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Coalition Building: Where do I begin? Part 2

Last week, we focused on answering three questions to ask if you are beginning – or restarting coalition building. If you still decide that it’s time to start – or restart a coalition after answering those questions, then there are three more questions to consider.  Even if you have been leading a coalition for a while, it’s important to periodically ask these three questions in order to meet the expectations of your staff, coalition and funders.

  1. What resources are available to support your work? Including staff time.  If you are beginning this work, you may only have one or two staff. You may only have part-time or contract staff. You may have a small travel budget or some support for infrastructure. It’s important to assess current resources in order to determine your initial plan and focus. You can always expand your efforts once you grow; however, it’s important to consider what exists now so that you can ensure that you only commit to what is realistic within your current resources. In my experience, there are many more needs and opportunities than there are staff and resources to support these needs and opportunities. If you say “yes” beyond your resources and capacity, you are unable to fulfill your existing commitments, you erode trust with your coalition members and your coalition may not be able to make the kind of impact you would like to make.  When I first started in coalition work, we actually had more staff than we do now. We were given freedom and flexibility to choose how our funds were allocated and it made the most sense to allocate them to personnel so that we could leverage and synergize the work of others. More recently, there are restrictions from our primary funding agency on the percentage of our overall budget that can go toward staff time. This means that we need to reconsider what we are doing and what is realistic based on the change in staffing support. We may be able to find funding from other sources or we may need to narrow our priorities in order to remain effective and impactful.
  2. Do you have a plan to guide your work?  When you are beginning a coalition or re-building a coalition, it’s important to have a plan. Your plan may be a one-page document that highlights your focus and priority areas or it may be a compilation of several goals, objectives and strategies that guide your work. There is no “right” plan as long as it guides your work and helps you consider how you prioritize your work. Additionally, you will likely have “plans within plans” that provide specific information on activities and timelines. For example, you may have a statewide plan focused on tobacco prevention or obesity prevention with goals, objectives and strategies. Then, you need to develop an annual “work plan” or perhaps a “communication plan” that guides your day-to-day efforts. Ideally, the plans will connect with one another.  Even if you don’t have a new coalition, if you have new staff, it’s really helpful to re-evaluate your plans to see how they connect, how they could be revised and how they can be implemented.
  3. How are you going to know if you are successful? You may have already included this information as part of your planning documents. If not, it’s important to take time to consider what “success” looks like for your coalition. Is it progress toward specific health objectives? Is it increased engagement by your members? Is it policy changes? Provider education?  Once again, there is not a “right” definition of success. It’s important that you include your coalition members and your key stakeholders and/or funders as part of this conversation. I’ve discovered that there can be lots of assumptions about the definition of success and it’s important to have the conversation so that you can work together as a coalition toward a common definition of success.

So what about you? Which of these three areas have been most helpful as you developed a new coalition or re-built a coalition? Resource Assessment? Plan development/revision? Definition of success?

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