What's in a Name? Defining a Coalition
In the field of public health and community organizing, we talk a lot about coalitions and coalition-building. What exactly is a coalition?
Coalitions often go by many names - they can be called task forces, alliances, working groups, commissions, or councils. And while there is no singular definition, most coalitions share a number of defining characteristics regardless of what they are called.
Simply put, a coalition is an alliance or cooperation between individuals or groups that share a common vision or goal in regards to a specific policy outcome. These alliances tend to have the overarching vision of improving community health, either locally or on a larger scale (e.g. national coalitions), and can focus on a range of topics from increasing access to healthcare, advocating for affordable housing, to reducing stigma around substance use disorder. A coalition may find long-term sustainability, or its members may come together, accomplish their goal, and disband. The longevity of a coalition is often based on the scope of the coalition’s mission and vision.
What sets coalitions apart from nonprofits, community groups, and advocacy groups really lies in the core makeup of the coalition. They often bring together a mix of community residents, folks from the private and public sectors, and other stakeholders invested in their mission and vision. A defining element of a coalition is the involvement of the groups of people that are directly impacted by the issue coalition members are seeking to improve or change.
Coalitions offer a variety of potential advantages for advancing public health of communities over groups working independently for many reasons. Because of the breadth of people they bring to the table, coalitions can achieve more widespread reach within a community because they can pool resources, foster cooperation, and leverage more power in the community than just an individual or an independent entity would be able to do.
In summary, a coalition in the field of public health is a group of people or organizations that are working to improve community health with a health equity lens. The work they do is essential, bringing together groups and individuals doing similar work and allowing for a more cohesive and effective effort.
Interested in learning more?
Click here to read the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s guidelines for coalitions; and
Explore this toolkit on coalitions and coalition building from The Community Toolbox.
And don’t forget to add or update your coalition in our MA Coalition Database!