Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Surgeon General during the Clinton Administration, once described a coalition as “an unnatural act among non-consenting adults." While we may all may smirk at her comment, we know there is a more than a hint of truth in her observation.
Yet, the first piece of advice we are given when we decide to try creating system-level change is, "You need to form a coalition." And if you ask “What does it need to look like?” the answer is, "Get all the key stakeholders around the table." This is not enough.
We need to ask, "What do each of these stakeholders bring to the table?”
Only if we ask this question will we be able to determine what we are capable of doing (what is our capacity to create change?) and what seat do they deserve at the table (as not all seats are equal).
I am most familiar with two tools that can help with this assessment: Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and the Community Catalyst System of Advocacy.
The Asset Based Community Development approach was developed by Jody Kretzmann and John McNight. They believe communities can no longer be thought of as complex masses of needs and problems, but rather diverse and potent webs of gifts and assets. Each community has a unique set of skills and capacities to channel for community development.
ABCD categorizes asset inventories into five groups:
A good place to start is have each member of your coalition create an inventory of their assets. It will be longer and more diverse than you imagine!
Based on their research of successful coalitions and collaborations, Community Catalyst identified six key “capacities:
After you have inventoried your resources you can better determine how best to apply them to meet these valuable capacities.
First we identify a need, problem or issue to be addressed. Then we mobilize people and groups interested in addressing this need, problem or issue. Together we develop a strategy.
However, between mobilization and strategizing, if we do not do an asset assessment (using a tool like one of these) we are missing a key step.
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