go through to 'unbundle' transmission, distribution, and generation functions into separate components" (p. 19).

The National Council said that a key to a successful market transition is an informed consumer. "If consumers believe they have adequate information available to them, they are far more likely to embrace the decision to move to a competitive environment. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) adopted a resolution in 1996 that supported the consumer right to know disclosure policy. The group thought is important that consumers were able to compare prices, price variability, and other characteristics of their electricity purchase. Disclosing information to consumers would accomplish three goals. (1) It would allow customers to make the choices they wish to make, and provide information for them to find the prices they are willing to pay. (2) Disclosing information enhances consumer protection. (3) This information disclosure would allow the new electricity market to function more efficiently" (The National Council, 1998).

With these changes taking place, cooperative principle number five, which addresses education and training, is becoming more important. The traditional cooperative principle number five sets guidelines for member education and communications programs that should be followed. Education through communications is a high priority for cooperatives. This effort should consist of more than just advertising and distributing information. Communication "is critical to the effective and informed participation of members which lies at the core of the cooperative definition" (Hoyt, 1996, p. 5).

Education through communications plays an important role in rural electric cooperatives. "Education = understanding. The need to continue that educative role is even greater today. ...In fact, cooperative education is going to have to be a necessity, a priority; in long-range planning" (Jamese, 1982, p. 37).

A cooperative must realize that communications and education are important every day, not just during times of change. They must also realize that there is more to successful cooperative education and communications programs than meeting cooperative principles. Cooperatives have to want to perform this function. "If we establish and operate member information and education programs because it's the thing to do, because it's tradition, and because it's a cooperative principle, our cooperative won't get its money's worth" (Erickson, 1989, pp. …

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