Posted on 16 Dec 2013
I thought I’d get back to basics with this blog and define coalitions for those who might not know what they are. Although people use many terms to describe collaborative efforts, a coalition is a group of diverse organizations and constituencies who work together to reach a common goal or goals.
Coalitions operate at many levels—block/neighborhood, city, town, county, regional, state, national, international—and their scope, structure, and function varies accordingly. A community coalition serves a defined community recognized by those within it as a community (a common location or experience), but also may serve broader, diverse groups.
A partnership is similar to a coalition, but, it often is a more business-like and may involve only two organizations. As long as everyone agrees on its structure and purpose, the name of the collaboration is not critical. However, if made up only of individuals and not groups, then it is probably an organization or network and not a coalition.
Why do coalitions form? Community coalitions may form in response to an opportunity, such as the release of federal “stimulus funds” to promote healthy communities. Or they may be started because of a threat, such as the rising prevalence of bullying, autism or a campus outbreak of measles. Organizations form or join coalitions to boost resources, maximize efficiency, reduce duplication, and give them expanded access to media coverage, marketing services, expertise and influence.
How do coalitions work? Unlike networks whose members act independently, coalitions bring organizations together to act jointly. Coalitions form to address a specific, time-limited issue or they may sustain collaboration long-term. Members draw on assets from their organizations, as well as seek new resources. Roles, responsibilities, goals and commitments are written and links to outside organizations and communication channels are formal. Coalitions create decision-making and leadership structures that enable their members to speak with a united voice and engage in shared planning and action. I believe that coalitions work – that’s why used that phrase to name my company.
What do Coalitions do? Effective coalitions focus on changing policies, systems and environments to make the healthy choice, the easy choice:
- by engaging in cutting-edge media and communication campaigns,
- by creating policy agendas and advocating for laws and resolutions that promote health and well-being,
- by collaborating with directors and executives of public and private organizations to make accessible and higher quality services available to all, and
- by working with city/county planners and developers to change the physical environment (such as providing crosswalks, outdoor lighting, bike paths) to make communities safer and more healthy.
Stay tuned! In my next blog, I’ll focus on why coalitions are essential for creating a “culture of health” in America.
Posted on 10 Dec 2013
Autumn has been beautiful in Virginia. The days were sunny and clear. The nights were crisp with a hint of the winter chill to come. I love to watch the battlefields in Yorktown turn from green to gold as the low lying morning fogs and frost overtake them. Of course, the deer are plentiful, as they are protected by the National Park.
And since it is a time of harvest, I am happy to announce that I did get my book Ignite! published. I have great empathy for the farmers who plant and nurture their crops thorough drought and plenty – as usual, I experienced both in writing this book! But I am very excited about it and hope you will be too! Check it out at Author House, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
I’ve been doing a lot of consulting with business coalitions on health and have learned so much about nine of these coalitions through my work with the National Business Coalitions on Health (NBCH). I even had the wonderful opportunity to help showcase their work at the annual NBCH conference in Phoenix in November. I have had the pleasure of watching them grow and take on more difficult policy work which is natural for mature coalitions.
In the autumn phase of coalition work, you should consider the following tasks:
- Keep members and organizations engaged; review/renew member agreements
- Keep membership growing and informed; replenish or expand if needed
- Address organizational needs within coalition and revise structures/procedures as needed
- Rotate and develop leadership
- Continue to revise/implement action plans and keep projects moving ahead
- Assess changes and accomplishments
- Build on past successes to move to new goals and strategies
Finally, a word about the cabin. We moved in on Thanksgiving day with the help of our family – it was a very cold day for here (20 degrees at night) but it kept the ground frozen for moving all the heavy stuff. I have to say that after all the work and worry, it turned out exactly as we had hoped. It is cozy and feels very authentic. Our builder who grew up in these mountains just said, “It’s alive again”, referring to the fact that the cabin had been moved from Bacon Hollow rebuilt again . Is it really done? No, just like your coalition, there is still much to do – caulking, the mantle, the rock overlay on the chimney, and so on.
But we lit a fire in the fireplace, threw on heavy down comforters and had the most wonderful cozy sleep after more than two years of planning. I guess the old adage is true,“Anything worth having is worth waiting for.” Happy holidays to all!
Posted on 09 Dec 2013
My earlier textbook, Coalitions and Partnerships in Community Health, a 600-page tome, was written primarily for an academic audience. I tried to bridge the gap between the academic and practitioner community by including a number of helpful appendices and tools, but it is still a daunting text. However, as I train, speak and consult around the country, I find that my audiences are clamoring constantly for practical tools and ideas for building and sustaining community partnerships that can be used in their own backyards. So, I knew I needed to write a different kind of book with them in mind.
As I was gathering wood for a campfire in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia last fall, I was struck by the magnetic power that fire has to attract us. Fire provides warmth, protection from wild animals, light in the darkness, and heat for cooking. Fire has a magnetic power that attracts us. The dancing flames of fire inspire romance and legendary stories, generate uplifting discussion, and build camaraderie among those circled around them. And camping just isn’t camping without a campfire … the smell, the warmth, the crackle, the glowing coals, the smoky taste of campfire-cooked meals, the songs and stories, and, of course, the s’ mores. Campfires provide a deep connection with nature, time for reflection, and feelings of peace.
While conjuring up these positive images, I began to reflect on how much constructing and feeding a campfire was like building and sustaining a community coalition. We have to find the best place to build one, gather the right kinds and amounts of firewood, construct it with solid intention, and carefully nurture it until it provides a constant flame and warmth. Similarly, for a coalition, we need to assess our current collaborative environment, gather the right partners, build an effective structure, and initiate the strategies and nurture the relationships that are likely to change our communities for the better.
Coalitions have the power to catalyze a spark of an idea about how our communities could be healthier. This spark is fed by the imagination and resources of diverse community members and organizations working in partnership until we “fire up” entire sectors of our community for positive change. So, the idea of the book was born around a campfire. And, isn’t that how most good ideas come to us … sudden and unbidden … a flint-like notion that sparks a whole new thought process.
Posted on 03 Dec 2013
I was talking to my neighbor’s 17 year old daughter the other day and the conversation went something like this:
“So, Allie, how are college plans going? Any idea about where you’d like to go or what you might study?”
“I’m planning to go to college in state – hopefully Virginia Tech or UVA. I’m not very worried about where …it’s just that I have no idea what I want to do with my life. You’re so lucky – you have a career that you love – you’ve even written books. Must be nice to have everything all planned out from the start.”
At that moment, I laughed and told her, “Nothing could be farther from the truth. My life has been full of stops, starts and detours. If you have a few minutes, I’ll tell about how far-from-planned it’s been.”
She enthusiastically nodded yes and I began the story that I’ll now share with you.
I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. My mom wanted to be a nurse, but she left school in the eighth grade to help support her widowed mother and 10 siblings. I’m sure this, plus the fact that I was drawn to the helping professions, influenced my desire to become a nurse. I wanted to attend a college that was away from home and was fortunate to receive a scholarship to Penn in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. I married my college sweetheart and, after graduation, worked as a public health nurse. I found that I enjoyed the teaching and counseling parts of nursing more than bedside care, so I enrolled at Penn again and earned a Masters in Secondary Education, while my husband attended Dental School under a military scholarship.
Then, we embarked on a 15 year stint with the army dental corps which took us to Italy, Germany, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. I worked as a nurse or teacher, depending on job availability, and had 3 children along the way. Later, I was told that my resume was “spotty”. Finally, at the age of 39, I had the opportunity to meld my interests and earn a doctoral degree in public health promotion and education at the University of South Carolina. We made our 17th move to settle in Yorktown, Virginia, and I started an academic career as a professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk doing community health research.
After 16 years at EVMS, I was ready for a change. I loved the consulting that I had done to provide training and technical assistance to public health agencies, non-profits and communities on building and sustaining partnerships and coalitions to improve health and well-being. I also enjoyed writing and had authored or co-authored many professional articles and book chapters, as well a textbook, Coalitions and Partnerships in Community Health. I decided to start my own consulting group to be able to do more of both . . . and Coalitions Work was born.
That was more than 5 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I just figure that life, like a coalition, is supposed to be an adventure. And it has been.