Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Contact Information

UW-Madison Research & Sponsored Programs
21 N Park Street, Suite 6401
Madison, WI 53715 - 1218
(608) 262-1510
FY 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research

Executive Summary

Reevaluating the Workplace-Civic Engagement Relationship

Our proposed research leverages original survey and interview data to address outstanding questions about the relationship between workplace organization and civic engagement over the life course. Previous theoretical and empirical studies have argued that workplaces are central to the civic infrastructure of democratic societies because workers develop civic skills on the job that spill over into the public sphere. According to this "civic spillover hypothesis," workers in firms organized in more participatory ways exhibit higher levels of civic engagement. We revisit the civic spillover hypothesis in the context of extremely participatory firms that are owned and democratically governed by workers using a mixed-methods research design. Our sample includes 1,147 surveys and twelve interviews of U.S. cooperative workers we collected in partnership with the nonprofit Democracy at Work Institute and a matched sample from the 2015 Current Population Survey Volunteer Supplement. Our analysis will ask if participatory forms of workplace organization can be a strategy to increase civic engagement by addressing the following research questions: 1) How do civic engagement levels of non-cooperative and cooperative workers compare? 2) What firm- and individual-level characteristics are associated with cooperative workers' levels of volunteering and voting outside the workplace? 3) How do cooperative workers' trajectories of employment and civic engagement intersect over the life course? Reporting based on our analysis will be a resource to practitioners and policymakers who are reorganizing work to create economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities. It will also contribute to the broader conversation about redesigning civic infrastructure to reinvigorate American democracy.

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