April 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // 2TOT2

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Coalitions Addressing Problems

Interagency collaboration increases the effectiveness of each contributor in addressing problems. Six factors are essential in coalitions: investment in long-term commitment, establishing respect among contributors, balance of power, clear communication among members, open sharing of information, and institutionalization of the alliance.

Ruth M. Conone
Extension Specialist
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet address: conone@agvax2.ag.ohio-state.edu

Penne L. Smith
Extension Agent
Ohio State University
Athens County
Athens, Ohio
Internet address: smith57@osu.edu

According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1993), coalesce means "to grow together, to unite into a whole, to unite for a common end; join forces..." Coalesclence is a critical function for agencies as they work together to address complex societal issues within the community.

Schorr (1989) states that programs successful in helping children and families offer "a broad spectrum of services and regularly corss traditional, professional, and bureaucratic boundaries." Interagency coolaboration results in more effective and efficient community programming than the sum of accomplishments of each contributor working independently. In addition, interagency collaborations strengthen each agency. Extension educators have the expertise to facilitate establishment of coalitions and become equal partners in the group.

In When Giants Learn to Dance, Roxsabeth Moss Kanter (989) states that six I's are essential to successful alliances

  1. Investment in long-term commitment. Participants come together tyo focus on issues that are so important that they are willing to work together for an extended time. Addressing a serious problem, such as adolescent pregnancy, requires long-term investment.

  2. Importance of the relationship among members. Respect for the expertise of each person and acceptance of the diversity among individuals are critical in effective working relationships. An array of public and private agencies and service providers has expertise and capactiy for focusing on the teen pregnancy problem.

  3. Interdependence of members which keeps power balanced. Valuing all participants and their contributions to ther alliance is essential in keeping power balanced. The focus is on the problem "owned" by the alliance, not an individual agency.

  4. Integration of organizations so that communication is managed. Although this "I" refers primarily to communication in a merged enterprise, having a defined communication system for an alliance apart from the communication system of any participating agency helps to keep the power balanced. Information from a variety of sources can be used to address the teen pregnancy issue.

  5. Information about plans and directionxs of members is shared. If the alliance has been formed to address a specific issue, members need to update each other on status, changes, and directions in their agencies. Human service and health agencies, for nstance, experience changes in funding asnd policy, which need to be shared with alliance members.

  6. Institutionalization of the alliance is supported by a framework of supporting mechanisms. A serious on-going problem needs to be addressed by the continuing commitment of members to focus on priorities identified by the coalition as a group. Addressing problems as serious as adolescent pregnancy require long-term planning that must be supported by long-term commitment of resources.


Merriam Webster's Colegiate Dictionary (10th ed.). 1933. Springfield, MA: Merriam Webstaer.

Schorr, L.B. (1989). Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage. New York: Doubleday.

Kanter, R.M. (1989). When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenges of Strategy: Management and Careers in the 1990s. New York: Simon & Schuster.