How can communications strategies contribute to pro-reform coalition building? This briefing from the World Bank’s Communication for Governance and Accountability Program draws on experience from around the world, particularly from Kenya, the Philippines, Georgia and India. It argues that effective coalitions require careful use of communications to foster trust among members while also leveraging diversity – a delicate balancing act. Communications strategies should be sequenced according to each coalition’s particular needs and stage of formation.
Coalitions are structures of formal collaboration joined by a common vision. They facilitate shared decision making power, influence, and resources to carry out joint or coordinated activities. Coalitions can promote governance reform by highlighting issues and pressuring power-holders to initiate and implement change. They can achieve what one citizen or organisation cannot do alone, making those perceived to be weak less vulnerable to harassment and intimidation.
Communications can persuade stakeholders to join a coalition through ‘framing for collective action’ – emphasising both shared purpose and rewards which further individual stakeholders’ interests. Crucially, however, communications must both: (a) build trust among members to help them accept reduced individual autonomy in order to collaborate effectively; and (b) capitalise on members’ diversity by using their access to different networks and interest groups to increase the coalition’s scope and influence.
Examples of successful coalition building efforts in support of reform include anti-corruption efforts in the Philippines, improving water services in Kenya, and privatising public enterprises in India.
- In the Philippines, the Transparent Accountable Governance (TAG) initiative’s achievements include development of a feedback mechanism for procurement monitoring with the Office of the Ombudsman, and development of deployment software for civil society observers of the Bids and Awards Committee.
- In Kenya, building broad coalitions around decentralised institutions led to successful implementation of water sector reforms. This was facilitated by political momentum created with the incoming government (in 2003) and by renewed interest in water from the government’s development partners.
- In West Bengal, the government used a coalition to neutralise opposition to public enterprise reform, launching a broad, consultative dialogue among public enterprise managers, unions, and government. Personal meetings and transparent statements on paper helped foster transparency, credibility, and trust.
Experiences from around the world suggest that effective communication is an essential component in building strong coalitions for reform. It needs to be used in different combinations and sequences, depending on the needs and stages of formation of particular coalitions:
- Issue identification and specification: Focus on gauging public opinion and consulting with policy experts to determine the national mood, public discourse, and policy options surrounding the reform initiative. Use public opinion research methods and key informant interviews.
- Relationship/stakeholder mapping: Focus on listening to actors and key informants. Use public opinion research methods, key informant interviews, and network analysis.
- Forming core membership: Focus on lobbying influential individuals and key targets, and on understanding their positions and trade-offs.
- Demonstrating credibility: Focus on conveying successes to date and demonstrate mastery of the issues surrounding the reform. Use issue framing and media relations techniques.
- Purposeful expansion: Address the interests of broader issue and policy networks. Use framing for collective action and networking.
- Sustainable transformation: Broaden strategies to include appeals to the general public, and address social norms. Use framing for collective action and networking.