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Coalition Building: Where do I begin? Part 1

If you have spent any time in public health or non-profit work, you have likely heard the need to build a partnership or a coalition. You need to work with others in order to accomplish goals and objectives that are greater than you as an individual or organization could accomplish.  You may have an existing coalition or you may need to begin one. You may have a dozen organizations interested in working with you or you may be recruiting your first partner to join your efforts. Join me this week as I highlight three questions to consider when you are beginning your coalition building efforts.

My first “official” work in coalition building started with an existing coalition that was really struggling to continue. People were weary, burned out and unsure if working together was worth the effort. The members still wanted to make an impact greater than their own but had a difficult time seeing the benefits over the challenges of participating. Although it was challenging, I was motivated to figure out what we needed to do to re-engage and re-energize a group that had the potential to make a tremendous impact. One of the first things I did – and that you can do too – is to ask questions. 

  1. What is your purpose/focus? Why are you meeting as a coalition or partnership? Why do you want to create a coalition?  Although this may seem obvious, it’s really important to try to go as in-depth as possible with this question. As the leader, why do you want to lead this group? If you already have coalition members, why do they want to be part of this group? You may agree that you want to address a particular disease (e.g. cancer or heart disease), but it’s also important to agree on what you want to do within that area. For instance, do you want to cover a local area or a region or a state? Do you want to focus on educating the public or providers? Do you want to influence policy change? Do you want to increase networking opportunities or would you like to coordinate efforts with others? While it’s easy to say “all of the above,” in order to recruit participants, create momentum and see an impact, the more you can clarify your purpose and focus, the easier it is to build and sustain your coalition.  
  2. Does something like this already exist or do you need to create it? While there are many grant-funded programs that insist on creating a community advisory board or a coalition, it is important to assess whether something already exists that is similar to what you want to create. You may want to join efforts with another coalition that has similar purpose/focus instead of creating something new. You may also be able to have different names for your coalition or workgroup. There have been several occasions where we may have a team or network within our coalition that serves as the coalition and it also serves as the “Community or Professional Advisory Board” for a particular project. We realized that the same people we would want for the “Board” are the same people who are already involved in the “Network.” When possible, I encourage you to find ways to join efforts and have multiple names if needed. When it’s not possible or it doesn’t exist, then it may be time to create something new.
  3. Who may be interested in joining you? Do you have people or organizational representatives in mind who have shown an interest in this work? If you have an existing coalition that you are trying to re-energize, who are the people who have continued to be involved or the people who used to be involved but have stopped participating? Find time to meet (ideally either in-person or via video chat) to discuss your vision for the coalition. If you are working with an existing coalition, meet with those who are still engaged as well as those who have disengaged to find out what worked well and what could be improved. Find out if they align with the purpose/focus for the coalition and encourage participation.

So what about you? What is one of the first things you have done when building a new coalition or re-energizing an old one?

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