Coalition 101: What coalitions are and how they work

We find that a lot of people aren’t sure what coalitions are and how they work, and the word can even be intimidating. Because of this issue, we use words like “group of concerned citizens” instead of coalition.

So what exactly is a coalition?

A coalition focuses on a specific geographic area and is a community-based organization of concerned citizens that are working together for a common goal. In the case of Next Step’s three coalitions, their goal is to prevent underage drinking, marijuana use, and prescription drug abuse. The coalitions are funded by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

The state decided to slowly step back from funding prevention specialists that work in schools giving presentations on substance abuse, and they started funding coalitions. Coalitions work to make changes at the environmental level. The idea is, if fish in a pond keep dying, you don’t just look at each individual fish to figure out what’s wrong, you look at the water (their environment) that is causing them to die. Each coalition focuses on the environmental problems in their communities that are causing teens to abuse substances. After the coalitions identify the problems and causes, they come together as a community to address the problems with evidence-based strategies.

Often, community problems are too large and complex for any one person or agency to try and fix. In those circumstances, putting together a coalition of organizations and individuals with a passion for the cause can be the most effective strategy for addressing the issue at hand. Coalitions look to bring different groups together (law enforcement, health professionals, school worker, parents, government officials, etc.) to see how everyone can collectively use their resources to address a community problem.

Coalition’s goals vary by individual coalitions, but they often contain elements of one or more of the following:

  • Influencing or developing public policy, usually around a specific issue.
  • Changing people’s behavior.
  • Building a healthy community. This term generally refers both to the community’s physical health and its social and psychological health.

Who should join a coalition?

The broader the membership of a coalition, the better. However, there are certain people and groups whose presence on a coalition is essential.

Stakeholders (concerned citizens)

Stakeholders are the life of a coalition and are made up of two main groups:

  • Those most affected by the issue. For our coalitions, those are people who have been personally affected by substance abuse or they are close to someone who they’ve seen struggle with substance abuse.
  • Formal and informal helpers, those charged with carrying out community functions related to the issue, and others affected by what the coalition might do. Those who may be directly or indirectly involved in the results of the coalition initiatives. They are other community agencies, law enforcement, health professionals, school worker, concerned citizens, parents, etc.

Community opinion leaders

A coalition will be much more effective if they are working with those who can influence large numbers of people. They are clergy, business or civic leaders, religious leaders, or other people who are highly credible in the community.

Policy makers

The participation of local political leaders, state representatives, and others in policy-making positions will add credibility to the coalition and increase c chances that the coalition can actually influence policy in their area.

Our Coalitions

We have three coalitions that cover 13 East Texas counties. Let us know if you want to join one!