What is a Coalition and Why do I Need One?
A ‘coalition’ is further defined as “a formal arrangement for cooperation and collaboration between groups or sectors of a community, in which each group retains its identity but all agree to work together toward a common goal” (www.CADCA.com). And it is a method that is being applied in efforts to strengthen communities and address the complex challenges that communities face.
When an agency or community decides to tackle a problem, such as drug addiction, it makes sense that other groups working toward addressing that same problem would benefit by pooling resources and reducing duplicated efforts. But in addition to those benefits, when representatives from different types of agencies, businesses and organizations come together it allows the entire group to share their unique perspective of the challenge.
From this exchange of information, a more comprehensive view of the issue is born: a better understanding of the ways in which the issue affects ALL sectors of the community. Not only can more work be done, but more kinds of work can be done through a coalition approach. So now that we understand why we should be collaborating, what are the key ingredients to building a successful coalition?
Setting Clear Expectations:
A coalition is a formal group comprised of human services agencies and organizations, businesses, education, faith community, civic and volunteer groups, local government, law enforcement, local media, and community members across the lifespan; especially youth and young adults. To be able to work together efficiently, an understanding of why and how are crucial to sustained success – a vision, mission outlined in coalition bylaws provides clarity of the long-term goal for the community as well as what the the journey entails and how each organization benefits and integrates with the process.
Be Together, Not the Same:
Diversity is the lifeblood of collaboration. Challenges, like poverty and drug use are complex, multifaceted and touch every sector of your community. By creating a coalition of diverse membership you unlock new ideas, unique insights and a component of your strategy and solution, which could come in the form of access to resources or important social or professional connections. Bring together a coalition of community stakeholders that are willing and able to contribute their individual perspective.
Exchange Information in an Open Network:
OK, so you have a diverse coalition who are willing to share their understanding, but are they able? The coalition must foster an environment that promotes a healthy exchange of ideas. To be successful, the group must establish trust and a mutual respect for one another and their ideas. Fear of brainstorming limits the problem solving ability of the coalition. Be intentional about welcoming new ideas or even opposition to the status quo. You never know who may be silently sitting on your next great idea.
Bring in an Outside Opinion:
Sometimes communication breaks down, power becomes imbalanced, and efforts stall out. Whether you are a newly formed coalition looking to sidestep those pitfalls, or a coalition that in smack dab in the middle of those issues, bringing in professional with coalition building experience can move you forward.
This can be a difficult step to take—especially for members who have been apart of the efforts for a long time. For them, bringing in a consultant can feel at best unnecessary and at worst like a failure or a criticism of the current leadership. But a good consultant is not there to bend the coalition to their own will. Their role is to bring the coalition’s vision to fruition by pulling all of the voices back in the room, soliciting their expectations for the coalition, and guiding the group to implement strategies that support the overall mission. Change is good, progress is better, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.