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What Is a Coalition Anyway?

question2I 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.

Coalitions hands

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-community-garden-introlimited 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.