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Support It | Chapter Six

Working with Coalitions


THE BASICS

Cooperation among NGOs is likely to become increasingly common in the future. Coalitions - that is, temporary alliances to execute a particular campaign - can be a very effective tool for campaigners.


6 ADVANTAGES OF COALITIONS

1. Pooling resources

Coalitions can make possible major campaigns that are beyond the means of any one organisation. They create opportunities for cost sharing, reduced duplication, and a division of labour that draws on the strengths of the various participants.

2. Sharing knowledge and contacts

Campaigns can benefit greatly from drawing on the varied expertise, local knowledge, connections and networks of contacts of the various groups involved in a coalition. Sharing databases and information technology can be mutually advantageous as well.

3. Getting the message out to multiple constituencies

The different coalition partners can disseminate the campaign's message and key documents to their members and constituencies, reaching a greater number and wider range of people than a single organisation
acting alone.

4. Enhancing profile and credibility

A single organisation waging a campaign might be dismissed as a lone voice. A broad coalition shows that the campaign has widespread support. This can lead to increased access to decision makers and greater media attention. Being able to draw on the varied expertise of the participating organisations can allow a coalition to appear well informed and to be taken more seriously.

5. Complementing local and international efforts

Large international organisations may have expertise and financial resources that local groups lack. Meanwhile, local groups may have the local knowledge and ground-level contacts necessary for a successful campaign. In cases where human rights defenders are working under the threat of violence in their own country, it can be helpful to have people working on the issue in a second country.

6. Supporting all human rights

The right to freedom of expression is inextricably linked to other human rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural. There is increasing recognition that these rights are indivisible. Participating in a coalition with NGOs that have a broad range of mandates can allow your organisation to show its commitment to the full range of human rights, even if its own work is more narrowly focused.


POTENTIAL DISADVANTAGES

Although coalitions offer very significant advantages, organisations need to be aware of the potential pitfalls before deciding to enter one:

  • Some degree of conflict is inevitable when the various groups in a coalition bring to the table their own strengths, weaknesses, perspectives and personalities.
  • Managing a coalition can be challenging and time-consuming. Without effective coordination and good internal communications, coalitions can break down.
  • A great deal of time, energy, and dedication is often necessary to create and re-create consensus among the partners.
  • Once a coalition is formed to run a campaign, individual organisations have to surrender some control over that campaign and turn it over to the coalition.
  • Being associated with some potential coalition partners - for example, those that advocate or condone violent tactics - may generate controversy. Coalitions that include politically partisan organisations may not be in the best interest of groups trying to appear impartial.


BUILDING EFFECTIVE COALITIONS

Consider the following guidelines for running an effective coalition:

  • Don’t immediately rule out unlikely allies. Organisations that disagree on one issue may be able to find common ground on another.
  • Be flexible and have an open mind - other organisations might want to do things differently. At the same time, be conscious of your organisation’s “bottom line” in terms of the approaches and tactics it is willing to accept.
  • Identify a limited number of objectives that the coalition will work toward over a given time.
  • The coalition’s management structure will require considerable thought. Some coalitions create an executive board comprised of a representative from each member organisation to prevent any one organisation from dominating.
  • Communicate regularly and share information.
  • Share any publicity generated by the coalition to reduce competition amongst member organisations.
  • Balance the workload fairly among coalition members.
  • Do not publicly criticise the actions of another coalition member.
  • Member groups should focus on the issue as a uniting factor, rather than competing among themselves.
  • If, in the end, your group decides not to form a coalition, your campaign can still benefit from endorsements and loose alliances with other groups.


The Joint Action Continuum:

Organisations will vary in their commitment to a coalition. How organisations relate will range from total independence to a close-knit, structured coalition. The stages on this continuum are:

Independence Cooperation Coordination Collaboration Coalition
-------|--------------------|-------------------|------------------|---------------|---------


Independence: Organisations work in isolation on the same issues

Cooperation: Organisations assist one another on an ad-hoc basis

Coordination: Organisations always ensure that their activities take into account those of other organisations

Collaboration: Organisations work together jointly and continuously on a particular project towards a common goal

Coalition: Organisations have an overall joint strategy and function within an on-going structure, however loose it may be

Various organisations within the coalition will be at different stages of commitment on the continuum depending on how long they have been involved, their level of trust regarding other members, the amount of money/human resources they feel they can contribute, etc. (1)


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Before entering a coalition:

  • Are the objectives and mandate of the coalition compatible with yours?
  • Are the objectives realistic?
  • Is there mutual agreement on the issue and the approach to campaigning on it?
  • Is there mutual benefit from working together with other organisations?
  • Is there enough mutual trust among organisations and individuals to work together?
  • Is this a ‘one-off’ collaboration to achieve a quick win? Or is the campaign a long-term one?
  • Will your organisation have to give up an unacceptable degree of control?
  • Is the work fairly divided among the coalition partners?

Evaluating coalition activity:

  • Is the cooperation proving to be successful?
  • Is it an effective use of resources?
  • Are targets being reached?
  • Have there been any negative effects so far?
  • Is there a need to redirect efforts?
  • Has the coalition benefited all the partners involved?
  • Is the visibility/credit/power that comes from the coalition’s accomplishments being shared fairly among partners?
  • What lessons have been learned for future campaigns?

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