Coalitions as Social Change Agents

Maria Roberts-DeGennaro & Terry Mizrahi. The Handbook of Community Practic. Editor: Marie Weil. Sage Publications. 2005.

Central to community practice is a fundamental understanding of social change and the strategies relevant to effecting change (Meenaghan & Gibbons, 2000). Coalition building is a strategy for social action that can bring together diverse organizations to advocate for reform in the structural arrangements for delivering and accessing health care, education, social welfare, and other human services. In addition, coalitions can influence political, social, and economic forces that affect the development of policies and services. In advocating for social change, coalitions orchestrate a diverse range of tactics and techniques from consensus to conflict.

In this chapter, the concept of social change is viewed from the perspective of a progressive agenda, in which change is directed at achieving social and economic justice that fosters the humanistic values of equity and fairness. The authors make several assumptions regarding the outcomes of coalition building. First, coalitions engage people in identifying common concerns. Second, coalitions collectively build a shared sense of public activism and challenge the structures that oppress and disempower communities. Third, this social change orientation emphasizes a commitment not only to changing the structure of health and human services, but also to the values of mutual responsibility, diversity, and democratic decision making. Finally, as social change agents, coalitions strive to improve the condition of the oppressed and the disadvantaged, as well as advocate for social and economic justice (Mizrahi & Rosenthal, 2001; Roberts-DeGennaro, 2001a).

Changing culturally entrenched structures of prejudice and discrimination is a paramount focus in social change activities. The success of a coalition to effect broad change depends to a great extent on its efforts to break down these barriers. For example, coalitions that were formed to address the burning of churches document the importance of speaking out against hate crimes and making an ethical commitment to respecting human equality and diversity (Carter, 2000).

A variety of religious, economic, and political strategies are used by coalitions to advocate for social justice. Single community-based efforts often are not large enough to challenge the enormous power of corporate capital or centralized government (Fisher, 1995). Thus, coalitions need to support and mobilize diverse elements in their communities and strengthen the belief in their own efficacy to advocate successfully for improving social, economic, and community conditions.

This chapter focuses on the definition, activities, roles, and components of organizational coalitions as successful change agents. To further our understanding of coalition behavior, we suggest action theory as a useful approach for examining the development of the roles and activities of a coalition, as it engages in social action and social change (Parsons, 1951; Parsons & Shils, 1951). Along with this theoretical perspective, four components of social action coalitions are presented to provide a conceptual framework for analyzing interorganizational dynamics.

The primary assumption in this chapter is that coalitions can advocate for structural changes in the social system as well as promote values that support community involvement in the planning and delivery of equitable and comprehensive services. As coalitions engage in social action in the new millennium, technology will become an increasingly important tool in designing and implementing change tactics.

The Nature of Organizational Coalitions

A coalitions is defined as an interacting group of organizational actors who (a) agree to pursue a common goal, (b) coordinate their resources in attempting to achieve this goal, and (c) adopt a common strategy in pursuing it (Roberts-DeGennaro, 1997, p. 92). Similarly, Rosenthal and Mizrahi (1994b, p. 7) defined a coalition as an organization of independent organizations that share a common goal for social change and join forces to influence external institutions while maintaining their autonomy. Both of these conceptual definitions support the organizing ideology of coalition building, which promotes mutual responsibility and social justice while recognizing that coalitions are complex interorganizational mechanisms with inherent tensions that need managing over time (Alicea, 1978; Gamson, 1961; Miller & Tomaskovic-Devey, 1983; Whitaker, 1982; Zeitz, 1980).

Three concepts of organizational theory are useful in understanding the behavior of a coalition: cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. Although these terms have frequently been used interchangeably, Harbin and Terry (1991) suggested they constitute a hierarchy or continuum of interorganizational relationships ranging from the simplest to the most complex. Peterson (1991) suggested that at one end of the continuum, for example, agencies within a coalition cooperate with one another by offering general support, sharing information, or providing endorsements for each other’s programs. Their decisions are autonomous, and each agency pursues its own goals within the coalition.

In the middle of this continuum, coordination occurs when organizations within a coalition synchronize their activities to promote compatible schedules, events, services, or other kinds of work that contribute to the achievement of the goals of both the agencies and the coalition. However, the coalition members remain autonomous.

At the other end of the continuum, collaboration is guided by a common plan and set of strategies designed and approved by all participating organizations. Some autonomy is relinquished by each agency in the interest of accomplishing identified common goals. Gray suggested that “cooperation and coordination often occur as part of the process of collaborating” (1989, p. 15).

Other authors view coalitions as one type of interorganizational relationship within a broader framework of collaborations (Schopler, 1994). Rosenthal and Mizrahi (1994b) distinguish collaborations—which are agency based and task focused—from coalitions, which are more community based and variable in terms of auspices, specificity of goals, and longevity.

Regardless of how the interorganizational behavior of a coalition is defined, coalitions engage in a pattern of interactions within a larger social system. From within this system, a coalition generates values and perspectives about the problem areas it seeks to address. The impact and magnitude of these actions can influence the value orientation of the entire system because values are promoted by a coalition while its members advocate for social change. Depending on the level of resistance to change owing to the value base and structural complexity of the larger system, the coalition acts to reshape the value orientation of the larger system as well as to achieve specific change goals. Thus, the efforts to bring about change require the ability to think critically and learn about the positions and the “stakes” of those who control the major institutions of the social system, the agency staff that manages those institutions, and those who receive the services (Gottschalk, Frumkin, & Kaufman, 1984).

Beyond the ability to influence a larger social change agenda, Roberts-DeGennaro (1997, pp. 92-93) suggested that there are many advantages for organizations when they join a coalition. First, political and economic events are rearranging boundaries, structures, and assumptions regarding the delivery of health and human services. Through coalition building, organizations can influence the design and implementation of these arrangements. Second, as organizational representatives interact within a coalition, they are introduced to new ideas, perspectives, and technologies for solving problems. (The use of electronic communications is presented later as an example of new learning within a coalition.) Third, through the coalition, a more extensive channel of internal communication is created within the member organizations. Thus, organizations can nurture their own information networks, which encourages awareness and activism among staff members around social change strategies.

Although there are advantages to coalition building, there are also obstacles and constraints. In cost-cutting and competitive political and economic environments, agencies are challenged to develop resources for emergent needs. This puts a great deal of pressure on most agencies to minimize service duplication and maximize delivery using the fewest possible staff and financial resources to provide the largest possible number of client contacts. Consequently, organizational actors often must calculate whether it is economical to join forces with other agencies, given the tradeoffs involved in coalition interactions versus the possibility of increased exchange of resources within the coalition. Sometimes it is not economical to participate in a coalition’s activities because they require too much staff time and the resources expended for the cooperative action are greater than the resources gained by individual coalition organizations (Roberts-DeGennaro, 1986b).

A wide range of issues usually affects most client populations and communities. This poses a challenge to coalitions attempting to organize joint activities that truly meet the needs of their members’ client populations or constituencies. In addition, the cultural and ethnic diversity within most communities requires a well-orchestrated strategy by a coalition to facilitate joint activities, overcome distrust or ignorance, and create a common agenda (Chesler, 1996; Powell et al., 1999; Reisch & Rivera, 1999). Trust and respect are always key elements in building successful coalitions, especially ones that seek to include diverse community groups.

Acion Theory: Interaction of a Coalition in a Social System

Action theory provides a useful approach for understanding the roles and behavior of coalitions, particularly as they engage in advocacy activities in a social system. Parsons defined the social system as one of several possible types:

The social system consists of a plurality of interacting persons motivated in terms of a tendency to the “optimization of gratification” and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of culturally structured and shared symbols. (1952, pp. 5-6)

The fundamental units that make up this social system are activities, roles, and collectivities (Parsons, 1951, 1952, 1961). McLeish (1969) portrayed a social system as being made up of organizations that, in turn, are made up of roles generated from actions. Thus, activities originate within a coalition as key organizational actors pursue particular goals that are expected to satisfy specific needs of the constituents served by their organizations. These organizational actors then persuade others to perform these activities together by joining a coalition.

To promote support for continued membership in the coalition, the organizational actors evaluate their joint activity and plan future behavior on the basis of what they have learned through their social change activities. This evaluation is basically a determination of whether an optimal level of gratification was accrued as a result of the cooperative action. In other words, did coalition members achieve their own particular goals while engaging in this joint performance?

Within the coalition, a set of mutual expectations evolves among the organizational members, and a set of reciprocal expectations is established on the basis of the initial and continuing interactions. Thus, from the continued interactions and from their reciprocal expectations, roles come to be differentiated among coalition members. A role can be defined as a coalition member’s participation that is structured, normative, and regulated as it interacts with other members of the coalition. This habitual interaction begets a system of rules that defines permissible and anticipated behavior patterns, both within the coalition and across the organizational membership of the coalition. These rules develop from the necessity of ensuring optimal gratification of emergent needs as perceived by the coalition members (McLeish, 1969, p. 57).

A complementary system of rights and duties attaches itself to the differentiated roles within a coalition. These special elements are summed up in norms or rules. The rules perform several functions for the coalition. First, they define the limits of action for the coalition members; second, they specify rules of performance; third, they state the sanctions and rewards attached to the performance of a role; and finally, they specify the particular situations or environments in which a role is acted out. Thus a collectivity such as a coalition evolves through this plurality of organizational actors who operate according to an agreed-on set of rules that have the sanction of a system of social values. In turn, these values legitimize the activities of the entire social system (McLeish, 1969, p. 57; Parsons, 1952, 1961).

The coalition’s value orientation is a significant factor that affects the magnitude of the social change it can achieve. The exchanges among the member organizations reflect an underlying set of ethics and values that influence the direction of social action effort (Roberts-DeGennaro, 1986a, 1987). This value orientation focuses on a more responsive social system with an emphasis on the values of mutual responsibility and social justice. Such a system promotes the principle of human equality, requiring the equal distribution of civil, human, and material rights and the equal allocation of responsibilities among all citizens (Tawney, 1964). Coalitions need to identify and agree on a set of value assumptions as well as establish a division of labor and accountability that is fair and reflects those values.

As change agents, coalitions assume specific roles in working to reform policies and procedures that ensure access to high-quality, comprehensive services and benefits. Coalitions seek to implement a humanistic value perspective in the delivery of services throughout a system. Of particular importance to successful coalitions are the key organizational actors, who form the leadership core of the coalition and who define and are committed to the values that legitimize the activities of the coalition. Coalition leaders also must manage the inherent tensions among the coalition members: (a) between the unity needed to influence the target of social change and the diversity needed for power and legitimacy, (b) between accountability to member organizations and autonomy to make decisions and take action in a timely fashion, (c) between those who view the coalition as a means to achieve a specific social change goal and those who perceive it as a model of intergroup relations, and (d) between their commitment to the coalition’s agenda and their loyalty to the organizations they are representing (Mizrahi & Rosenthal, 1993).

Components of Successful Coalitions as Change Agents

Mizrahi and Rosenthal’s (2001) study of 40 coalitions identified four components that appear to be important in developing successful interorganizational working relationships: conditions, commitment, competence, and contributions. These components provide a conceptual framework for understanding the dynamics of the interorganizational behavior within the coalition as it operates in a social action system. Each of these components will be briefly described.

The significance of the issue and whether the timing is right to address it are important conditions in determining whether to form and develop a coalition. Also, the climate within the community must support using tactics and techniques that support consensus building and negotiation. Other conditions that affect coalition formation and development are

  • The type and level of resources possessed by the member organizations,
  • Prior working experiences among and between the member organizations,
  • The salience and urgency of the social change goal,
  • Agreement on which social change targets to influence, and
  • The feasibility of “winning.”

Political and economic realities have a major impact on the coalition’s success. Organizations join coalitions in response to their own needs and the needs of their clients as they seek resources from their political and economic environment (Benson, 1975; Galaskiewicz, 1985; Grusky, 1992; Levine & White, 1961; Roberts-DeGennaro, 1987). The alignment of political and economic forces affects the level of competition for fiscal resources and the decision-making structure used to distribute resources and power in a community.

Organizers need to assess whether conditions exist that will stimulate both an interest in and a response from organizations and groups in building a coalition. If the conditions do not exist, organizers should determine whether it is possible and desirable to create the conditions under which a coalition becomes possible. In some instances, it might not be realistic to pursue the development of a coalition; in such cases, efforts might be focused on increasing public awareness, creating informal networks, and developing support for social action.

Second, there must be a core group of people representing different organizations with a commitment to work toward achieving social change and to developing and maintaining the coalition. However, over time, coalition members might have different levels of commitment toward the coalition and its goals (Frey, 1974).

Organizational theory suggests that the basis of an organization’s commitment to a coalition is a balance between pragmatism and ideology (Bacharach & Lawler, 1980). The pragmatic reasons for coalition formation are usually categorized as a quest for resources and power based on self-interest. The ideological bases underlying the decision to form or join a coalition include some specific value-based commitment to a cause or to a general concept of the “common good.” This more general altruism is crucial to maintaining a climate conducive to working toward a shared goal.

In the extreme, actions based on organizational self-interest, an inevitable factor in coalition formation, might be interpreted as self-centeredness, competition, calculation, or having a hidden agenda. Conversely, other-directedness and altruism might be seen by other coalition members as naïve or disingenuous. These seemingly contradictory motivations may be reframed as the need to identify mutual or collective self-interest among all of the members, with cost/benefit ratios calculated and rewards or benefits for participation identified. This information allows coalition leaders to use tactics of tradeoffs, negotiation, and bargaining in obtaining and maintaining commitment. Mizrahi and Rosenthal (1993) defined this inevitable tension as “mixed loyalties.” That is, the member organizations participate in a coalition because of the resources, status, and power they gain and because they want to be identified with a successful coalition in accomplishing some greater good for their constituency or community.

Member organizations must contribute in a variety of ways to the formation and maintenance of the coalition. These contributions vary according to the stage of the coalition’s development, and they must be maintained or replenished over time. If contributions are not optimum, a coalition might have to modify its goal, alter its timeline, revise its plan of action, and replace or recruit additional members. Contributions fall into three major categories: resources, ideology, and power.

The contribution of resources goes beyond the tangible issues of staffing and funding (Brown, 1984; Dluhy, 1990; Mattessich & Monsey, 1992). Resources also include such intangibles as expertise, legitimacy, information, contacts, and access to a constituency. As coalitions grow, their need for various resources changes. At the same time, the incorporation of new and different resources might alter the pattern of interactions within a coalition and its relationship with other organizations and groups. Most coalitions seek members with a variety of attributes and assets, because diversity strengthens the coalition’s power base.

Organizations that have a mission and purpose sanctioned by the community and that have produced measurable outcomes can make a significant contribution through their reputation for procuring resources and making rational decisions. Organizations that are perceived to express ideologically extreme positions (e.g., groups on either side of the debate about abortion) can also contribute to the social change activities of a coalition because of their steadfastness, loyalty, and determination. However, the mission and purpose of these types of organizations should be considered before accepting contributions from them or their sponsors (Brown, 1984; Dluhy, 1981). Organizations whose ideology supports equitable decision making, mutual trust, and shared responsibility are important to the success of a coalition (Mizrahi & Rosenthal, 2001).

Coalitions form to attain the collective power necessary to influence an external target and achieve a common goal. Coalitions need some autonomy to take independent action, but by definition they must be accountable to the member organizations (Mizrahi & Rosenthal, 1993). The actual power of a coalition resides with the collective power derived from the member organizations and their clients and constituencies. From the perspective of social movements, power is wielded by the coalition because the member organizations representing a collective have given or delegated some of their power to the coalition (Mauss, 1975). The challenge for coalition leaders is to identify and use power from various sources—for example, from economic and political sources—and then balance different amounts of actual and perceived power.

Finally, a coalition must have the competence to move toward the social change goal, maintain the coalition leadership core, and sustain its membership base. Leadership is a critical factor in determining whether a coalition will be successful. Kaufman (2001) contended that the core leadership group should consist of a few representatives from the member organizations who can maintain a high level of activity and commitment to the coalition.

Competent leaders must have analytical and interactional skills to make a coalition work—they must be able to establish agreement about coalition goals, tactics, and techniques; division of labor; the structure and process for decision making; and an implementation and evaluation plan.

Rosenthal and Mizrahi (1994b) suggested that the complexity of leading a social change coalition is based on the simultaneous management of three critical operational levels. First, leaders must sustain movement toward the external social change goals by influencing social change targets. They must also maintain internal relations among the core leadership of organizational members. Finally, they must develop trust with, accountability to, and contributions from the coalition membership base. Successful methods of handling difficulties or conflicts within the coalition include knowledge of, skill in, and commitment to conflict management, negotiation, and compromise (Wilford & Annison, 1995). Thus, leaders need to possess a range of process (relationship), strategic-political, and administrative (technical) skills.

In Mizrahi and Rosenthal’s study (2001), certain components were consistently found to have a major impact on the success of coalitions, regardless of how success was defined. Commitment to the coalition’s goal and competent leadership were the top two components, followed by commitment to the unity and work of the coalition, an equitable decision-making structure and process, and mutual respect and tolerance. In terms of what sustained a member organization’s involvement over time, commitment to the goal exceeded other identified incentives such as opportunities to obtain additional resources, power, credibility, information, or contacts, or even to obtain particular services or advantages for its constituency.

Other important elements related to the success of coalitions were maintaining a broad-based constituency, achieving interim victories, continued contributions of member organizations, and sharing of responsibility and ownership. Contributions, defined broadly as resources, ideology, and power, were critical elements in the success of coalitions as social change agents. The continuation of these contributions depends on reciprocity—that is, successful coalitions emphasize to their members the value of giving in order to receive. The concept of exchange is important in maintaining coalitions (Roberts-DeGennaro, 1987). However, coalitions engaged in complex, long-term social change activities also need interim victories and secondary goals to sustain involvement (Gamson, 1975; Mizrahi & Rosenthal, 2001; Mondros & Wilson, 1994).

The Use of Technology in Promoting Social Change

To support advocacy efforts, it has become increasingly critical for community organizers to use the Internet to obtain information about other coalitions working on similar issues, model community organization programs, community-based research, and electronic databases. The rapid growth in the transfer of technology and information to and from sites around the world has the potential to link coalitions and strengthen efforts to achieve social and economic justice at home and internationally.

Community activists are using technology to create innovative tactics and techniques for promoting social change. Community computer networks are designed to ensure access to technology and the Internet, create community free space for public debate and discussion, provide public information, and facilitate community building (Downing et al., 1991; McNutt, 2000; Nartz & Schoech, 2000).

These community computer networks are often referred to as “electronic greenbelts,” in which one or more computers are used to gain access to those services and to each other (Cisler, 1993; Schuler, 1996). Greenbelts form a bond between coalitions that are not located in the same city or community but that share a common interest or mutual concern. Coalitions can participate in these greenbelts by connecting with other coalitions in other parts of the country that are advocating for the same target population or addressing the same community issue.

One of the more important missions of community computer networks is to reach people with low incomes and provide them with access to information technology. This can include training in the use of computers as well as access to computers via public terminals in libraries, community centers, social agencies, and kiosks (Fitzgerald & McNutt, 1999). Thus, computer networks can provide citizens access to electronic mail and the Internet, information related to government and private-sector services, and opportunities to participate in public debates about proposed legislation and social policies (Roberts-DeGennaro, 2001b, 2002).

A case study of the Public Electronic Network program documented the activities of an advocacy program for the homeless. Users from social groups worked together to create changes in the way that homeless people were treated and to develop a transitional center (Wittig & Schmitz, 1996). Likewise, coalitions could participate in similar electronic communications and link people, resources, and ideas. Community practice in cyberspace might shift the balance of power so that it is shared between those in the established power structure and the disenfranchised, especially as grassroots groups seek and enlist allies and experts from around the world (Blundo, Mele, Hairston, & Watson, 1999).

Web sites are a strategy for disseminating information and raising awareness. Most of the sites dedicated to fighting poverty are intended to educate the public on issues ranging from hunger relief to low-income housing, and many provide information for those who need or want help. A coalition could develop both a webpage and a listserv to provide information to individuals and to other listservs requesting support while attracting media attention to the social justice issue it has been formed to address. For example, the New York-based Welfare Law Center (2004) has a Web site that serves grassroots groups across the country. This site helps community-based groups keep informed about programs for low-income people.

The use of technology can expand and revitalize opportunities for community-based social action practice. This will enhance a coalition’s efforts to achieve outcomes that support social justice in the face of well-funded opposition to change entrenched in social structural frameworks. The Internet and other telecommunications allow less hierarchical, place- and space-based interorganizational structures to emerge (Klein, 2000). Successful coalitions will increasingly incorporate the use of electronic communications as the context and structure for decision making.

Caveats and Conclusions for Building Coalitions as Change Agents

Coalitions use social change strategies to address issues and facilitate collaborative processes that reflect the needs of diverse groups. The range of expertise and resources within a coalition provides a valuable mechanism to advocate for social change. Moreover, the success of a coalition can result in the construction of a unified community better able to respond to local needs in a timely manner.

If the progressive social planning and community organizing frameworks from the 1960s and 1970s are to be reflected in the coalition-building efforts of the 2lst century, several assumptions underlying these interorganizational agendas must be examined. As indicated in the social action theory presented earlier, previous assumptions cannot be taken for granted. First, organizational actors do not always represent or understand the real needs of client or constituency groups. To accurately represent or advocate for constituencies, organizations must assess client needs from the clients’ perspective, rather than presuming automatic understanding from the viewpoint of formal organizations.

Second, definitions of the problems and solutions posed by the various constituent groups—the viewpoints, for example, of members of the business community as compared with those of religious institutions—may not easily be reconciled. To the contrary, ideologies shape those perspectives and create value dissension and discord as often as they produce consensus. Thus, consensus-building techniques must be part of the learning environment in the coalition (Beck & Eichler, 2000).

Third, various sectors of the larger social system often have different degrees of influence in decision-making processes and structures. To be sure, a grassroots organization frequently will have to struggle to have as much clout as the local chamber of commerce, even if both groups have equal votes in a coalition. Thus, coalitions that include groups such as neighborhood and parent associations and civic organizations must acknowledge and attempt to minimize internal power differences to build a strong and inclusive power base.

Fourth, in a large and complex coalition that attempts to unite many diverse groups, it will take more skill and time to orchestrate roles and activities. Efforts to reconcile differences in power, resources, and values among member organizations take time, energy, skill, and additional resources. Building large coalitions may be more effective in the long run, but in the short run, the assessment of resources needed to create them should be weighed against the benefits of forming a smaller, more easily unified coalition.

Fifth, many coalition-building initiatives aim to reorganize or coordinate existing services rather than create or expand services. Thus, if resources are scarce to begin with, a coalition’s efforts to support sharing of resources among its member organizations might not be enough to effect major social change. Two or more weak organizations coming together does not automatically create a stronger, more efficient coalition (Rosenthal & Mizrahi, 1994a; Sampson, 1994). This reality should be acknowledged to promote a positive, supportive environment that encourages continued resource acquisition for the coalition as well as for its member organizations.

Sixth, measures for determining successful outcomes are often not apparent or agreed on by the member organizations. At the very least, it is important to recognize the effect of differences in ideology, power, and resources on setting goals and establishing criteria by which to evaluate them before beginning the process of developing standards to measure outcomes.

Finally, given this country’s history of ambivalence toward social welfare, it is important to note that reactionary and protectionist politics could result from increased community and grassroots involvement to change the social system. The frequent backlash of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) responses to the establishment of social programs provides clear evidence of this problem. Although democratic participation at the community level should be inclusive and reflect the community’s racial, ethnic, and economic composition, coalition builders need to be keenly aware of the divergent approaches and means of problem solving likely to exist in multicultural and economically diverse communities. Indeed, the major initial work of coalition leaders and members may be to negotiate shared strategies and means of achieving goals to create a community with stronger bonds and commitments across cultural, racial, and economic differences.

As social change agents, coalitions can create a learning environment in which organizations and groups work together to achieve common goals. This process requires competent leaders who understand and identify what the member organizations want and receive from participating, as well as what they can contribute to the coalition and to changing the social system. There will always be different types and levels of commitment and contributions, so a range of expectations for participation should be identified and accepted.

Coalitions should focus on the commonalities while acknowledging the differences between and among member organizations. Otherwise, these differences can keep members apart rather than uniting them to effect major social change. Effective leaders of coalitions need skills in reframing issues and redefining goals and priorities to strengthen and promote participation from all members. Coalitions should strive to achieve a balance between commonalities and differences to create a shared ideology and promote social change.

Encouraging racially and ethnically diverse groups to coalesce is an especially difficult task given the extent of bias and prejudice in this country. Such coalitions will not be built unless there is a conscious, deliberate, unified effort to acknowledge this social fact. The leadership within a coalition needs to assess which groups are already committed to working together and then recognize that it will require time, energy, and resources to bring these and more resistant groups together. Leaders must also make clear the motivation for uniting, especially when groups have been isolated from, in competition with, and even in conflict with each other in the past. Appeals to collective self-interest and reciprocity may bring these divergent groups to the table. The ability to negotiate and compromise in a spirit of trust and openness is what will keep them working together over time.

Committed and competent professional practitioners grounded in the theory, practice, and value of coalitions as social change mechanisms understand that coalitions can be the important and necessary link between individual organizations and social movements, as well as the vehicles for making substantial structural changes in the social system.