Common characteristics of global civil society coalitions


Global civil society coalitions tend to have the following characteristics:

A Membership

The basic characteristic of all global civil society coalitions is the membership:

  • A coalition’s membership might include a handful of organisations or several hundred.
  • Members might sign up to a charter with specific duties and responsibilities, or the affiliation might simply require endorsement of a common call.
  • Members are usually organisations rather than individuals, but there are often ways to include individuals in the coalition in one way or another.

A Common Call for Change

Global civil society coalitions come together in order to change practice, policy and sometimes laws at the global level:

  • This purpose is usually expressed as a call or mission statement and endorsing it is often the core requirement for becoming a coalition member.
  • This joint call is often the subject of negotiation among the members; it can be detailed or very broad but in any case it sets the parameters of the coalition’s work.

A Leadership

Many coalitions have in place a leadership to guide the policy and planning of the coalition and help facilitate the activities of the membership

  • The roles and responsibilities of the leadership vary greatly among coalitions.
  • Terms used to refer to the role of a coalition leadership include: advisory, governance, steering, executive, strategy and management.
  • Terms used to describe the structure include: council, committee, board and group.
  • Leaderships groups are either elected or appointed. Staff members are often employed to work on behalf of the coalition. Sometimes staff will be part of the leadership group and sometimes they may have a more administrative role.

A Common Plan to Achieve Change

There is often a general plan of action to achieve the global change that the coalition seeks.

  • Depending on the level of coherence within the coalition, this plan might be more or less detailed at the global level.
  • It could be a set of objectives on which to lobby governments through a campaign of global meetings, or it could be a more detailed analysis of the power dynamics and political targets among decision makers at the international level.
  • Members will often determine the best way to effect change in their own national or regional context.

A Collective Identity

Coalitions often promote a collective identity for themselves.

  • This can include a name, slogan, logo and visual identity.
  • Individual member organisations may communicate on behalf of the coalition, or identify themselves as members when undertaking specific actions, such as talking to governments or the media.

“You need to make a decision early on as to whether you want to be able to speak together as one voice or just be a network where people do their own thing. If you don’t decide that early on this can be a problem down the line.”
Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will

A good encapsulation of some of the key elements in coalition campaigning is set out by Jody Williams and Stephen Goose in their article: Citizen Diplomacy and the Ottawa Process: A Lasting Model? contained in the book they co-edited with Mary Wareham, Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy and Human Security, 2008.
The key elements for a successful coalition are:

  • Know how to organise
  • Maintain a flexible structure
  • Understand the need for leadership and committed workers
  • Always have an action plan and deadlines, with outcome-oriented meetings
  • Communication, communication and more communication
  • Follow-up and follow through
  • Provide expertise and documentation
  • Articulate goals and messages clearly and simply
  • Focus on the human cost
  • Use as many forums as possible to promote the message
  • Be inclusive, be diverse, yet speak with one voice
  • Recognise that international context and timing do matter


Loosely linked, hold common values, share information Example: IANSA

More tightly coordinated, share values, exchange information, work on the basis of common tactics and strategies Example: ICBL, CMC

Share the characteristics of networks and coalitions, but also engage in sustained public mobilisation and protest Example: The Occupy movement


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