COWS – Building the High Road

Since our founding in 1990, COWS has promoted “high road” solutions to social problems. These treat fairness and equal opportunity, environmental sustainability, and strong and resilient democratic institutions as necessary and achievable complements in human development, not tragic tradeoffs.
COWS is a “think-and-do tank” based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We work primarily in the areas of work organization and human capital systems, clean energy, transportation, and government performance. We develop ideas for advancing the high road, test them in practice, and evaluate results. We propagate high-road innovations through technical assistance, public outreach, and the policy learning networks we run for state and local government executives.
COWS is nonpartisan but unapologetic about our values. We want a world of equal freedom and opportunity, learning, and security – for all. We appreciate the distance of this desired world from our present one, but are confident of its achievability. We are because we think all humans want the freedom and opportunity to develop their abilities that this desired world would respect, and that humanity is capable of lifting whatever limits it has placed on its own flourishing. Whether humanity does this lifting or not will depend in part on advances in our knowledge. But in larger part it will depend on a critical mass of humans showing the courage and determination to act on their hopes for a better world by actually achieving part of it, inspiring others to join them.
One attraction of the high road is that almost any community can start building it immediately. “Reduce waste, add value, capture and share the benefits of doing both, repeat” is the high-roader’s basic mantra, with clear imperatives for action. Start now to reduce the fantastic waste in your systems of developing skills, organizing work, producing things, and moving people and goods. Start now to map your regional economy to locate areas of potential competitive advantage, and develop those areas with the aid of more efficiently organized places. Start now to improve the adaptive and learning capacities and power of your democratic institutions, recognizing them not only as a force for representation and justice, but also wealth generation.
This commitment to building the high road now gives coherence to what may seem disparate COWS’ activities – from designing an “on-bill” financing program for improving building energy efficiency; to producing reliable analysis of Wisconsin’s workforce and economy; to convening and helping governors, mayors, and transportation officials interested in pursuing a high-road strategy in their states and cities.
On this website, we share some of the work we are doing to build the high road. Please do not hesitate to ask us more about it – we look forward to hearing from you.