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:
- Individuals: Everyone has assets and gifts. Individual gifts and assets need to be recognized and identified. In community development you cannot do anything with people’s needs, only their assets. You cannot look at just what is in their job descriptions. Look at their talents and skills.
- Associations: Small informal groups of people, such as clubs, working with a common interest as volunteers are called associations in ABCD and are critical to community mobilization. They don’t control anything; they are just coming together around a common interest by their individual choice. What groups are they members of? Book clubs, rotary, Kiwanis, softball leagues.
- Institutions: Paid groups of people who generally are professionals and who are structurally organized are called institutions. They include government agencies and private business, as well as schools, etc. They can all be valuable resources. The assets of these institutions help the community capture valuable resources and establish a sense of civic responsibility.
- Physical Assets: Physical assets such as land, buildings, space, and funds are other assets that can be used.
- Connections: Who are people connected to? Who they do have relationships? Which decision-makers will take their call?
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:
- Campaign Development: The ability to plan and coordinate advocacy campaigns including anticipating opportunities and threats and synchronizing advocacy tactics to evolving dynamics.
- Communication: The ability to communicate persuasively and use the media and other communication strategies to build public and political support and counter opposition arguments.
- Resource Development: The ability to generate resources from diverse sources to build organizational, capacity, maintain core functions and implement campaigns.
- Analysis and Advocacy: The ability to compile, analyze, and synthesize policy and develop policy options and conduct legislative and administrative advocacy.
- Coalition and Structural Alliances: The ability to bring together large numbers of different organizations and stakeholders in coordinated campaigns.
- Grassroots Organizing: The ability to engage people at the local level and to put a human face on the need for better.
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.