Decades of research finds that strong governance is essential for cooperatives to thrive. It is correlated with performance, essential for addressing members’ needs, and fundamental to the cooperative DNA. Yet cooperatives need robust data in order to benchmark, reflect on, and improve their governance practices.
The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives launched the Cooperative Governance Research Initiative (CGRI) in 2021 with generous seed funding from CoBank and the Cooperative Development Foundation. CGRI is the first systematic research to examine cooperative governance across sectors and over time. Its mixed-methods research design includes a biennial firm-level online survey and follow-up interviews with a purposive sample of respondents that address topics such as board selection, director training, and member participation.
CGRI will benefit cooperatives, scholars, and policymakers by addressing a critical knowledge gap. It will also benefit cooperatives by informing the development of practical, evidence-based tools cooperatives can use to advance their governance practices such as a director compensation index, a guide for improving board-manager communication, and case studies of highly effective member engagement strategies.
Advisory Committee and Research Standards
A volunteer Advisory Committee made up of representatives from across the co-op community is providing technical support to ensure the research is timely, relevant to the cooperative community, and achieves maximum impact. Members include:
- Credit Union National Association
- Democracy at Work Institute
- FCC Services
- National Association of Housing Cooperatives
- National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
- National Co+op Grocers
- National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International
- National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
- Neighboring Food Cooperative Association
As a university-based research center, UWCC conducts studies under the supervision of an Institutional Review Board that ensures we adhere to federal research ethics guidelines. This means we follow high standards of transparency with research subjects and data security. Survey responses are confidential, and no individual cooperative will be identifiable in the final results.
The events of recent months make conversations around governance especially timely for the cooperative sector. Cooperatives have historically demonstrated incredible resilience during economic downturns and startups often emerge during crises to meet critical community needs. This is an opportune time to begin collecting longitudinal data about how governance plays a role in these phenomena.