There are two key themes that run through this book and that can be highlighted again by way of a brief conclusion. In all the different areas of coalition work discussed here, and regardless of the subject matter being addressed, the issues of trust and communication stand out. As coalitions come together and develop it is the trust between individuals and organisations involved and the flow of communication that will turn a group of organisations into a powerful policy-changing force.
Trust itself can develop from effective communication, in particular from effective communication in the face of disagreement and tension. As has been noted already in this text, tensions and disagreements are inevitable between groups of people and institutions. The particular challenge for civil-society coalitions is that there are no fixed rules or practices regarding how these dynamics are to be addressed or resolved. Such tensions can be very valuable, demanding scrutiny of policy positions, strategies and ways of working, but they can also create major problems if not addressed effectively.
Many of the issues that civil-society coalitions have worked on are very gloomy in their subject matter, often being focused on issues of deprivation or suffering internationally. Despite this, working in coalitions can be, and arguably should be, very enjoyable and very rewarding. As a final thought, it is perhaps worth suggesting that communication, trust and many other elements of collective work are greatly enhanced where people are enjoying what they do.
As a summary of some of the reflections on coalition work included in this text, we offer below ten insights on coalition campaign work drawn from our experience working to ban cluster munitions:
1. Believe change is possible
Even when critics and mainstream observers say the task is impossible, including your allies, it’s crucial to have leadership that truly believes the goal is achievable and necessary. Without this it’s hard to succeed. In early 2006 few people believed a ban on clusters was possible, or even a specific law restricting their use. Less than three years later there was a global ban treaty signed by 94 countries.
2. Be ready
When progress is difficult use the time wisely to build the strength and reach of the network and to strengthen the coalition’s evidence and arguments. The CMC doubled its membership between 2003-2006 and doubled it again from 2007-2008. A number of key reports were produced by coalition members in the 2005-2006 period. Informal meetings also took place between key players on the NGO, state and international organisation side in early 2006. This helped to build a community of practice.
Take full advantage of opportunities when they arise. The Belgian national ban on cluster munitions in 2005-06 and the use of cluster munitions in Lebanon in 2006 saw significant mobilisation by campaigners, media, parliamentarians and researchers.
3. Move fast and make it inevitable
Once the opportunity arises, move fast and keep up the momentum. Having an external deadline can help keep up the pace. This helps maintain a sense of humanitarian urgency: the CMC did not want to spend years in negotiations while people were being killed and injured.
The period from the Lebanon conflict to the adoption of the treaty was less than two years. The Oslo Declaration contained a deadline of 2008 to “conclude” a treaty, this was controversial, but very important. With momentum on your side you can foster a sense of the inevitability of the outcome.
4. Dominate the data
NGOs provided a lot of information on the humanitarian harm from cluster munitions. In contrast states produced very little information. In particular states and others failed to provide a case for the military necessity of cluster munitions.
NGOs became seen as authoritative. Many countries came to the CMC for advice in the negotiations because the NGOs’ interests were recognised as humanitarian. It was also important not to overstate the case, a conservative picture of the problem was bad enough.
5. Set the terms of the debate
It is not always necessary to win an argument you are presented with; it can be better to reframe the problem in a way that gives you the upper hand.
The CMC managed to push the burden of proof onto governments that sought to continue using cluster munitions or to exempt certain types from prohibition. So after many years of assertions that cluster munitions were vital weapons, the CMC started to call for evidence to back up these claims – very little if any was provided. Similarly the CMC called for evidence gathered by users that would allow them to understand the humanitarian problems being caused – again little if any was forthcoming.
Where discussions had previously been dominated by the framework of international humanitarian law, the CMC managed to reframe issues in terms of the ‘unacceptable harm’ that cluster munitions cause and the responsibility to adopt a position of precaution in the face of such harm.
6. Constant focus on the human impact
Part of reframing the debate was to move beyond the legal framing of balancing humanitarian and military considerations. Instead we wanted to portray the human suffering as unacceptable.
We maintained a human focus in our arguments, communications, representatives, and materials. This helped us to keep the standard high and challenge others to reach it, rather than lowering the bar to allow others to meet it.
7. Leadership from those directly affected
Individual survivors spoke out on behalf of the campaign and helped to motivate people inside the campaign. Handicap International, through the Ban Advocates, Survivor Corps and others did a lot of work to provide a support network, training and follow up to facilitate this important participation.
Survivors and affected states helped change minds and win arguments. A meeting in Belgrade for states affected by cluster munitions was an important moment in the diplomatic process.
8. A powerful coalition
Build a powerful coalition by being:
- Coordinated: have a common message that every member wants to promote based on their own values and interests. CMC ensured that messages to key partners and external audiences were carefully coordinated.
- Diverse: across regions, linguistic groups, cultures, interest groups, gender balance, etc. CMC has around 400 organisations in 100 countries
- Inclusive: listen to the voices of the members; have a link between the membership and the governance / leadership; be driven by the members. During the negotiations in 2008, the CMC Steering Committee had 13 organisations from membership, took a hands on approach and was the decision making body for the coalition.
- ‘Affiliative’: leadership should foster a sense of belonging by understanding the interests, approaches and contexts of members, promoting shared interests, rather than laying down the approach all members must follow. CMC had a centralised and neutral staff that did not represent one particular coalition member but promoted the interests of the coalition.
- Cooperative: coalitions should share the work and use the skills of the different member organisations and individuals. In the final negotiations in Dublin, the CMC had regional facilitators and thematic facilitators to coordinate the lobbying. CMC held workshops and campaign meetings facilitated by campaigners throughout the various meetings in the diplomatic process.
9. Foster strategic partnerships
CMC worked with a strong group of key individuals from states and international organisations early on, in particular with Norway and UNDP. These relationships were very close, sharing information on a regular basis, ensuring a coordinated approach to problems and opportunities. Relationships also existed with key political leaders and these relationships helped political leaders to take risks.
CMC also had strong partnerships with key regional players like Zambia, Mexico, Indonesia, New Zealand, as well as affected countries such as Lao PDR and Lebanon. CMC forged partnerships with parliamentarians, faith leaders, academics, journalists, and other interest groups. It was also recognised that individuals, personalities and relationships were sometimes more important than the policies and institutional mandates.
10. Do a lot with a little
During the negotiations CMC built up its credentials as a major international campaign. CMC was not a mass grass roots movement though. One good contact with a strong relationship in a key country can be more important than a big public campaign in that country – the value comes from all of these contacts working together.
Strategic media work that targets decision makers at key moments will amplify the campaign and make pressure felt. During the final negotiations in Dublin there was a media and advertising campaign fostering a sense amongst delegates that the cluster munition issue was the most important one in town.
“One additional thing mentioned by almost all of those who felt they participated in a successful campaign was the importance of high levels of trust. This often comes from individuals who have worked closely with each other for many years. The importance of having a close-knit group at the centre of a campaign cannot be overestimated.”
Brendan Cox, Campaigning for International Justice, p.41. May 2011