Building Local Coalitions

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At the community level, some change requires only a few dedicated people to be achieved. More frequently, however, the scale or complexity of a particular issue requires locking arms with additional individuals and groups to effectively make change happen.
Building a coalition does not necessarily mean creating one huge meta organization. A coalition can be a loosely knit association of groups with a common interest in addressing an issue. The coalition can be a temporary mechanism for work on a specific problem, or it can serve as a model for people who would like to work collaboratively on related issues.

The most successful coalitions contain not only the “usual suspects,” but also seek out like minded allies who fall into the “strange bedfellows” category. Adding voices representing interests outside of your narrow sphere of influence is often critical. Avoid putting people in narrowly defined boxes (all churches, all businesses, all millennials, etc.). If for example, your opponent on a certain issue says that the policy they support is ‘good for business,’ having business people who can argue why that is not necessarily true will deliver your message to an audience that might otherwise simply ignore you, because they don’t believe that you understand their reality.

Coalitions can be effective when the issue in question has a need for urgent attention. This is how public policies often changed before the idea of bipartisan support became a mythical concept at the national political level. At the local level, however, the concept can still be quite practical.

One on the greatest benefits of coalitions is that they give many people who might otherwise be marginalized, a taste of the power that can come from collective civic engagement. Multiple people can be leaders within a coalition without being expected to lead the coalition. Coalitions are always a valuable opportunity for learning, growth, and leadership development.

With all of its potential benefits, it is also important to point out that forming a coalition is not always the best option. Beware when one organization says that it is “leading a coalition.” A coalition will only work when the collaborative leadership that comes from trusted relationships are it its core. A coalition is collaborative work, not one organization using the support of other groups only as a means to gain buy-in for its own agenda (see this post for more on collaboration).

Ultimately, potential coalition members will ask themselves, “what’s in it for us, and what is it going to cost?” They may come to the conclusion that the costs of collaboration outweigh the benefits to their group. But for those who see that the benefits outweigh the costs, the commitment can result in outcomes they could never have achieved on their own.

For more details on coalition building visit the following resources:

Traditional Versus Collaborative Leadership

“Collaboration isn’t about being best friends, or even necessarily liking everyone you’re working with. It is about putting all and any baggage aside, bringing your best self to the table, and focusing on the common goal.”
-Meghan M. Biro

The table below was developed from the extensive work found on the  Collaborative Leadership website of the Leadership Development National Excellence Collaborative.

traditional vs collaborative leadershipCollaborative leadership is all about the intentional development of relationships that enables individual successes by stakeholders while accomplishing a collective outcome. As you look at the comparisons in the table it is clear that most of the world seems to reside in the rigid world of positional leadership described in the left column. There is, however, a lot more collaborative leadership going on out there (or at least headed in that direction) than you might think.

Living in the digital age makes collaborative leadership easier to accomplish, because the open sharing of information is at the heart of making it work. Micro meetings, quick polling, crowdsourcing, and other realities of a life immersed in portable, digital information make once idealistic ideas like self-governance, and broad participation possible.

Another key difference between traditional and collaborative leadership is that the latter is at its core, rooted in trust. When stakeholders voices are not only heard, but in fact, embraced for their valuable perspective; trust is cultivated, and shared time and effort result in productivity.

More to come, as this concept is closely tied to a number of the others discussed here.

Working Together: Coordinating, Cooperating, Or Collaborating

“I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively.”
—Golda Meir

Source for the table below: COLLABORATION FOR A CHANGE (revised January 2002)
Definitions, Decision-making models, Roles, and Collaboration Process Guide
By Arthur T. Himmelman

CCC_HimmelmanWhen people talk about working together the subtext for everyone at the table, whether it is said aloud or not is usually: “what’s in it for me, and what’s it gonna cost?” Arthur Himmelman’s distinctions between these three concepts are important in that they illustrate how as relationships grow and deepen, critical aspects of working together, like trust and confidence, pave the way for shared risk and resources.

Moving from coordinating, to cooperating, to collaborating isn’t a seamless, smooth evolution. People who work together successfully spend plenty of time up front not only “getting on the same page,” but also honestly sharing their expectations and commitments with their potential partners.

Another important thing to remember is that every partnership doesn’t have to be, or strive to be a collaboration. Sometimes simple coordination can achieve a goal. When that is the case, that success can serve as an underpinning for a deeper partnership.