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Starting a coalition

How to build a new coalition?
6 min read
Last update: Jul 1, 2023

In this step-by-step guide, you will learn how to start a new coalition. First, we show how to get together the right people. Secondly, we explain how to get everyone aligned. Lastly, we help you start working on concrete collaborative projects.

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

Connecting to Change the World identifies a flexible “pathway to success” for building any kind of social impact network, known as the Connect-Align-Produce sequence. This is a useful framework for building networked coalitions because each phase builds on and strengthens the connections forged between the members in the previous stage. Having said this, it shouldn’t be seen as a completely linear sequence: for example, whilst some members are moving onto the produce phase, others may only be just beginning to connect to the network.

1. Connect

The first stage involves bringing together key organisations, groups and people with a stake or interest in the cause you want to work on. In this phase, the “weaver” role is key and requires identifying which organisations need to be brought together and what connections need to be forged in order to do so.

Here, when we say “cause” we are both referring to the social cause we are wanting to achieve, and the democratic cause or social capital that we need to build in the process. Thus, the Sydney Alliance campaigns for affordable housing by building local district teams across the city - it has a dual set of goals.

A good way to think about this task is to start from your end point: Imagine you have just achieved a huge campaign win and you want to throw a celebration - who would you be celebrating with? This cues up an image of the people that need to be collaborating in order to achieve the change you seek (even if you’re not 100% clear on exactly what that change will look like yet). This is essentially the vision of what you want your network to look like.

When you’re bringing together organizations, be sure to apply inclusion, diversity, equity and liberation principles. Inclusion means everyone is invited to sit at the table. Diversity means that everyone at the table is representative of different experiences, identities, socioeconomic locations etc. Equity means that everyone gets food at the table. Liberation means that the food they get is according to their needs (halal, kosher, etc.) and they enjoy (according to tastes, likes, etc) Blueprints for Change has a set of IDEL principles that define the IDEL terms as well as a set of values that help guide our work.

Practically speaking this means you will need to build in time, capacity and resources for connecting with groups you might not work with on a regular basis. Working together will mean more than extending an invitation-it will also include building deep trusting relationships through the work over time. When doing this work it can be helpful to take an approach, or stance, that embraces nuance and complexity.

Each coalition will have a unique context, but you might want to consider thinking about race, class, gender, sexuality and more when you build your coalition.

With this vision in mind, you can start comparing it to what the reality looks like today. Are some of these organisations already connected? How can we start to build ties between those that are not? How can we get them to work together? These are the key questions that you should start addressing during the “Connect” phase.

Once you start bringing these groups and organisations together, they can begin to exchange information on what they are already doing and build trust. By sharing such information, participants can start to get an idea of what value a networked coalition could bring to their activities in order to enhance their impact. This will become your network’s value proposition: the rationale behind why you think organisations or groups would be motivated to join the network and what you think will motivate them to continue participating (i.e. what they would get from the network). To see an example of a concrete value proposition see The Power Shift Network’s FAQ for new members, in which they outline the specific benefits and services that members can expect to receive from the network.

2. Align

When a core group of organisations come together with both a stake in the cause and a desire to work together to achieve greater impact, the next stage is align around a shared vision or purpose.

However, before moving on to developing a shared vision it may be necessary to spend some time building and aligning around a shared understanding of the situation you want to change. This was a key lesson learned by Re-Amp, which began with a year-long systems mapping process that helped the network to agree upon its collective goal of reducing energy emissions by 80 percent. The shared map also gave members insight into four key levers necessary to shift the system they sought to change.

With a shared understanding of the situation that needs to change, members will be in a good place to set out their vision for the network. This often takes the form of a unity statement that specifies either a vision for the future or an overarching principle that members want to stand up for. For example,’s unity statement is "Linking is the foundation of the Web. We oppose regulations that aim to censor links to content or otherwise penalize services that utilize hyperlinks."

Keeping your vision / unity statement broad but concise makes it easy for new groups to sign on. It is a good idea to test this out by circulating the statement to other groups and organisations that could potentially be interested in joining and getting their feedback before deciding on a final version.

Once existing participants have aligned around a shared purpose, it can then be used as a tool to reach out to and recruit new members to join the campaign. A basic form (such as this one from Power Shift or this one from SaveTheLink) and an outreach email (like this one) can be useful tools for this. Having groups or organisations sign up to a shared purpose or unity statement in this way establishes a clear boundary for the network.

In this stage, it is also important for members to not only align around a shared purpose but also around shared protocols or principles for working together. Developing shared protocols make it clear for members what is expected of them and what benefits they can expect to get in return, laying the ground for the next phase. For example, Power Shift complements its vision with a set of eight principles that its members sign up to and that provide the overarching framework for their collaboration. Lock the Gate Alliance has a similar set of principles, as well as a policy of peaceful behaviour, that guide all its work. Similarly, Sydney Alliance’s community organising approach offers a way of working together that guides alignment and is derived from its purpose to rebuild civil society.

3. Produce

Once members have aligned around what they want to achieve and how they envision working together in order to further this cause, the next step is to develop the necessary network infrastructure and resources (see above) in order to facilitate this. During this stage, it is particularly important to think about how to _facilitate and amplify members’ self-initiated action_s; how to facilitate free-flowing communications and learning amongst members; and what kinds of moments of convergence you should plan together in order to scale-up your impact.

Re-Amp’s strategy for this stage was to establish working groups for each of the key levers of change that they had previously identified in their systems map, as well as an additional working group for funders. At a later point they added caucuses in order to provide outreach to specific constituents, such as youth, faith-based communities, rural areas and national environmental organizations. At the centre of their network sits a steering committee, which is responsible for areas such as designing and maintaining the network’s infrastructure, identifying gaps in strategy, and distributing learning and information across the network. The steering committee is supported by full-time staff equivalents who work out of the offices of member organisations and provide direct support to members in areas such as media, communications and facilitating connections. See the Monitor Institute’s case study on Re-Amp for a more detailed explanation of its operating structure.

As a networked campaign grows, a key lesson learned by the The Gasfield Free Northern Rivers alliance is that it will be necessary to invest increasing amounts into network stewardship. In the case of the GFNR this was fulfilled by a Capacity Building Team which was responsible for providing direct support to members. Re-Amp offers similar services to its members through its Organizing Hub, which seeks to boost campaign excellence by providing members with best-practice guides, skill-building opportunities and hands-on campaign assistance, focused on the core aspects of running strong and effective climate campaigns.

Developing feedback mechanisms through internal and external reporting is another key aspect of this phase and one can easily get overlooked. The ability to share coalition lessons and accomplishments is closely linked to effective reporting practices. The digital marketing firm Capulet managed reporting for The Environmental Law Reform Coalition. Capulet ensured effective internal reporting surrounding campaigning work (e.g., number of letters sent and unique member initiatives) and campaign impact (e.g., what the media and legislators are saying), as well as external communications that amplified the impact of the campaign. Effective reporting practices will look different based on the coalition’s resources and needs. The important thing is to establish a realistic process that ensures consistent internal and external reporting. Below, we explain in further detail how to achieve this.

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