Building Coalitions for Change

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by Adi Gaskell

coalitionWhether it’s the post-Brexit discussions or the US presidential debates, you could be forgiven that we’re living in a post-coalition world whereby change occurs less through building win-win consensus and more through zero-sum battles between people with nothing in common.

Of course, in reality that is seldom the case, and if you’re going to try and change anything of substance, then the chances are that you’ll need to build a coalition to help you.

By their very nature however, coalitions are often disparate groups with contrasting aims and objectives, but if you can understand them better, then your chances of using them successfully increase enormously.

Why do people join a coalition?

Reasons are varied as to why you might want to join a coalition, and indeed these reasons underpin the amount of resources you commit to the coalition, and what you hope to get out of it.  For instance, it might be something that is at the heart of what you do, in which case you might be a founding member.  Alternatively, you might have moderate interest levels, but you wish to gain access to any information about the proposed change as it breaks.  Or you might have but a passing interest in the change, but want to appear on board for symbolic reasons.

As you can see from the above, there are different types of member in any coalition, and the University of Maryland’s Kevin Hula describes three core types:

  1. Core member
  2. Specialist
  3. Peripheral

Core members

The core members of your coalition are likely to be those who joined at the beginning.  As such, they’re likely to be the ones committing high levels of time, money, expertise and reputation to the project.  Your core members are understandably going to be a primary focus as they will do a large chunk of the work, and take on a large part of the risk involved in the project.

Specialist members

By contrast, specialist members are more likely to have a specific interest in the project.  They gain their place in the coalition by virtue of this often specific expertise and reputation, whilst they may also contribute financially to the project.  They may conduct particular tasks or undertaken specific bits of research, but will probably not be involved in the entire project or attend all of its meetings.

Peripheral members

Finally, peripheral members are the lowest interest members of the group, and their interest is likely to be in the by-products of the project, such as its prestige or political value. They may, for instance, be working on related projects, and so it may be politically astute for them to lend their name to your own project.  It’s unlikely they’ll contribute a great deal, but they may help spread the word and give the impression that your project is substantial.


To secure change, it’s likely that your own coalition will have members that fall into each of these three broad areas, and the success of the group will depend to a large extent on how successfully you can manage the interests of each type of member.


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Adi-Gaskell-150x150Adi Gaskell tells us: “I am a free range human who believes that the future already exists if we know where to look. From the bustling Knowledge Quarter in London, it is my mission in life to hunt down those things and bring them to a wider audience, with my posts here focusing particularly on the latest research on innovation and change.” Follow Adi @adigaskell