Step 2: Recruit the right people
"The main factor in unproductive business meetings is one of the most fundamental:
Having the wrong people present."4
Membership type. Determine the membership type based on the coalition's goals. Most
coalitions should have diverse membership. Of course, a coalition aimed at providing
citizen input might consist only of citizens, a coalition designed to ensure that
government departments coordinate their efforts effectively might consist only of
those departments, and a coalition aimed at eliminating duplication of services might
only include the service providers. Coalitions with less diverse membership may communicate
and work more quickly because members' objectives may be more alike. These coalitions,
however, may be weaker in their ability to comprehend other factors that contribute
to the problem that lay beyond the purview of their member organizations.
Member organizations. Start by identifying organizations that already work on the
identified issue and look broadly for other organizations that should be involved.
Consider those who have influence, those who will be supportive, and even those who
may put obstacles in the coalition's path. Are there important citizen or client
groups that should be included? For example, the VPC became far more effective in
elevating the importance of violence prevention in their community when the group
"Parents of Murdered Children" began to participate in the coalition.
Individual members. Many coalitions welcome individuals in their membership. Individual
members may be community members, community leaders, or people who have directly
experienced the problem. Unless there is a reason not to, it is a good idea to include
individuals who are not affiliated with an organization, because they can perform
functions that may differ from other coalition members. For example, individual members
may be perceived by the media as having less of a vested interest and, therefore,
more credibility. In addition, individual members can provide advice and outreach
from a different, and perhaps more personal, perspective. As a specific example,
the IPC members who had been injured were the best spokespeople for legislative hearings
and meetings with the press.
Competitors and adversaries. Decide whether to include or exclude potential competitors
and adversaries, based on the sincerity of their commitment to the coalition's goals
and whether they will be more of an impediment to the coalition if included or excluded.
For example, the VPC did not allow a gun manufacturing company to join its coalition
because the work of the company directly opposed the objectives of the coalition
to reduce firearm use. However, the VPC did allow a toy company to join the coalition
in the hopes that the coalition's efforts would encourage the company to produce
alternatives to toy guns.
Organization representatives. Having identified key organizations, consider who will
best represent each organization on the coalition. Agency directors are often more
effective at making policy decisions and establishing credibility as coalition representatives.
They often have broader experience on certain coalition issues and a wider network
of connections in the community. On the other hand, line staff are frequently more
committed, enthusiastic, and available than top leaders and are often more in touch
with the issues related to "hands on" service delivery. It is important
for agency directors to appoint these staff to represent their organization. In so
doing, the directors validate the time employees spend doing coalition work. In addition,
the directors will be more likely to provide latitude to their representatives when
decisions need to be made by the coalition "on the spot."
Organization representatives with strong skills or interests should be recruited
to serve on the coalition steering committee, asked to chair or facilitate, or given
other positions of responsibility. In situations in which only top organizational
leaders have the clout to play an effective role, recognize that their attendance
may be irregular, but that the coalition is receiving the benefit of key individuals.
Often, participation from both top leadership and line staff is essential to achieving
coalition goals. For example, a VPC member who directed the county's probation department
had the clout to convene the other top leaders, such as the sheriff and the chief
of police, to make decisions about procedures for child abuse cases. Counselors,
who were more familiar with actual cases, also met regularly to identify problems
of coordination between departments, discuss individual problems, conduct trainings,
and propose solutions to the coalitions's leadership.
Membership size. Consider the desired number of organizations and the diversity of
membership when selecting organizations to approach about joining the coalition.
A coalition developing a curriculum on boating safety may need fewer members than
a coalition that is attempting to change community pool fencing ordinances, because
writing curriculum is a less complex task than influencing policy.
TIP: A group larger than 12-18 people requires more resources and will sometimes
take longer to develop group identity and common purpose. Some coalition experts
recommend calculating size based on organizational purpose. William Riker has introduced
the notion of "the 'minimum winning coalition'... participants create coalitions
just as large as they believe will ensure winning and no larger."5 At times
it is preferable to bring together a narrow group with more closely defined interests
(e.g. service providers). This group would accomplish objectives quickly. Frequently,
this type of beginning leads to broadening the coalition at a later and more appropriate
Step 3: Devise a set of preliminary objectives and activities
for the coalition
In step one, the lead agency's objectives were examined. It is important to meld
these objectives with the objectives of other members. Defining coalition goals and
objectives and how to implement them requires the inclusion of all coalition members
in discussions. Therefore, the lead agency will need to broaden and modify its objectives.
A written mission statement can be a useful tool to achieve clarity about coalition
goals. However, it is important to avoid getting too bogged down in the semantics
of the statement early in the coalition's life.
Melding the objectives of the member groups. Some coalitions arise with a number
of commonalities among the member organizations, minimizing the need to convince
members of the benefits of the coalition. More typically, however, each member organization
has its own goals, which may vary widely from those of other member organizations.
It is important to create options that mutually satisfy the lead organization's objectives
as well as the goals of other coalition members, to propose mutually productive activities,
and to structure both objectives and activities in such a way that other coalition
members feel included in the decision-making process. The coalition's original objectives
must be kept in the forefront of all planning at the same time that a balance is
struck between those objectives and the concerns and interests of each member group.
Until trust is established, avoid issues and activities that will set up turf struggles
or exacerbate existing turf issues between coalition member agencies. More importantly,
the coalition should be careful not to become another competitor to its member agencies,
but rather should play a complementary role. For example, the IPC did not publish
a newsletter because doing so might reduce the subscriptions to the newsletter of
the Safe Toys Association. Instead, IPC members wrote a monthly column in the Safe
Toys newsletter and encouraged people interested in the IPC to subscribe.
TIP: It is not always possible to avoid turf struggles. However, a coalition should
try not to exacerbate these areas of overlap and competition. At times, a coalition
can be a constructive meeting place for openly discussing problem areas, establishing
ground rules, and resolving turf issues. Formal and informal opportunities to understand
the differences in agency history, mandates, and funding issues may soften turf struggles.
Coalition goals and objectives. While dealing with long-term objectives over time,
set some objectives that can be addressed by all member organizations more immediately.
However, always keep the long range objectives clearly in mind. "Far too often...
the effectiveness of a coalition decreases as the breadth of its agenda increases."6
In some cases, broad goals can be accomplished best by joint activities with other
coalitions, rather than by a single coalition. For example, the IPC, the VPC, and
the Alcoholism Prevention Forum joined together on a media campaign focusing on the
risks associated with alcohol abuse. While regular meetings of all of the coalitions
in one broad group would prove unwieldy to the members, it was in everyone's interest
to work cooperatively on a specific issue. At times, coalitions find it valuable
to send representatives to one another's meetings and to have reports regularly included
on one another's agendas.
TIP: It may be helpful for staff of lead agencies to communicate on a regular
basis, clarifying objectives and assisting one another with strategies.
Coalition activities. Develop a variety of well-defined activities that meet the
needs of participating organizations and make use of the skills of coalition representatives.
Identify some activities that will result in short-term successes, such as a press
release announcing the organization's formation and purpose, or a report outlining
the group's initial findings. These products increase members' motivation and pride
while enhancing coalition visibility and credibility.
Initial successes can be achieved without massive effort. For example, information
sharing is typically part of initial coalition meetings as members get to know one
another. The VPC recorded descriptions of the types of services provided by each
of its member organizations and distributed this information in an attractive chart
format, thereby fulfilling the need for a simple inventory of member services.
There can be advantages in dealing with a myriad of issues since approaches to different
types of injuries may be related to one another. Regardless of the breadth of issues,
keep the original coalition objectives foremost in all planning, lest members lose
interest or enthusiasm.
Bear in mind that what keeps a coalition going is the commitment of the individual
representatives and the support of the organizations they represent. Generally, the
more directly coalition activities relate to the specific objectives of the participating
organizations, and the more each member is able to enjoy and be proud of their individual
participation and contributions, the more the coalition will accomplish and the more
it will flourish.
TIP: Select activities that members will experience as successful - activities
in which they have something unique to contribute. Make objectives compelling. Be
sensitive to the fact that coalition work is not the main job of coalition members
and keep assignments simple and achievable. Keep reminding people that it is okay
to say no or to set limits.
In some cases, coalition objectives or activities may be at cross-purposes with those
of an individual organization. Based on these cross-purposes, one or another organization
may elect not to participate in the coalition. It is important to find out why groups
decline to participate. When forced to choose between groups, encourage the coalition
to select criteria which put the needs of the community's citizens first. This is
appropriate at all times and cannot fail to win respect.
Step 4: Convene the Coalition
There are three ways that coalitions are typically initiated: 1) through a meeting;
2) at a conference; or 3) at a workshop.
TIP: The notion that members of a coalition will self-select at a conference or
workshop and form a viable coalition is wishful thinking. Workshops or conferences
can sometimes be used to initiate a coalition. However, they will require more resources
than a single meeting and will not produce the carefully selected membership that
a planned meeting will. As a result, the likelihood that members will participate
on a consistent basis is slim. Two examples of the rare exceptions to this rule might
occur when, one, distance is such that people can receive approval to attend a conference
workshop but not a meeting or, two, when a political mandate leads to a highly visible
event where coalition organizers can capitalize on the energy of the situation to
create a coalition. In any case, identifying potential coalition members at workshops
and conferences may prove valuable.
To convene the coalition for the first time, hold a meeting of potential members.
At this meeting, the lead agency should clearly define the purpose of the coalition,
and members should specify their expectations. In addition, the invited organizations
and their representatives should have a chance to introduce themselves, state what
they see as their role on the coalition, and consider what their organization's interest
is in participating in the coalition. Potential members should be given an opportunity
to define what they perceive as the purpose and goals of the coalition and to recommend
others who they think should be involved.
To succeed, the lead agency should arrive at the first meeting with a strong proposal
for the coalition's structure, including its mission and membership. Although many
components of a coalition's structure are negotiable, the lead agency should be clear
about the particular elements that are not. While being specific about how the coalition
will operate, the lead agency should also explain where there is room for modification
based on member input. Furthermore, the lead agency should ensure that all participating
organizations understand and agree with the definition they give to the coalition.
Of course, not all potential members will find the coalition worth their time and
energy. Two determinants will be the specific activities the coalition chooses to
undertake and the worth of the coalition as seen by the management of the member
organizations. Therefore, once coalition activities are clarified, it is important
to reconsider membership. Any well-designed coalition will be broad-based and may
have different organizations participating in different activities. Nevertheless,
the decision by an organization not to participate in the coalition may be an appropriate
one from its perspective.
Next: Appendix B. Developing
Effective Coalitions: An Eight Step Guide (continued)