Launching CGRI underscored two key cooperative research infrastructure needs for this project and beyond. The first is a comprehensive national list of cooperative enterprises in the U.S. A robust enterprise-level sampling frame would support rigorous research about many aspects of cooperatives by making statistical inference possible in this population of firms. The second need is a standard definition or typology of cooperatives, which would greatly facilitate data collection efforts and transnational comparative research (Bouchard 2016). Our challenges classifying cooperatives in the first wave of CGRI data collection reiterate that developing a logical, consistent, and practitioner-friendly typology for cooperatives should be a high priority in future cross-sector cooperative research.
We also identified several substantive areas for future research. Our top priority in the year ahead will be to develop a performance index to begin identifying correlations between specific governance practices and cooperative performance. We also see opportunities to put our findings in dialogue with those of other cooperative scholars and practitioners on issues such as board recruitment and selection in credit unions (Brown 2005), member participation in large consumer cooperatives (Birchall and Simmons 2004), governance practices of cooperatives in the United States versus Canada (Reynolds 2020) and other countries, and the relationship between governance and performance in cooperatives versus conventional firms (Brown et al. 2015; Cooper, Lamm, and Val Morrison 2019; Cornforth 2004; Dalton and Dalton 2005; Eldenburg et al. 2004; Shivdasani and Yermack 1999). Additionally, the large body of scholarship about the relationship between diversity and good governance in conventional firms (Adams and Ferreira 2009) and sector-specific studies about gender diversity in cooperatives (CUNA 2021; Meyers 2016; van Rijn 2019; Schlachter 2021; Sobering 2016), will provide important context for exploring our findings on gender and racial diversity on co-op boards. Throughout the next phase of CGRI, we will continue to use Birchall’s cake metaphor as a framework for thinking about what good governance looks like and how it translates to long-term success—in part by identifying specific governance practices and design choices that cooperatives can leverage to achieve the most expedient balance of member voice, representation, and expertise in their governance systems.
We will also leverage findings from CGRI to develop practical, evidence-based tools for cooperatives of all kinds. Resources permitting, the next phase of CGRI will focus on developing educational resources and tools that help cooperatives reflect upon and improve their governance practices. And as we continue administering the survey, longitudinal data will provide unique insights into how governance practices and their relative impacts on health and performance are evolving over time. How do cooperatives build and sustain governance systems that hold true to the cooperative DNA and position them for success in today’s increasingly complex word?
We invite you to join UWCC in an ongoing conversation about what it looks like for cooperatives to achieve their greatest potential as member-owned and democratically controlled organizations. As we continue to explore this rich dataset and make plans for future waves of data collection, we welcome your insights and reflections. What findings interest or surprise you? What questions should we probe more deeply? What resources would be most useful to you or your cooperative? CGRI is an ambitious endeavor, launched in the spirit of cooperation. We hope you will join us in our work to strengthen cooperatives’ superpower of democratic member control.