How To Build Coalitions

Posted on July 2, 2013

how to build a coalition

You carefully research your topic, spend hours writing an amazing article. Edit and then re-edit, checking for accuracy and flow. You take the time to create original images or you search through hundreds of images until you find the ones that speak perfectly to your issue.  You work out which platforms you will use to share your article and then you stop. That’s it.  Chances are, if that’s all you do, only you…and maybe your mom will read your article. If you want reach a broader audience, you need to reach out and share with your network.

If you’re a blogger, you become part of a blogging community. Fellow bloggers can lend guidance, support and generally make things easier for you to reach your goals and your audience.

The same applies for most government relations campaigns. Government is obliged to think about public interest, so if you want action or attention, you generally have to position your issue as having relevance for more than just you or your organization.  If there are people in your community or in your sector that agree with your issue, you can use each other as additional resources to support your objectives.  That collective energy can sometimes mean the difference between being the lone voice in the wilderness and having the benefits of stereo and a good set of speakers. Forming effective coalitions is an efficient way to get your message out and keep it out. So what’s a coalition? Coalitions are really just alliances, unions or partnerships; they act to bring together like minded individuals to pursue a common goal. If you decide to start a coalition, there are few things you should keep in mind.

Define Your Goal: The first thing you want to determine is what that common goal is. There is no value in assuming what your partners want.  Put it in writing and ensure you all agree or you may find yourself arguing at the worst possible time…like in front of the government official you are trying to persuade. A colleague of mind experienced this while sitting in a Minister’s office with coalition members, talk about awkward.

Coordinate your activities. It is best if you coordinate your approach so that you are getting the biggest bang for your buck. If your issue is particularly complicated, it might mean taking your time and having everyone deliver the same message but each partner  emphasizing a different perspectives.  Even when messages seem simplecoalitionscoordination is critical because sending multiple messages or competing perspectives can undermine everyone’s objectives. Competing perspectives force the issue to slow down and puts the legislator, often the  informed on a topic, into the role of mediator or judge. It can also mean that you will spend  valuable time explaining someone else’s perspective.

Be clear on everyone’s commitment at the start. As you consider the likely benefits of a coalition keep in mind that while often all it takes to start something is one person, to keep things going generally requires a little help.  Having a conversation about the degree of time, effort and resources each coalition member  is prepared to commit to the process is an important part of avoiding disappointment or frustration later on.

A coalition should reduce not increase your workload. Coalition activity should reduce labor for all participants.  If you find you’re working harder than ever and making less or little process, you need to rethink your partnership.

You have to trust your partners. and like any partnership, there has to be trust.  If there is a group or organization that shares your perspective but there is something about them that you do not trust or find unsavory, then don’t partner.  Your negative feelings will eventually manifest themselves in ways that may undermine your objectives. You may also put yourself into a position of lying to the legislator about your commitment to the group, and honesty must be the underpinning of all government engagement.

Getting started doesn’t need to be complicated. Sometimes gathering people around a cause is as straightforward as talking to your neighbors or friends about an issue. In business settings it may mean requesting a meeting and presenting a proposal for common action.  While you may not want your coalition to become too unwieldy, if at first you can only think of one or two partners, ask each of them to think of another possible member for your coalition.

Stretch scarce resources through collective action. Coalitions are also a great way to get more accomplished with less.  They let legislators know that they will have a broader band of support for their actions if they support your cause and they reduce the stress on any one individual or organization of carrying the entire communications burden.

Compromise is key to success. The thing to keep in mind with coalitions is that it can’t be all about you. You will generally have to make compromises if it’s going to work. It is difficult to imagine (if not impossible) that any gathering of people will have identical ideas on how to achieve goals. be open to suggestion, but not so open you find yourself working on issues you don’t care about.

Keep it simple. Coalitions work best if the issue they are addressing is kept simple and the duration short.  Usually if the issues expand and the coalition continues to function over a longer period it becomes more of an association or society. Keeping issues simple means it will be easier to maintain consensus, so keep the common elements simple and clear.

Coalitions work in all kinds of settings,  whether it’s neighbors opposing local construction projects or bloggers working together to address common challenges. Have you ever had to become part of a team or coalition in order to get something done? What was the toughest part?  What was the easiest?