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Prerequisites for coalition building

Requirements for successful coalitions
7 min read
Last update: Jul 1, 2023

In this guide, we explain what things you need to take into account when building a coalition. Without these aspects, your coalition will likely fail.

📚 This guide is part of a series on coalition building.

Operating principles

An effective networked coalition functions according to a set of core operating principles (adapted from New/Mode’s “Embracing Networks” guide):

  1. Dynamic: Loosely coordinated by a dynamic network of organisations, groups and people but potentially operating with its own shared approach to organising or social change

  2. Decentralized: Autonomous engagement is encouraged within the boundaries of a high-level vision or network purpose. Working in such a decentralised leadership structure requires awareness of what helps self-organisation, what hinders it, and what enables coherence.

  3. Inclusive: Anyone can join if they support the campaign’s overall vision or purpose. Coalitions thrive when they share a sense of interdependence and a recognition that we need each other. This can emerge out of a crisis (where the resolution is that we need to collaborate) or it can come from the style/practice of the organisational leader (whose own experience means that they know that collaboration is possible).

For instance, the Sydney Alliance formed following two major social attacks on civil society - one was the Workchoices / Your Rights at Work campaign that saw unions struggle for their lives - and become very open to new ways of collaborating. The second was the Cronulla Riots that saw many migrant communities, especially the Arab community, seek to reach out to others. Those social movements created an environment for leadership engagement that was critically important for building a coalition that was very different to ones that had come before.

  1. Amplifying: The network exists to support and give power to its members’ actions. Members are encouraged to share each other’s materials (give recognition) and support each other’s campaigning actions. The network’s identity is more important than the brand of any single organization.

  2. Respect a diversity of tactics: Appreciate that network members serve different communities and thus use different engagement techniques and communications styles.

  3. Use care: Invoking the work of the network and its members is encouraged. Members should, however, use care when speaking on behalf of the network.

  4. Own your voice: While all members agree to furthering the cause laid out in the network’s vision or purpose, individual organisations are not expected to cross-endorse the specific positions of others.

Another set of coalition principles can be found in the Allied Media Projects network principles.

Resources and infrastructure

An effective networked coalition requires putting in place certain core elements which form the basis of its infrastructure. NetCentric CampaignsField Guide for Network Managers list the following seven elements as being critical to a campaigning network’s success:

Clear vision

A clear vision, or purpose, should set out, in broad terms, where the network wants to get to, without laying out all the specifics of how it intends to get there. The aim of the vision is not to create agreement on all of the member’s diverse viewpoints on the issue but rather to clearly state what the network’s reason for existence is.

As an example, Re-Amp’s vision is: “RE-AMP brings environmental, labour, faith, youth, energy, conservation and other groups together to share one audacious goal: to reduce regional global warming emissions 80 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2050”

The purpose therefore lies at the heart of the network, acting according to a statement of unity which brings together its members. Once the vision has been set out, the rest of the elements of the network will flow from it.


Leaders are responsible for driving and coordinating the activities of the network. Leadership in successful networked coalitions is shared and distributed across the network. For example, the Environmental Law Reform Coalition used a steering committee that participated in weekly conference calls to build trust, establish clear leadership roles, and foster accountability.

There are multiple leadership roles and responsibilities required for a network to operate effectively (detailed below).

Common language

A common language helps members to develop a shared understanding of the cause the network is working to further, helping to build a distinct identity for the network. This can go as far as a shared “organising approach” and training program that comes from this work. For instance, the Sydney Alliance, and the IAF broadly, rely on the principles of community organising to build their coalitions and actively train thousands of leaders in these approaches.

Communications grid

A communications grid is essential for ensuring free-flowing conversations between members so that they can plan activities, share successes and lessons learned and build relationships with one another.

For example, Halt the Harm opted for a centralised communications grid through its website, which acts as a central hub for resources, communications and collaboration. Its website provides an array of services, created by members and shared across the network, including: a leader directory, which members can use to connect with others based on shared interests, a needed skill, or geographic location; an alliance map, which features the hundreds of Halt the Harm members and others actively working on oil and gas drilling issues around the country; toolkits and support on campaigning and crowdfunding; a fracking help centre; a litigation map; as well as webinars and podcasts.

The Environmental Law Reform Coalition opted for a more distributed approach through cloned, individualised microsites that enabled each coalition member to continue managing their communications with their members and supporters. Through easily replicable and customizable content, Capulet, the firm that created the digital marketing campaign, was able to clone 55 sites for 26 different organizations. Capulet created generic landing pages, built a modular infrastructure, and then cloned the pages each coalition member wanted to use. This digital campaign not only addressed anxieties surrounding shared lists and assets, it also allowed each coalition organization to promote a unique URL across all their communication channels via a customizable landing page (read the full article about this digital campaign here: “Give each cook their own kitchen: Beating classic coalition challenges”).

Shared resources

Networked coalitions create impact by pooling their members’ skills, expertise, experiences, services and other resources. This allows individual members to mobilise resources they would have otherwise been unable to access if they were operating alone, whilst also saving the overall network time and money. Networked coalitions therefore need systems in place for identifying the resources, assets and capacities that reside within them, tapping these existing capabilities and filling any gaps that may exist. The most successful ‘system’ is a highly interdependent set of relational connections that allows organisations to know each other and their assets.

Social ties

As previously mentioned, networked coalitions focus on building healthy relationships between their members. Such social ties need to be actively cultivated in order to promote trust amongst participants and facilitate collaboration. For example, the communication subcommittee for the Environmental Law Reform Coalition developed social ties as members from the founding organizations worked together to test different frames for the coalition’s work. Once they landed on the “Let’s get it right” frame they mapped the environmental community to identify potential organizations to expand the coalition.

Feedback mechanisms

In order to be able to drive a networked coalition forward, leaders need to be able to understand key trends that are manifesting across the network: needs, resources, emerging opportunities and challenges, and so on. Such feedback loops facilitate continuous learning and enable networked coalitions to continuously adapt to the dynamic contexts in which they operate, based on the knowledge they are constantly generating.

Operational costs

In terms of resources, running networked coalitions requires certain operational costs:

  • Communications infrastructure – as mentioned above, an effective network requires putting in place suitable communications tools that allow members to engage with each other and with the network as a whole. The communications infrastructure can also be used to provide new members with the core training they need to be able to effectively participate in the network.

  • Convening costs – bringing members together in person helps to build social ties, whilst facilitating collaboration, collective learning together and planning for the future. Members can often absorb some, or all, of the costs of bringing people together (travel expenses, meeting space, facilitation, materials, etc.) if they see a clear value from collaboration.

  • Staffing - as a network grows, staffing is required to coordinate and support the campaigning activities of members. These staff model the new culture that the coalition is seeking to cultivate across the partner organisations. Coalitions are stronger if the staff are organisers, rather than simply logistics people.


Finally, an effective networked coalition requires certain roles to be fulfilled by its leaders and members. In smaller or nascent coalitions, a single member can fulfil multiple functions roles but it is still important to keep all of these roles in mind in order to ensure they are all covered by at least one member:

  • Principals (or lead organisers): these are the coalition’s lead organisers who serve as the driving force for shaping the network and provide the initial magnetism that drives people to connect with each other. A key role of principals is to provide the network with a powerful unifying narrative.

  • Drivers (or coordinators): these are the lead campaigners within the network’s member organisations - the people who the network serves and who are responsible for championing individual campaigning actions on the ground to further the network’s cause.

  • Supporters (or participants): represent the larger pool of network members who self-organise to participate in and implement the campaigning actions led by the network drivers, thereby determining if they succeed and setting lessons for future actions. Supporters should also be promoters of the network by sharing their experiences with others outside of the network and bringing in those who show interest in participating.

  • Weavers (or bridge-builders): are the matchmakers of a network, working to build synergies by connecting members and forging mutually beneficial relationships between them, for example by looping relevant parties into conversations or by brokering introductions between members who are working in similar areas and who could benefit from each other’s skills or expertise. These people actively translate organisational cultures - speaking to (say) both unions and NGOs - allowing different cultural practices to be better understood.

A key role of weavers is also identifying undeveloped areas within the network and working, often with operators, to strengthen them.

  • Operators (or guardians): are the people responsible for establishing and administering a healthy network infrastructure, in particular the communications grid and feedback mechanisms. Operators focus largely on solving problems for others — identifying where the energy and needs are. They therefore need a “birds-eye” view of the network so that they can see what the whole network (or certain parts of it) needs to function more effectively and use this information to constantly tune-up the network systems accordingly. Operators ensure adequate processes for clear and effective communication amongst coalition members (for example, by setting up a process for coalition members to report on campaign outcomes).

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