A guide to the Coalition Building topic in the Commons Social Change Library, including key concepts.
Welcome to the Coalition Building topic in the Commons Social Change Library. To help navigate within the broad scope of this topic, we start by highlighting some key concepts used to discuss coalitions. Following this, we have collated introductory resources, frameworks, tools and guides for building capacity in coalition relationships, resources for understanding the roles and tensions that can emerge in coalitions, and examples that highlight lessons for building coalitions that contribute to lasting change.
You can also search within the topic, narrowing down the results using the ‘Refine by Format’, ‘Refine by Author’, and ‘Refine by Collection’ filter functions. Additionally, the ‘Refine by Topic’ option can be used to filter resources that cross overs with specific other topics (e.g. First Nations Resources, Theories of Change, and Non-Violent Direct Action).
The Commons Librarians would like to recognise Amanda Tattersall’s important leadership in researching, writing about, and building progressive coalitions in Australia. A significant number of the materials linked to in this guide were developed by Amanda and are part of the ChangeMakers collection.
Everyone knows the principle behind collective organising is that when people work together they are stronger than those working alone. But this principle also applies to organisations. – Amanda Tattersall
To help reduce the barrier of unfamiliar terms within the following resources, some key concepts used in the context of coalition building are outlined below, along with links to associated introductory resources within this topic.
Broadly speaking, coalition refers to a temporary alliance of distinct parties, persons, or states that collaborate on joint actions.
In the context of social movements, coalitions can be short or long-term and tend to form when two or more organisations come together to do something together that will impact an issue of shared concern.
Amanda Tattersall, author of Power in Coalition, notes in Reset Reading Group resources #5 that all coalitions, whether short-term or long-term, have three characteristics. Coalitions develop when:
- Two or more organizations come together (organizational relationships)
- To do something in common (common concern)
- To make an impact on these concerns (scale)
See the introductory resources in this guide for more definitions and discussions of the characteristics of coalitions.
Networks are interconnected individuals or groups associating around shared interests (but not necessarily collaborative actions). However, while coalitions and networks function in different ways, they can be complementary – for example, see the resource How to build networked coalitions. Likewise, for an example of how networks can themselves function as valuable way of organising, see the Movement as Network: Connecting People and Organizations in the Environmental Movement resource.
Coalitions tend to bring together people across different roles, identities and community affiliations. By contrast affinity spaces bring people together on the basis of shared identities or perspectives. Creating space for these kinds of gatherings can be important for networks and coalitions as they provide a way to strengthen perspectives which may otherwise be marginalised due to power imbalances. Affinity spaces may also be known as identity groups or caucuses.
Create Identity Groups to Support Your Group’s Work on Diversity, excerpted from the book Grassroots and Nonprofit Leadership, outlines the value of identity groups. Consciousness raising is another relevant model.
See an account of the relevance of both affinity spaces and coalition spaces for dismantling racism on the @antiracismeveryday instagram post from 21 July 2021 (the image shown is one of seven included in the original post).
Issues Coalitions and Geographic Coalitions
Some coalitions form around shared concerns to address an issue. Others are formed to bring together organisations with diverse issues and community focus existing within a geographic area. The latter is the approach favoured by the Industrial Areas Foundation. The Sydney Alliance and Queensland Community Alliances are examples of this approach in Australia. Find out more in Insights from the Sydney Alliance
Stakeholders are those who have a stake in an enterprise due to being involved in, or affected by, a course of action. Merriam Webster Dictionary
Stakeholders in social change issues can be categorised as constituents, allies, opponents, and neutral bystanders. Constituents may be the people most impacted by an issue, people with lived experience relevant to the issue, and/or people represented by an organisation or coalition. Allies and opponents may be further broken down: passive and active supporters, passive and active opponents.
Stakeholder analysis maps where individuals and organisations stand in relation to an issue and can help identify good prospects among allies to form a coalition. See the Spectrum of Allies tool and the article Know your allies, your opponents and everyone in between: The Spectrum of Allies.
It is important to understand the different interests and strengths among stakeholders in a coalition. In coalitions between organisations, there are both organisational interests (what an organisation want to get out of being part of a particular the coalition) and organisational strengths (what an organisation can contribute to a particular coalition), as outlined in the resource Tips for Campaigning Women.
Intersectionality is a concept used to articulate and analyse how overlapping identities are uniquely impacted by multiple systems of oppression.
Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. –Kimberley Crenshaw
- For a detailed explanation of intersectionality, see Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk The Urgency of Intersectionality
- For an introduction to the relevance of intersectionality for coalition building, see Andie Markowitz’s article Building intersectional resistance alliances during COVID-19
- For some resources for understanding the value of diverse perspectives for movement building and the importance of developing solidarity practices when fighting for justice, see our section on diversity & inclusion
Resources on Coalition Building
The most successful coalitions are ones that seek to achieve social change goals (such as individual victories and shifting the political climate) at the same time as they strengthen the organizations that participate in them. – Amanda Tattersall
Introduction to Coalition Building
- Five Principles for Building Powerful Coalitions outlines some of the lessons from Amanda Tattersall’s book Power in Coalition.
- When planning a coalition, think of a RAINBOW outlines a mnemonic device framework for remembering key lessons for building successful coalitions.
- Nuts and Bolts of Alliance Building is a toolkit for understanding how the structure and culture of an alliance are crucial for establishing a coherent strategy.
- Listen to How to Win – Coalition Building, Season 1 Episode 2, ChangeMakers podcast.
- Watch Building Powerful Coalitions, Season 1 Session 5, ChangeMakers Organising School.
Frameworks for different forms of coalitions and networks
- Networked Change: How progressive campaigns are won in the 21st Century outlines how the findings from 47 campaigns gathered by the Networked Change Report highlight four key principles for directed-network campaigning.
- Networked Change Campaign Grid and the Six building blocks of distributed organizing campaigns are design framework worksheets for distributed organizing campaigns developed by NetChange.
- How to build networked coalitions outlines ways to “harness the power of networks to develop more agile, dynamic and distributed campaigning coalitions.”
- Union and Community Coalitions: Stronger Together explores the key elements of successful coalitions that offer lessons for navigating the challenges and tensions that can emerge between the various organisations and communities with a stake in a given issue.
- Insights from the Sydney Alliance is an interview with Amanda Tattersall which outlines some of the key elements of Industrial Areas Foundation coalitions.
Building capacity for coalition relationships
- ChangeMakers Organising School has many sessions relevant to skilling up for work in coalitions:
- Building Powerful Coalitions Season 1 Session 5
- Building Relationships and Power for Transformation Season 1 Session 12
- Norms, Purpose and Relationships: How we all work best together Season 2 Session 1
- How can I build powerful relationships? Season 4 Session 2
- How should we work with other groups? Season 4 Session 8
- Skills for working across difference and in solidarity:
- Becoming Allies and Get real about privilege: Become an Ally define some useful principles.
- Supporting Young People’s Activism in the Climate Emergency & Supporting Indigenous Leadership in the Climate Movement provide tips to encourage better allyship, respect and collaboration in the fight for climate justice.
- Decolonizing Solidarity Bookclub introduces a guide to setting up and running a group to work out how to put the insights of the book Decolonizing Solidarity into practice in local contexts.
- Watch Learning from the Power of First Nations Resistance and Relationships (ChangeMakers Organising School Season 2 Session 3) which includes a section on Working in Solidarity for First Nations Justice
- Explore the many resources in Diversity & Inclusion: Start Here
- Resources for decentralised organising is a maintained list of resources for decentralised organising practices that highlight the value of custom-fitting organising strategies to fit local contexts.
Understanding roles and tensions in coalitions
- The Four Roles of Social Activism introduces Bill Moyer’s Four Roles of Social Activism: the citizen, rebel, change agent, and reformer.
- Exploring roles in social change movements highlights the importance for effectively identifying the range of roles through which individuals contribute to social movements, and for valuing both our own role and those of others.
- Tips for Campaigning Women includes a section on ‘Coalitions that Support the Grassroots’ which outlines six of the common tensions that can emerge when building coalitions from Nuts and Bolts of Alliance Building.
- Movement as Network: Connecting People and Organizations in the Environmental Movement encourages organisations to choose their role in social movements (ie people, solutions and resource organisations) and play that role effectively as part of a network that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
- Understanding the power dynamics between various roles can help with navigating the tensions that may emerge within various relationships in a coalition, for example see Anthony Ocaña’s 2015 Understanding Coalition Dynamics: A Role Play Class Activity.
- Recognising the power dynamics between different stakeholders can highlight how the impacts of a coalitions’ actions may have greater benefits and/or consequences for different types of stakeholders. For an example of an approach taking proactive steps to account for differentiated impacts, see the resource A Critical Framework for Just Recovery.
Learning from past and current coalitions
- A Critical Framework for Just Recovery highlights how the post-disaster organizing efforts increasingly known as Just Recovery cultivate practices are rooted in their core principles: creating root cause remedies, practicing revolutionary self-governance, asserting rights-based organizing, demanding reparations, and advancing ecological restoration for resilience. Providing examples of these practices, this article highlights responses to disaster that build people power through unique and unified coalitions and community-based formations that can last well beyond the acute moments of disaster.
- Green Bans is an account of how the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) came to support a range of broader campaigns: actions by the women’s and gay movements, Vietnam War ‘draft dodegrs’, the Gurindji people’s fight for better working conditions, efforts to preserve of open community and heritage buildings, the construction of affordable housing, and environmental campaigns. This account focuses on how this contribution to broader social movements led BLF to became the first union to place a ‘Green Ban’ strike on a potential development site (at the request of, and in support of, residents’ groups).
- Victorian red gum forests: A historic victory is a report on the successful campaign to protect Victorian Red Gum Forests that includes an lessons from the strategic alliance between the Yorta Yorta people and a range of environmental groups to achieve both land justice and environmental protection in the Barmah-Millewa forest.
- The Jabiluka Blockade – 22 years on details the “unprecedented against-all-odds effort involving a powerful coalition of diverse organisations and tens of thousands of people both around Australia and across the world. International agencies and parliaments took part, hundreds of people were willingly arrested, legal challenges were mounted, parliamentary processes undertaken and so much more.”
- Coal Seam Gas: The Ongoing Battle is a case study on the Lock the Gate movement that highlights the value of building relationships between farmers, conservative communities who would not traditionally identify as activists, and long term environmentalists.
- Enabling Emergence: The Bentley Blockade and the Struggle for a Gasfield Free Northern Rivers outlines how the Bentley blockade “mobilised community support across the region. Farmers, Indigenous people, townsfolk, environmentalists, professionals and businesspeople united in a vision of a Gasfield Free region and thousands committed to a path of nonviolent direct action (NVDA) to help achieve it.”
- Community organising aims to win back civil society’s rightful place offers an account of the value of community organising coalitions, focusing on the example of the Sydney Alliance.
- Insights from the Sydney Alliance is based on an interview with Amanda Tattersall, Founder and Coalition Director of the Sydney Alliance, and includes insights about relationship building, training and leadership, and the organising cycles involved in forming coalitions.
- Many episodes of the ChangeMakers podcast tell the stories of coalitions. Introduction to ChangeMakers Podcast provides a brief outline of the goals of the podcast and an overview of the episodes available.
As an overview of the Coalition Building topic in the Commons Library, this article will continue to grow and evolve. If you have any suggestions and contributions to this topic please contact the Commons Librarians.