A collective voice


Coalitions can undertake a wide range of specific advocacy and campaigning activities to achieve their goals, such as direct lobbying of decision makers, media work, public demonstrations and other actions, exhibitions and concerts. A key role for the coalition is to build a platform for these activities, to give advice and in some cases determine which actions will have the greatest impact at a given point in time on a given target.

Some general objectives to consider:

Maximise the Voice of the Membership
Coalitions can exercise influence by acting as vehicles that focus the voices and actions of their many constituents and amplifying them. Coalitions often maximise this amplifying effect to appear bigger than they are. Targeted use of media, public stunts, advertising and diverse delegations at key moments (such as international conferences) can help to make the most of a coalition’s reach and strength.

Maximise the Reach of the Coalition
Coalitions that are able to draw on and activate their individual members in many different capital cities have an advantage when it comes to lobbying a range of countries on a specific issue. This national level work is just as important as the work of a coalition’s delegation on the international conference circuit, even though the latter may feel more intense.

Build a Unified Coalition
Coalition unity, not just a unified message but also a common sense of belonging, is very important. Bringing people together makes them feel they are part of a collective effort. It may be expensive to bring people together and it can pose challenges, for example deciding who should be funded to come, but it can be a vital component in forging a vibrant and active coalition.

“The more diverse a coalition, the stronger it becomes. It is good for people to work across disciplines, but respect each other’s approaches and ideas. Doctors and lawyers bring different perspectives to the table and they can learn from each other and the coalition will benefit from this.”

Bob Mtonga, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Promote the Diversity of the Coalition
Unity is important, but not mutually exclusive of diversity. John Borrie, a researcher at the United Nations Institute of Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) interested in what makes international norm-building processes effective, has written about the importance of ‘cognitive diversity’ in multilateral negotiations. This is important in coalitions as well. There can be many different perspectives among organisations in a coalition, representing views from the North and the South; the big and the small; from those working in democratic and authoritarian societies. This diversity of cultures and experience among individuals and organisations can make things feel a bit chaotic at times, but it can also lead to new ideas and new approaches that might not otherwise emerge. It is important for those working on the coordination of coalitions to be aware of the diversity among the membership and to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work.

“There is a logical and empirical case that cognitive diversity leads to enhanced problem solving. The Cluster Munition Coalition saw this – learning from each other, adapting and building a problem solving team. Diversity of perspectives, equity and power should be an important function of coalitions.”

John Borrie, UN Institute for Disarmament Research

Develop a Global Voice in External Communications
The ability for NGOs with different backgrounds and interests to speak with one voice to governments, business and the media on a particular issue is a great asset for a coalition. At the same time, working out common messages is also a source of tension and can take a lot of work to mediate, given the often conflicting priorities. Opponents to change can exploit mixed messages and seek to undermine NGO efforts.

Harness the Power of Individuals
Within a coalition there will be many individuals with impressive personal credentials, experience and advocacy skills. You might have field workers, experts, people with a high profile and people who have been directly affected by the problem you are trying to solve – for example landmine and cluster munition survivors were powerful advocates during the processes to ban those weapons. Coalitions often work to make sure that these different individuals are used to best effect by setting up meetings that match their skills and profiles with the different individuals and organisations that the coalition is trying to influence.

“You need to be working at the various levels – national, regional, international. This is where diversity comes in – you need to have broad membership working at a national level, some leaders from each region able to take the lead regionally, then you have others more adept at dealing with diplomats on the international scene. Everybody needs to be on-message and tell the same story, but different people should be able to carry some aspects of the work further. This is where thematic expertise is also key.

So you need to have people saying the same thing, but you can divide up roles. ‘Smoke and mirrors’ was a big part of ICBL’s success and we benefited in the CMC from being seen as the same as the ICBL, the sense that ‘we have this huge monster behind us’. You also need to be able to show success and that things are going your way.”

Steve Goose, Director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division and Chair of the ICBL CMC


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