UWCC Launches National Cooperative Governance Survey

Thanks to a generous gift from the Cooperative Development Foundation and CoBank, the UW Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) is launching the first national, cross-sectoral study on cooperative governance practices. The Cooperative Governance Research Initiative will help cooperatives reflect on and improve their governance practices, in part by enhancing our ability to compare the governance practices of member- vs. investor-owned firms. Much of what is known about corporate governance comes from studies of conventional businesses, which differ significantly from cooperatives in terms of management incentives and governance practices. This initiative will address a critical knowledge gap for cooperative researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

The initiative will consist of a national, biennial survey of member-owned businesses such as cooperatives, mutuals, and credit unions. Longitudinal data will provide benchmarks to monitor and support efforts to improve cooperative governance over time. The survey will examine a range of cooperative governance topics including but not limited to board size and structure, board diversity, board compensation, committee structures, decision-making process, use of external advisors and/or directors, and the board-management relationship.

An advisory committee made up of industry leaders from across the cooperative community will provide input on the project. The committee includes representatives from National Cooperative Business Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Credit Union National Association, National Co+op Grocers, Democracy at Work Institute, Columinate, Neighboring Food Co-op Association, and FCC Services. The committee will be a critical partner in shaping research questions, increasing survey participation, and generating long-term support for the project.

UWCC has hired Laura Hanson Schlachter to manage the project. Laura will complete her PhD in Sociology at UW-Madison in December and officially join the UWCC team on January 1, 2021.

The events of recent months make this a timely conversation for the cooperative sector. Historically, cooperatives have demonstrated incredible resilience during economic downturns; and new cooperatives often emerge during crises to meet critical community needs. This is an opportune time to begin collecting data about how governance plays a role in these phenomena.

If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Courtney Berner at cberner@wisc.edu.