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Coalitions have emerged as an effective and impactful vehicle to bring diverse sets of organizations and stakeholders to the table, leverage collective resources, and coordinate action across program, community-based, organizational, and advocacy activities to achieve a common goal.

What is a Coalition?

Butterfoss and Kegler, along with other scholars and practitioners, have helped to synthesize the field of research and work focused on coalitions as a key community-building practice. They define coalitions as “formal, long-term collaborations that are composed of diverse organizations, factions, or constituents that agree to work together to achieve a common goal.”


While coalitions differ in size, scope, composition, structure, and function, they often share common characteristics, such as:

  • bringing diverse people and organizations together;

  • bringing focus to a community issue by identifying solutions;

  • being action oriented;

  • leveraging or pooling resources to enhance solutions and outcomes; and

  • achieving impacts that no single entity could create alone.


However, building strong and effective coalitions takes time and intention to do in ways that are equitable, inclusive, respectful of each member’s contributions and roles, and centered on the participation and role of those most impacted by inequity in the structure and internal processes. Questions around how power is shared and distributed must be considered, along with appropriate roles and processes for consensus or agreement around priority strategies and actions. This involves an ongoing and iterative process, with specific attention to equity and how it is operationalized in coalition structures and processes — from coalition formation, membership, leadership roles, governance, and decision-making processes to quality improvement and evaluation methods.


Shared governance is a central feature of effective, equitable coalitions, and refers to the extent to which the decision-making processes of a coalition fully include the voices and perspectives of community members who are most impacted by an issue. Drawing from the nursing practice world, shared governance is defined as “shared decision-making based on the principles of partnership, equity, accountability, and ownership. […] This model empowers all members… to have a voice in decision-making, thus encouraging diverse and creative input that will help advance… the missions of the organization” (Chapter 1, Shared Governance, 2006).

"Coalitions are formal, long-term collaborations that are composed of diverse organizations, factions, or constituents that agree to work together to achieve a common goal."



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In Fort Worth, Texas, Early Learning Alliance’s (ELA’s) intentional approach to governance is one of the keys to its success. Each of the initial 28 organizational members of ELA signed a Letter of Commitment and made a financial contribution to the Alliance based on the organization’s budget, establishing a commitment to the work. ELA is adopting rules/bylaws to identify how decisions will be made while allowing for differences of opinion on issues and positions among the members. For example, an ELA position statement is signed by the Alliance with supporting partners listed, allowing partners to opt-in or opt-out.

Why Coalitions?

Coalitions are effective in solidifying partnerships, fostering collaborations, and aligning action across members. Coalitions that bring together a diverse group of stakeholders — not just agencies and professionals but also residents and community members — can lead to a range of health and capacity-building benefits, including the following:

  • Exchanging knowledge, information, resources, and skills

  • Mobilizing diverse stakeholders, strengths, assets, and strategies

  • Building community buy-in, trust, and transparent communications processes

  • Establishing credibility among community agencies and sectors

  • Sharing costs and risks associated with an effort

  • Aligning efforts and minimizing duplication

  • Advocating for policy and systems change by building public awareness/will around a relevant policy issue


Along with other authors, Butterfoss and Kegler have written extensively on coalitions, through their theory of community coalitions. Check out their chapter, “A Coalition Model for Community Action,” included in Minkler’s (Ed) anthology, Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare.

Featured Tools and Resources

Highlighted below are some useful resources and tools to help your community build a deeper understanding of coalitions, the stages of coalition development, and best practices for building effective coalitions.


  • A Coalition Model for Community Action” (Frances Butterfoss and Michelle Kegler, in Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare, Ed. Minkler, Rutgers University Press, 2012): Butterfoss and Kegler propose a framework for understanding coalitions through a theory of community coalitions. This includes how coalitions and collaboration is defined, types of coalitions, benefits of coalitions, as well as the stages of coalition development.

  • The Tension of Turf: Making It Work for the Coalition (Prevention Institute): The Tension of Turf is the companion tool to Prevention Institute's coalition-building guide, Developing Effective Coalitions: An Eight Step Guide. “Turf-ism” can be defined as non-cooperation or conflict between organizations with seemingly common goals or interests. Whether over resources, recognition, or control, turf struggles can threaten coalition vitality. The Tension of Turf was developed as a tool to help practitioners working within coalitions to identify, address, and manage turf issues. It also offers practical support for skillfully managing the dynamic tension that commonly arises when people collaborate.

  • Developing Effective Coalitions: An Eight Step Guide (Prevention Institute): This paper offers an eight-step guide to building effective coalitions. Though written from the perspective of an organization considering initiating and leading a coalition, it can be helpful to anyone eager to strengthen a coalition effort.

  • Maintaining Effective Community Coalitions (Chuck McKetney and Julie Freestone): For 20 years, community-based health coalitions have been an integral part of the Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) strategy to improve community health. With two decades of experience and insight and the results of a recent survey from 100 members of 14 coalitions, this report provides useful, practical information on running efficient coalitions, evaluating coalition work, and knowing when to end a coalition.

  • What Makes an Effective Coalition? Evidence-Based Indicators of Success (TCC Group Team): To explore how to increase the value of coalitions, this paper examines the questions, “What are coalitions?” and “How can we monitor their progress and effectiveness?” Part I of the paper presents a basic framework for defining and understanding coalitions. Part II uses the lens of assessment/evaluation to explore what we know about successful coalition members, coalition capacity, and coalition outcomes and impact.

  • Health Equity in Focus: Building Diverse Coalitions for Policy Change: Lessons from Oral Health Campaigns (Community Catalyst): By building a system of advocacy and forming broad-based multi-stakeholder coalitions, consumer health advocates can increase their credibility within the community, impact change, and lay the groundwork for future campaigns. This article highlights practices that have been increasingly effective in advancing the Dental Access Project’s campaigns.

  • Introduction: The concept behind shared governance (in Shared Governance: A Practical Approach to Reshaping Nursing Practice): This chapter defines the four primary principles of shared governance: partnership, equity, accountability, and ownership. It compares two professional nursing practice models and describes the role of relational partnerships in shared governance.

  • Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Process for Planning and Implementation (Racial Equity Tools): This tip sheet focuses on four issues related to equitable planning and implementation: decision making, process issues, practices, and accountability. The tips included in this resource apply to a wide variety of group processes, including coalitions, collaborations, system interactions, and dialogue processes.


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