Green Living: Green Living Guides

You Can Beat City Hall
Build a Coalition

YOU CAN BEAT CITY HALL!
  Introduction
  Know What's Happening
  Get Organized
  Do Your Research
  Determine a Goal
» Build a Coalition
  Target the Decision-Makers
  Get Involved in the Process
  Build Support
  Further Resources

When groups or individuals join together to work on a common cause, issue or event, you have a coalition. It's the nature of coalitions that members may not necessarily agree on everything (and in fact may strongly disagree on many things), but to solve a shared problem, each member has agreed to unify around some common points or goals. Each stakeholder has an important role to play; there should be shared recognition that no one group or individual can succeed without the support or cooperation of others.

Despite the many policy, legal, and organizing challenges that coalition work poses for any activist, it is a powerful, effective model for winning the issues you take on. Coalition-building -- which pools resources and creates strength in numbers -- can be an especially good strategy during difficult economic and political times.

Here are some guidelines to forming and effectively operating a coalition:

  • Setting goals. The most effective coalitions come together around a common issue -- say, closing down a power plant, preventing the siting of a landfill, or gaining a say in the development of a piece of land. The establishment of group goals should be a collaborative process, as opposed to one where just a few groups decide the goals and then invite others to join in.


  • Think strategically. An effective coalition requires that all members are pulling on the same rope to create change. It is important to work through a collaborative process that determines (1) what tactics will accomplish the goal and (2) plans the execution of your strategy, assigning responsibilities and roles to each coalition member.


  • Learning to work together effectively. Every group has a different work style and decision-making process. In addition, each group has its own mission, values, history, personalities and structure. Successful coalitions don't try to homogenize these differences, seeking instead to unify diverse groups around commonalities.


  • There is no "I" in "team" Every organization brings different skills, experiences, personalities and tools to the table, all of which can become important. A coalition victory is never the sole work of just one member -- always ensure that credit is shared among all members. Effective relationships are built on trust and respect. In the most effective coalitions, all members contribute something to the effort in whatever ways they can. Coalitions in which a few members do all the work while the others sit back for the ride are often not sustainable.


  • Make it official. Most coalitions draft a document to formalize their cooperative effort. This may be through a "points of unity" document or a general mission statement. This is an important, unifying document that becomes critical "common language" when coalition members start doing public outreach.

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