Is a coalition right for your issue?
Setting up an international coalition might be a logical step in pushing forward an international advocacy process, but it might not be the best option. Answering the following questions might help in the process of determining whether or not a coalition is the right approach.
What sort of issue is it?
Does the issue affect a range of different countries or is it limited to a small number of states, or one particular region? Is it an issue that is easy to understand and one where a clear change in policy or law will make a significant difference in the short term? Or is it a multi-faceted issue that will require a range of policy changes across government agencies and different countries and over a long period of time? These factors will affect how easy it is to attract partners among civil society organisations and to forge relationships with governments and media. This is not to say that complex issues cannot be worked on through coalitions, but they will require different approaches in order to cut through that complexity.
Is there a demand for work on this issue?
It is important to consider the motivation towards collective work. Would the coalition fill a perceived gap in NGO advocacy and effectiveness? That is to say, do the key players on the NGO side feel pressure to be more effective? Is this pressure coming from within the NGO sector or from one or more governments or international organisations?
Will a coalition be stronger than the sum of its parts?
Generally the purpose of establishing a coalition is to make it possible for NGOs to exert maximum influence in achieving their targets. So it’s important to consider whether pressure is going to be stronger with NGOs acting with a collective identity or as individual organisations. Will it be possible to agree on a collective position and clear message? Will some NGOs be concerned that their own identity and visibility could be diluted by the emergence of a collective identity?
Who are the potential partners?
Sometimes a coalition emerges almost organically when a group of individuals from different organisations decide they want to normalise their existing close collaboration and working relationships. Sometimes the process to build a coalition is driven by the recognition that a new structure is needed in order to overcome the status quo. So it’s important to look at who is doing what. Who is already committed and working on the issue? What are the relationships like and how do the different personalities interact? If there are already tensions among NGOs that have been working on an issue for some time, could an effort to work in coalition get bogged down in internal problems – or would it provide a mechanism to overcome them?
“The fundamental dilemma of coalitions is relative firepower vs. nimbleness. Coalitions can take too much time! Every coalition means another email list serv. It is lots and lots of work.”
Anthea Lawson, Global Witness