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Getting Your Community Coalition "Fired Up" for Change
By Frances Dunn Butterfoss
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Frances Dunn Butterfoss, PhD
All rights reserved.
BEFORE YOU BUILD YOUR CAMPFIRE!
Before you ever strike a match, you are responsible for pre-fire planning. Whether you are making a fire for fun, cooking, or warmth, good decisions will ensure a safe and appropriate fire.
Decide whether you should build a campfire or not. There are fire-burning restrictions for every national park, state or federal forest, and all public land. Restrictions may range from "any fire any place" to "no fires at all," depending on fire danger levels and environmental impact issues. Campfires can become wildfires that destroy thousands of acres of wilderness and nearby homes when people make poor choices and build fires in high winds or low humidity. Only start a fire when conditions are favorable.
Choose your fire site. Once you decide to have a campfire, where you actually build your fire and how you prepare the site are critical. Your goal should be to leave no trace of fire once you move on, so minimize your impact by heeding the following tips:
Gather fuel. Gather wood far away from camp and take only dead, downed branches.
Fire site. Make a small fire that can be easily erased. If a fire ring is available, use it or build your own.
Disperse ashes. Burn all wood down to ash and take it with you when you leave. Disperse it well off the trail, or you will attract others to overuse the same spot.
BEFORE YOU BUILD YOUR COALITION!
Before you decide to build a coalition, you must understand what this organization is and whether you actually need to build one to accomplish your community's work. Coalitions are complex entities that require significant investments of time and resources to establish and maintain. A general rule of thumb is not to build a coalition or partnership if a simpler structure will get the job done or if the community does not embrace this approach.
Collaboration is at the root of all community building. Generally, collaboration occurs whenever people work together to achieve a common goal or goals. The kind of collaboration that is required of a coalition or partnership involves shared resources, rewards, responsibility, and risks, as well as mutual accountability for success (Mattesich and Monsey 2001, 7). This formal, sustained commitment allows organizations to achieve results that they would be less likely to achieve alone (Winer and Ray 1994, 24). Despite the rewards, organizations involved in collaborative efforts must understand and respect each other's self-interests (i.e., structure, agenda, values, and culture), relationships, linkages, and how power is shared and distributed (Gray 1996, 59).
Collaboration changes the way organizations work together. It moves organizations from competing to building consensus; from working alone to including others from diverse cultures, fields, and settings; from thinking mostly about activities, services, and programs to looking for complex, integrated interventions; and from focusing on short-term accomplishments to broad, systems changes (Winer and Ray 1994, 24).
Collaboration is recognized as an essential ingredient of community building, although a new take on community collaboration is gaining attention across the country. The Strive Group tackled the student achievement crisis to improve graduation rates, reading and math scores, and preschool readiness in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky; the Elizabeth River Project engaged stakeholders over fifteen years to develop an eighteen-point plan to conserve more than 1,000 acres of the southeastern Virginia watershed by restoring water quality and wildlife that had been polluted by industrial waste; and Shape up Somerville involved the Massachusetts city to collectively define wellness and implement weight-gain-prevention practices in schools, restaurants, farmers' markets, businesses, and along walking routes to significantly decrease the body mass index among elementary school children between 2002 and 2005 (Kania and Kramer 2011, 38 ). The success of these initiatives is based on an approach called collective impact, the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem.
Collective impact is more rigorous and specific than collaboration among organizations due to five conditions that lead to meaningful results (Kania and Kramer 2011, 39–40):
1. Common agenda. Participants have a shared vision for change, which includes a common understanding of the issue(s) and a joint approach to solving it through agreed-upon actions.
2. Shared measurement. Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures that efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.
3. Mutually reinforcing activities. Participant activities are differentiated and coordinated through a mutually reinforcing action plan.
4. Continuous communication. Consistent, open communication is needed among players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and appreciate common motivations.
5. Backbone organization. A separate organization with staff members who are skilled in facilitation and project/data management serves as the backbone for the initiative and coordinates participating organizations. Backbone organizations focus people's attention and create a sense of urgency, apply pressure to stakeholders without overwhelming them, frame issues in a way that presents opportunities as well as difficulties, and mediate conflict among stakeholders (Kania and Kramer 2011, 40).
Ultimately, an effective coalition embodies the first four conditions of collective impact. The "backbone organization" may either be the coalition itself (if it is a non-profit organization) or the lead agency that convenes and supports the coalition.
What Is a Coalition?
In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1600), he penned: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." Similarly, we use many terms interchangeably to describe collaborations with mutual goals, even though each of these working relationships is different. Strictly speaking, a coalition is group of diverse organizations and constituencies working together toward a common goal (Feighery and Rodgers 1989, 1).
In this book, we will be concerned with community-level coalitions that operate in rural, urban, and suburban locations. A community coalition 1) serves a defined community recognized by those within it as a community (a common location or experience), but also serves the broader community; 2) is viewed by community residents as representing and serving them; and 3) reflects the community's diversity, both at grassroots and grasstops (professional) levels (Butterfoss et al. 1993, 316; Clarke et al. 2006, 15S).
Unlike networks whose member organizations act independently, coalitions bring organizations together to act jointly. Coalitions may form to address a specific, time-limited issue or may establish a more sustained collaboration (Chavis and Florin 1990, 20). They can help achieve population-level policy changes by focusing on multiple strategies with sufficient scale and scope. With a comprehensive action plan, a coalition can engage people, ideas, and resources across sectors and settings to create a synergy of health and prevention efforts that will have a lasting effect on people's health. Coalitions develop an internal decision-making and leadership structure that enables member organizations to speak with a united voice and engaged in shared planning and action. Links to outside organizations and communication channels are formal. Member organizations are willing to pull resources from their organizations, as well as seek new resources to develop a joint budget. Agreements, roles, benchmarks, and assignments are usually written.
A partnership is similarly defined; however, it often refers to a more business-like arrangement and may involve only two organizations or many more. Other collaborative relationships are defined as follows (Winer and Ray 1994, 23):
Network—a loose-knit, non-hierarchical group of individuals and organizations with flexible roles, leadership and decision making.
Advisory committee—a group that is formed at the request of an organization or person of authority (e.g., mayor) to provide review, advice or services, recommendations, and ideas. The group exists for input into decision making, not decision making itself, and is made up of professionals or citizens who represent different sectors of the community.
Commission—a group that is appointed by an official body and is authorized to perform specific duties or steps or take on certain powers.
Federation, consortium, alliance, or league—a union or connection of interests that have similar character, structure, or outlook; a semiofficial organization of organizations. Usually a central body of facilitative leaders develops semiformal links and a joint budget, and seeks new resources to coordinate tasks and limit duplication of services.
Executive board or committee—a formal group that holds delegated power in a particular area and performs planning and governing functions for a larger collective body or organization. Participants are elected or appointed and represent specific organizations, sectors, or shareholders.
Task force—a self-contained group of "doers" that is not ongoing. It is convened for a narrow purpose over a defined timeframe at the request of another body or committee.
The name of the organization is not as important as the fact that everyone agrees on its structure and purpose. However, if it is composed solely of individuals and not groups, then it is probably an organization or network and not a true coalition (Butterfoss 2007, 71). Coalitions operate at many levels—block, neighborhood, city, town, county, regional, state, national, international—and their scope, structure, and function will vary accordingly.
Why Do Coalitions Form?
Community coalitions often form in response to an opportunity, such as the release of the federal "stimulus funds" to promote healthy communities in 2009. They also may form because of a threat such as a national story about the rising prevalence of autism or a local outbreak of measles on a college campus. Local organizations may voluntarily form or join coalitions to augment their limited resources. Joining with other agencies and individuals can reduce duplication, maximize efficiency, and give organizations expanded access to media coverage, marketing services, community residents, influential community and professional networks, and expertise (Whitt 1993, 11). Coalitions also may be required by funders, such as the National Business Coalitions on Health community seed grant program.
Why Do Coalitions Work?
Coalitions provide four main benefits to those communities that choose to build them:
1. Strength in numbers. A main advantage of working in partnership is having the support, encouragement, and sheer numbers behind your effort. While one organization is composed of a given number of members, a coalition is composed of organizations, which multiplies the number of members available to carry out a strategy or support an advocacy action in exponential fashion. Your mayor, state legislator, or school superintendent is more likely to work with your coalition because of the influence and representativeness of your membership.
2. Strength in relationships. Coalition building is all about relationship building. Organizations are invited to join a coalition because of their credibility, reputation, expertise, or resources. In cultivating strong relationships among your members, you will overcome obstacles and be more likely to reach mutual goals.
3. Strength in diversity. The knowledge and wisdom needed to solve the health or social issue of interest rests with community stakeholders who have direct experience in dealing with it. A strong coalition represents the breadth of the community in all of its unique diversity. When the experience of a coalition reaches across races, ethnicities, ages, special populations, education, income levels, and career paths, all perspectives will be represented fairly and fully. Your coalition will be able to view issues in all their complexity and develop solutions that are acceptable and more likely to work.
4. Strength in resources. Individuals and organizations bring tangible resources that will sustain your coalition and its efforts over the long haul. Resources may take the form of actual funds, expertise, influence, and connections to others. In-kind resources, such as meeting space, assistance with communications and technology, refreshments, or incentive items will help to engage your community in the work.
Assess Your Community
According to the campfire analogy at the beginning of this chapter, you should know the fire safety rules and regulations, do an environmental scan of the proposed site for risk factors, and either postpone your campfire building or prepare your site accordingly. Similarly, before you decide to build a coalition, you should do an environmental scan or assess the community that your coalition will serve. Each coalition is a unique product of the community it serves. Coalitions must be dynamic and responsive to cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity, and how people work together. Many of the following contextual factors within communities can influence and shape coalition development (Butterfoss and Kegler 2009, 254):
Connectedness or linkages between individuals groups and organizations
Political climate or history surrounding collaboration, power, and decision making
Policies, laws, and regulations
Environmental, in-kind, financial, and human resources
Community motivation, readiness, and awareness of key issues
Flexibility and adaptability in problem solving and task accomplishment
Trust and ability to communicate to reach consensus among community sectors
Existing identifiable leadership
Conducting a SWOT Analysis
Identifying these factors can be one part of doing a simple SWOT analysis with a group of knowledgeable community members in 60-90 minutes. SWOT elements are defined and illustrated in the following list and illustration:
Strengths—internal factors that allow the coalition to take advantage of opportunities or reduce barriers
Weaknesses—internal factors or challenges that prevent the coalition from taking advantage of opportunities or reducing barriers
Opportunities—external factors that allow the coalition to take action, build membership, or improve the community
Threats—external factors that hinder goal attainment, momentum, or long-term survival
This process will help you to identify the community's assets and needs; specifically those of current and potential populations that you'll try to reach. The SWOT analysis process includes: 1) reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of your existing coalition (or potential organizations if you haven't built into a coalition yet); 2) reflecting on the community and broader environment in which your coalition (or its organizations) operates to identify the opportunities and threats that it faces; and 3) specifying strategic issues that your coalition should address and setting priorities in terms of time or importance.
Excerpted from ignite! by Frances Dunn Butterfoss. Copyright © 2013 Frances Dunn Butterfoss, PhD. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Overview of the Steps to a Successful Coalition.................... xv
Part I Before You Build It!....................
Why Collaborate?.................... 3
Collective Impact.................... 4
What Is a Coalition?.................... 5
Why Do Coalitions Form?.................... 7
Why Do Coalitions Work?.................... 7
Assess Your Community.................... 8
Conducting a SWOT Analysis.................... 9
Is a Coalition Right for Your Community Work?.................... 10
Collaboration Resources.................... 15
Part II Build It!....................
Clarify the Purpose, Vision, and Mission of the Coalition.................. 23
Choose the Simplest Structure that Achieves Your Goals.................... 26
Involve the Right Individuals and Organizations.................... 34
Grow Transformational Leaders.................... 42
Put Commitments in Writing.................... 49
Use Effective Communication Strategies.................... 51
Coalition Building Resources.................... 58
Part III Make It Work!....................
Community Planning and Assessment.................... 65
Take Action: Develop a Community Action Plan.................... 67
Initiate Strategies.................... 75
Encourage Commitment, Participation, and Sharing of Resources.............. 84
What to Do When Things Go Wrong.................... 86
Community Assessment, Planning, and Implementation Resources............... 92
Part IV Sustain It!....................
What Is Sustainability?.................... 101
Identify Resources to Sustain Strategies.................... 103
Market Your Coalition and Its Work.................... 106
Sustain Energy and Interest in the Work.................... 108
Spin Off Strategies and Change Structure or Processes.................... 111
Use Evaluation to Sustain Your Coalition and Its Efforts................... 112
What Are the Steps for Conducting an Evaluation?.................... 114
Expand or End Your Coalition When Goals Are Reached.................... 123
Evaluation Resources.................... 125
Other Sustainability Resources.................... 130
Glossary of Terms.................... 135