In order for an organization to reach a particular goal, coalition building can be an important step. Collective action is made up of many different people fighting for the same goal and eventually making change within a larger community/base, which is one of the many reasons why coalition building is very important. Working with many people to make progressive change is often more beneficial than working alone.
This section draws from the University of Kansas Community Toolbox – specifically chapter 5: Coalition Building, which can be looked at for further reading.
What is a coalition?
“A coalition is a group of individuals and/or organizations with a common interest to agree to work toward a common goal. Regardless of their size and structure, they exist to create and/or support efforts to reach a particular set of goals.”
Why start a coalition?
“It can concentrate the community’s focus on a particular problem.”
“It can create alliances among those who may not normally work together.”
“It can keep the community’s approach to issues consistent.”
A greater detailed example of this could be to actually obtain or provide services within the community. For example, the community you live in may be extremely impoverished, and poverty rates are continuing to increase. You may decide creating a coalition with many people in your community who also want to help rid this problem is the way to go. It may take a collation to obtain funding and run a needed intervention within your community.
Although starting a coalition may seem like a great idea, there are many barriers to doing so, after all coalition building takes a lot of work. Some barriers to coalition building include:
Difference in goals
You may be working on the same larger issue, but coming at it from different angles, or even focusing on different smaller issues within the larger one. In order to be a successful organization, members must be open to listening to one another in order to create a plan of attack to achieve the overarching goal through a common perspective in a respective manner.
Organizations can be hesitant to share work with other groups for privacy purposes and purposes of funding. However, working with other organizations can be very beneficial in order to successfully address issues.
Community members may have had negative histories in working in an organization or working with other organizations. Due to this “bad” history, individuals or organizations may not think it is possible to work with other organizations in a mutually beneficial way. In order to move past this, the organization must work on moving past this bad history, and be open to new ideas and perspectives.
Very often people with advanced degrees, local politicians, business leaders, or other people of higher positions talk over, or dominate a group, creating a stifled atmosphere. Creating a participatory atmosphere and allowing active participation and self-articulation by all members should be part of starting a coalition.
How do you know when it is an appropriate time to start a coalition?
There are many different times when developing a coalition is appropriate. Lets go back to the example of the extreme poverty in your community. Due to this disturbing circumstance that could pose a threat to lives of community members, it could be very beneficial to start a coalition.
Some more examples include:
o “When communities learn new information that may affect them in a negative or positive light”
o “When circumstances or rules/regulations change”
o “When there’s an outside threat to the community “
o “When a group desires to create change within their community”
How do you start a community coalition?
When beginning to develop a coalition within your community you must start this process in a strategic manner. It may be easiest to begin by putting together a group of people who share the same beliefs and desires as you do in creating change. After creating this core group of people it may be helpful to contact people most affected by the issue (such as agencies or institutions). The last step would be to reach out to people outside of your own community. There are more powerful or influential people with many contacts and/or resources to really get the project running.
How to maintain/keep the coalition moving forward?
o In order to make sure your coalition continues to prosper and grow in a positive direction, it is important for the organization to be realistic in what the organization can and has accomplished.
o Organization must communicate direction of success
o Delegate positions for community members (members should work on different projects to promote group success)
o Invest in new members (recruiting, training, leadership skills)