Governance: “Well that’s all of life, right?”

Paul Thompson

“Chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to think of it as the study of change. Now just think about this: electrons, they change their energy levels; molecules change their bonds; elements, they combine and change into compounds. Well that… that’s all of life, right?”

-Walter White, Season 1 Episode 1 of Breaking Bad


I love this quote from the opening scene of Breaking Bad because I feel the same way as Walter White. Not that I think chemistry is “all of life,” but I think that anyone who studies a particular field with depth and passion will start to see that field underlying everything they do. A physicist would tell you that we can understand everything about our world through physics, a sociologist would make the same claim about their field, and a philosopher would insist that we can’t know any of these things without the tools of philosophy.

At the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, we research governance. As I’ve had the opportunity to study governance with depth and passion, I’ve come to see it underlying everything I do.

Our simplest definition of governance is “who gets to decide what.” And in any group of people, no matter how large or how small, the decision about “who gets to decide what” is crucial. Whether it is a romantic partnership, a few dozen athletes on a sports team, thousands of employees of a multi-national corporation, or millions of citizens of a country: governance matters.

Because governance permeates so much of our daily lives, it is valuable for anyone to know the essential parts of how it works (or doesn’t work). Yet, while many of us may have studied physics of philosophy in school, it’s less likely that we ever took a course on governance. But now you have a chance to do precisely that.

Governance in Co-operatives Canoe

What does governance have to do with canoes? Take the course to find out!

In collaboration with Co-operatives First, the Centre has developed a free, online course on co-operative governance. This course is offered periodically throughout the year, with the next cohort running from January 21st – March 4th, 2019. This course deals with governance theory but is designed to be accessible to anyone interested in the governance of co-operatives and social economy organizations, regardless of their previous knowledge, experience, or level of education. The six modules of the course are presented in simple language, and while the concepts are sometimes complex, they are always explained step-by-step with clear examples.

Governance in Co-operatives is broken down into two sections with three week-long modules each. The first section covers what governance is, what it looks like in corporations, and how it is different in co-operatives and social economy organizations. The second part of the course deals with the Centre’s research on the three pillars of effective governance: creating a view of the future, working well together, and building legitimacy.

The course will allow participants to answer essential questions about the organization(s) they work with, such as:

  • “how do members of your co-op balance their needs with the needs of the organization as a whole?”
  • “how does your organization determine if it is working towards the best interests of its members?
  • “how do decision-makers in your co-op identify and deal with cognitive errors in decision making?”

Each module of the course is centred on a case study of a real-world organization and how it has answered these questions. Course participants have the opportunity to earn a badge or certificate for their work based on how much they wish to engage with the content. Because the course is discussion-based with no scheduled meeting times, it can be done on your own time. Typically, it will take about 2-3 hours per week to complete each module.

Governance is everywhere. It affects almost every aspect of our daily lives. It is the beating heart of any prosperous organization – a necessary, if not sufficient, ingredient of success. As a basic knowledge of chemistry can help you better understand the world around you, a basic knowledge of governance can help you better understand human relationships and behaviour in groups. This knowledge can help you steer your co-operative or social economy organization to a prosperous future.

To sign up for Governance in Co-operatives, click here

For more information on the course, email

Paul Thompson, Knowledge Mobilization Officer, Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan