Community collaboration and coalition development is a primary focus of the field of Community Psychology (Society for Community Research and Action, 2012). Community psychologists are familiar with the call to action to bring together diverse community residents to combine and align efforts and resources to meet mutual goals. They also recognize the fundamental values of inclusion/participation and respect for and attention to diversity that guide their work. With the growing popularity of coalitions and the need to assure that collaborations are effective and sustainable, it is now more important than ever to evaluate the work of these groups, to identify best practices, and to develop tools that strengthen the work of community coalitions and collaboratives.
The first step in this process is to clearly define “coalition.” According to Wolff (2001), a coalition is composed of community members; it focuses mainly on local issues rather than national issues; it addresses community needs, building on community assets; it helps resolve community problems through collaboration; it is community-wide and has representatives from multiple sectors; it works on multiple issues; it is citizen influenced if not necessarily citizen driven; and it is a long term, not ad hoc, coalition.
Inherent in this comprehensive definition are several important questions that each coalition must ask of itself to take the next step in assessing overall coalition functioning. For example,
- Who is this coalition comprised of? Community members? Outside agencies?
- What is the focus of this coalition? What sectors are represented? Are the right people at the table? Can it address multiple issues?
- Is there true collaboration? What does collaboration mean to the coalition? Is it avoiding tokenism (i.e., empty participation)? Do the processes in place encourage participation? Are there multiple ways for individuals/organizations to be involved?
- Is the coalition building on community strengths? Is it leveraging existing relationships?
- Is the coalition going to be around long-term? What will involvement look like over time? Does its membership create opportunities for meaningful involvement? How will the goals change over time?