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Putting Policy to Work

The cooperative community is a big tent. There are many types of co-ops (e.g. worker co-ops, consumer co-ops, purchasing co-ops, etc.), and the model is found in nearly every sector of the economy from education and information technology to agriculture and transportation. Cooperatives around the world, however, have one important thing in common: they share a commitment to operating in accordance with the Seven Cooperative Principles.

Cooperative Principle Two is Democratic Member Control. In practice, this means that cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. One of the most important ways that members participate in their co-op’s democracy is through the election of a board of directors that carries out this work on behalf of members. The board’s job is to develop long-range business strategies that ensure the financial health of the cooperative and meet the needs of owners. Policy is one of the main tools we use for accomplishing this task. As a Board that adheres to the Policy Governance Model, we use policy to define the purpose of the Cooperative, to delegate authority, to supervise management without meddling, and to evaluate the accomplishments of the Cooperative.

As detailed in the December and January Board Reports, the Board has spent a significant amount of time in the last few months thinking about how to improve our policies and thus our overall approach to governance. In November 2015, the Board adopted new Ends policies, which articulate the highest level priorities for the organization. Since the adoption of the new Ends policies, the General Manager and the Strategic Planning Committee have been working to interpret these policies and use them to craft a five-year strategic plan that will guide the direction of the Co-op in the years to come. The Board is in the process of providing feedback on the draft strategic plan with the goal of having a final plan in place by the beginning of the new fiscal year.

While revising our Ends policy was a huge accomplishment, our policy work is far from done. We have identified several ways that our policies could be improved and are committed to revising our entire policy register in the coming months. As a Board that adheres to the Policy Governance framework, it is imperative that our policies reflect our highest purpose and create efficient mechanisms for monitoring the success of our operations. 

The Co-op Board and Management are currently exploring the opportunity to locate a third retail site in Madison’s Northside community and, in the coming weeks, the Board will be making some critical decisions on your behalf. Please know that as we approach these decisions, we will be looking to our policies and our Owners for guidance, so don’t hesitate to be in touch. You can reach us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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