Forming a Coalition
This organizational phase of the planning process includes information and activities to help you assemble an inclusive coalition team. These steps include:
- Identifying community partners from diverse sectors
- Analyzing stakeholders who may affect, or be affected by, the outcomes of your project
- Assessing partner roles and their potential to contribute
- Engaging organizational leaders to advance community resilience
Finding coalition members from diverse sectors
There are a number of community sectors to consider when forming your coalition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritizes 11 community sectors. Use our Partnership & Sector Review tool to consider the resources and skills these sectors outlined below bring to your community. Later, you will want to tap into resources from as many of these sectors as possible to accomplish community goals.
- Organizations focused on aging issues
- Housing and sheltering
- Community leadership
- Cultural and faith-based groups
- Education and childcare settings
- Emergency management
- Housing and sheltering
- Mental and behavioral health
- Social services
Within these sectors, reach out to the well-connected. Ask them to introduce you to their contacts who work on similar issues. Also ask yourself, “Are there individuals or organizations that are absolutely critical to success?” If your priority is to buffer your community from the health effects of extreme weather events, for example, connect with community health representatives, public safety officials, senior centers, faith-based organizations and others who share your concerns. When identifying who should be part of the coalition, it’s helpful to recruit people who have had some experience in working with others on a team.
Use our Contact Form to keep track of coalition contacts.
When it comes to recruiting coalition members, the more expansive your initial reach the better. Yet it’s crucial to focus on those with the greatest stake in your project’s success.
A stakeholder is an individual, group or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of your project, according to the Project Management Institute.
Stakeholders can be internal – the project sponsor and the inner most circle of the coalition team – or external, such as those most directly impacted by community issues – the homeless, at-risk youths or elders of the community for example. If your coalition efforts will directly affect a sector or group, you’ll want their voice at the table.
Additional stakeholders may include those already engaged in the issues, such as policymakers who value the role communities play in disaster resilience initiatives, public health agencies, faith-based organizations, employers, police and fire personnel, school district representatives, neighborhood groups and more.
Seek out stakeholders who are leaders in your community. People with a track record for directing community-level activities bring influence and credibility and are more likely to stay involved over time. Prospects include neighborhood organizers, business leaders or youth mentors whom others look to for guidance.
Use our Stakeholder Analysis template to help you identify potential stakeholders, determine their level of influence, and consider how they might contribute to the project.
Engaging organizational partners & leaders
How Do Community and Organizational Leaders Advance Resilience?
Working Together: That first lesson of leadership for organizational partnership for community resilience is that “it takes a village.” Since the central idea of community resilience is promoting the connection of diverse sectors into shared leadership and action for preparedness and response—the form of leadership required is collective leadership.
This collective leadership requires developing relationships, understanding the priorities and assets of different organizations and sectors, and finding the fit of participation in an initiative with each agency or sector’s needs. Essential ingredients to that leadership are having a sense of common goals—which becomes a shared sense and goal in a local context—and promoting development within and across organizations around those goals.
Shared Framework: At the same time, effective leadership does require attending to the goals and framework for the initiative—and reviewing and generating that framework within the leadership—a balance of effective decision-making and attention to cohesion of the partners and individuals in a sense of co-ownership.
An effective coalition, for example, may rotate leadership or have enough knowledge and buy-in of the overall plan and agenda that almost any willing member can lead a given meeting—or at least that can be an important goal for coalition leadership.
Engagement: Bringing people to the table from different organizations requires flexibility in learning what and how to bring people to the table—providing access to resources, information, training or expertise, and listening carefully to what people value, need and seek in a given initiative.
Flexibility is also needed for people’s time and understanding the limits of their resources—while at the same time instilling a sense of hope that by joining together, all organizations can achieve something broader that benefits the community.
Inclusion: Leadership in this context can also mean instilling a sense of respect for, attention to, and inclusion of vulnerable populations that might be left out of leadership, but often have greater need for support for resilience—and also bringing these stakeholders to the table as co-leaders.
How this is done—and for what populations—may depend on the community. For example, it may include age groups (seniors, children and families), different socioeconomic groups including lower income/educated, racial and ethnic minority groups or more socially isolated or other populations such as those with disabilities. Having a leadership team that understands and has relationships with such populations is likely key to engagement.
Partnership: Within organizations, change may also be needed to develop community resilience. Organizations may need to release staff for planning collectively in a coalition, participate in other meetings or programs, invest resources in supplies or infrastructure such as technology to support preparedness and response activities and provide access to information to stakeholders.
This may require having an understanding of the leadership structure and financing, as well as the mission and priorities of the organization, to find the right fit of goals for organizational and community resilience with that organization. For community resilience building through a coalition, this often requires sharing responsibility with other organizations such as assigning tasks (outreach, resources, information) to different organizations or leveraging what individual organizations already have in capability across organizations.
Openness: Both collective planning and implementation efforts and individual organizational efforts to achieve community resiliency require leadership, but leadership of a particular kind. Leadership in sharing, outreach, understanding others—while keeping an eye to the main task—and an openness to change while also minding the needs of people and organizations and the collaborative needs and capacities. Respect for others and conveying goals transparently to promote trust.
Innovation: Finally, another key leadership goal is the understanding that not all is known or worked out in advance, and that new learning and innovation in approaches and activities are key for effective coalitions to extend beyond existing approaches and overcome limitations to build community resilience.
Employing a community-partnered approach
Community-partnered participatory research (CPPR) emphasizes power sharing and two-way knowledge exchange following the principles of community engagement to support authentic partnerships, notes lead author Kenneth B. Wells and co-authors Malcolm Williams, Anita Chandra and David Eisenman and others in a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The CPPR process allows community, university and health department partners to stay in close connection to understand challenges in the community and improve the research process, according to practitioners.
CPPR empowers those most affected by an initiative in all stages of research and action. It has three phases: vision (planning), valley (implementation) and victory (products, dissemination). Each stage involves organizing, action and feedback.
Community engagement is essential to advancing community resilience goals, say the authors, but few operational models exist through public health departments. To fill this gap, they applied the structure, principles and framework of the CPPR “vision” stage to plan a 3-year community resilience initiative in Los Angeles County.
The study found that CPPR was well-suited to bringing community engagement principles into disaster planning. It also found that concrete strategies “such the use of community engagement exercises helped achieve support for collaboratively developed action plans while building relationships that will improve implementation.”
Learn more about the CPPR method and design employed in Los Angeles County Community Resilience Project.
Read the studies published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Applying Community Engagement to Disaster Planning: Developing the Vision and Design for the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience Initiative.
The Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience Project – a community-level, public health initiative to build community disaster resilience.
Building Community Disaster Resilience: Perspectives From a Large Urban County Department of Public Health.
Understanding the facilitator role
What is a Facilitator?
A facilitator is a leader at coalition meetings, workshops and training seminars. They guide participants to achieve a set of outcomes established in advance. Whether or not the facilitator helped established these goals or outcomes, they are tasked with keeping meetings on agenda, encouraging everyone to participate and spearheading the process of working effectively as a group.
What is Their Role?
The role of the facilitator is to:
- Help communities and coalition partners identify and prioritize projects to improve resilience
- Overcome challenges that limit participation in resilience-building activities, such as language or mobility issues, a lack of minority voices, or conflicts among stakeholders at the table
- Give feedback to the leadership team by conducting debriefs that reflect what’s working and not working in coalition meetings and identify additional support teams may need
How Can Facilitators Prepare?
Facilitators can prepare by:
- Pre-meeting, reviewing who is attending to set the tone and put people are at ease – a structured approach used in corporate environments may make people uncomfortable in an informal setting
- Establishing ground rules to ensure participants stay on task and everyone’s ideas are respected
- Ensuring the meeting environment is appropriate to the audience – that it is accessible to participants with physical challenges and those who use public transit, that people know where to sign-in and that audio/visual equipment is functioning satisfactorily, for example
How to Select a Facilitator
Some coalitions are well resourced with access to professional facilitators. In other situations, the team can seek out a facilitator with a successful track record in similar settings. For the LACCDR project, for example, the team recruited nurse practitioners experienced in public or community health. Select a facilitator who:
- Can explain the concepts of community resilience and understands the goals of the event
- Can build trust among the coalition members and recognizes the group will achieve more when different sectors collaborate in the community
- Has strong listening skills and motivates participants to brainstorm ideas as a group
- Remains open-minded to the outcomes and report results to stakeholders without bias
Visit our Resources to explore our tools to assist facilitators including meeting debrief and contact forms and a coalition monthly debrief form.
Note: The Community Toolbox from the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas makes available a comprehensive PowerPoint guide for Developing Facilitator Skills.
Community Partners in Care makes available a comprehensive and useful guide to assist project facilitators: Facilitator’s/Co-Leader’s Guide to Running Work Plan Development authored by their Community Engagement Intervention Workgroup.
Refreshing your coalition over time
There is no such thing as a complete list of coalition members. Rather, members will come and go over time. People may get engaged and then disengage at different stages of your work. You should expect to “refresh” your coalition with new members over time. Source
To help establish stable participation, consider the following activities:
1. Identify people who are leaders in your community. People with a track record for leading community level activities are more likely to stay involved over time.
2. Determine everyone’s availability and level of involvement. Some people may be very involved at the start and others will participate more after a plan is established.
3. Be inclusive. The more people the better. This will increase your resources and impact.
4. Determine the goals of the group, set clear expectations, and assign responsibilities. It is important to set both short-term and long–term goals to keep moving forward. Check in periodically to make sure goals are being met.
5. Identify gaps in your community that the coalition wants to address. These don’t have to just be about disasters. It can be any problem that brings people together.
6. Set guidelines for dealing with conflict within the coalition.
After recruiting and assembling a coalition, what’s next? Preparing for your kick-off meeting.
“Thinking back, we just sort of zeroed in on that one word— “relationships”— how important that process of building those relationships over the last 5 years has become, and how it’s made the difference between a very successful group and one that would be floundering and looking for ways to solve problems.”
“The pride for the community I think was something that really shined bright. A lot of the individuals that were part of the coalition had a vested interest whether it be they reside in a community, they’re working in the community, or they serve the community.”
“We are volunteers, and volunteers function best with a need and a passion. If you don’t have either of those, it’s difficult to get people to work.”
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