Coalitions often form to address complex public issues ranging from infrastructure to workforce development. Regardless of the issue being addressed, most coalitions face similar internal dynamics and challenges. By developing a clear plan early on, coalition members can avoid significant hurdles down the road.
We’ve found it best to focus on a few key areas:
First, prior to forming a coalition, all potential members must clearly identify and agree to their vision. It may sound like common sense, but it is an essential first step that is too often forgotten. A powerful set of catalytic questions include:
- Why is this effort worth our time, energy and passion? In other words, what are the stakes?
- What do we want to accomplish?
- Is anyone else currently addressing this issue? If so, who, and do they need to be around the table?
- Are we duplicating efforts? How so?
- Why does this need to be a coalition effort and not an effort lead by a single organization or group?
- Are we all prepared to commit ourselves (and our resources) to this work? What resources are available to us?
- Who will lead the coalition and how will we manage the work?
After determining why the coalition must exist, it is necessary for the individuals and organizations around the table to set measurable goals collaboratively. This is the second critical step, and in the world of collective impact, it is often called “creating a common agenda.” Balancing aspiration with realism is key, because these goals will serve as the guiding force for the coalition. This phase is also the ideal time to nail down a clearly articulated mission and message that coalition members can refer to – both when recruiting additional members and engaging with the public.
As the coalition identifies, assigns and implements strategies and tactics designed to achieve common goals, the members must commit to holding one another accountable. For example, if a member agrees to create a dashboard for tracking outreach progress, the group’s expectation should be that the member will follow through with that activity. If, for any reason, the member does not carry out his or her responsibilities, the group must hold them accountable. Without accountability, it is unlikely the coalition will accomplish its goals.
Lastly, to keep the coalition operating effectively, it is critical to measure success and openly communicate along the way. By tracking success against measurable goals, the members can determine if the coalition is moving the needle and whether or not it should continue to exist. Effective coalitions also find ways to share progress (and, in some cases, challenges) internally and externally.
Coalitions require significant effort and resources, but, if managed effectively, they can generate powerful results. In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”