A community partnership or “coalition” is a group of local partners who work together to solve shared problems impacting multiple sectors. The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) defines a coalition as a cooperative agreement between groups or sectors of a community, in which each group retains its identity but all agree to work together toward a common goal of building a safe and healthy community.
Why Develop a Partnership?
There are a number of reasons why developing a community partnership might be a good idea. In general terms, it can concentrate the community's focus on a particular problem, create alliances among those who might not normally work together, and keep the community's approach to issues consistent.
Partnerships are useful when communities seek:
- To develop and deliver effective strategies within the community
- To increase communication between concerned stakeholders and foster community partnerships
- To plan and launch community-wide efforts on a variety of topics
- To create lasting change
A coalition is a lot of work, and may not always seem as if it's worth the effort. There are certain situations, however, when it seems to make sense to do something, and a coalition can be one of the best ways to go about it.
Barriers to starting a coalition
There are often barriers to starting a coalition, and it's important to be aware of and anticipate them, because they may dictate the process the coalition will have to follow in order to begin successfully. Among the most common:
- Turf issues. Organizations are often very sensitive about sharing their work, their target populations, and especially their funding. Part of the work of starting a coalition may be to convince a number of organizations that working together will in fact both benefit all of them and better address their common issues.
- Bad history. Organizations, individuals, or the community as a whole may have had experiences in the past that have convinced them that working with certain others - or working together at all - is simply not possible. A new coalition may have to contend with this history before it can actually start the work it needs to do.
- Poor links to the community. A first step may have to be the development of hitherto nonexistent relationships among agencies and the community at large.
- Failure to provide and create leadership within the coalition. Coalitions demand a very special kind of collaborative leadership. If that leadership isn't available and can't be developed from within the coalition, its existence is probably at risk. It may be necessary to training in collaborative leadership top salvage the situation.
- The perceived - or actual - costs of working together outweigh the benefits for many coalition members. The task here may be to find ways to increase benefits and decrease costs for the individuals and organizations if the coalition is to survive.
The Road to Success
Knowing your reasons for forming a coalition and anticipating some of the obstacles that may impede its growth is a major step towards serving as an effective leader. While the road to success will undoubtedly be filled with both peaks and valleys, it will be your job to engage your members in meaningful dialogue and productive tasks that will allow for everyone to be utilized to their fullest potential. The most successful leaders are the ones that understand their own limitations and use resources that will help overcome them.
A community partnership can be a powerful force for positive change in a community. If you can form one that lasts and addresses the issues it was meant to, you've done a major piece of community building work.