Chap 8

The future of the coalition

Many coalitions are established to achieve certain defined goals, and as the coalition’s work progresses these can come to be embodied in the struggle for certain legal or policy changes. Yet policy and legal changes are often one step removed from the changes to practice that need to occur if an issue is to be effectively addressed. Campaigning to get more countries on board an agreement, or to get countries to implement that agreement’s obligations, might seem less exciting than campaigning for a treaty to come into existence. However, many activists and government officials have commented that it is precisely this follow-up work that makes the difference between success and failure for a global policy initiative. This chapter considers the importance of going beyond policy and legal commitments to ensure the coalition’s efforts make a real difference on the ground.

The future of the coalition

Much of this chapter relates to the future of coalitions that have achieved a certain legal or policy outcome that they have been seeking. Of course, not all coalitions are seeking a specific legal outcome such as a treaty, but many will need to think about how civil society will work to consolidate any gains they have made as a coalition. A key resource for this chapter is the 2008 book Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy and Human Security, edited by Jody Williams, Stephen D. Goose and Mary Wareham.

Managing the external perception of the outcome that has been achieved is a key role of any coalition. Beyond a specific legal or policy instrument, coalitions can work to build a ‘norm’ of international behaviour, a standard by which every state or non-state actor will be judged, whether they have formally adhered to the relevant instruments or not. This is about influencing the practice of states and how the issue gets treated in public statements and discussions. Building a norm requires ongoing work to monitor and publicise practice as judged against the standards being set.

“It’s a big challenge for coalitions to consider their futures. Coalitions come together to fill a gap, but once that gap is filled they can struggle to redefine their role.”

Felicity Hill, former director, UN Office of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Achieving your goals

Coalitions usually have mission statements or calls setting out the change they are seeking. However these goals are set out, at any one time a coalition should be able to explain whether it has achieved all, some of them or none of them. Different coalition members might have different perceptions of whether a goal has been achieved or not and those managing the coalition have an important job to avoid conflict around such differences (both in the short and long term). The achievement of a key goal, such as the adoption of a particular policy, a change in legislation, achievement of an international treaty, should be a time to celebrate the strength of a coalition, but it is also a time to ensure plans are in place for the future.

“After the Protocol was adopted we decided to work on ratification and implementation of the Protocol. But in this new phase the Coalition didn’t have quite the same focus and drive it had during the Protocol negotiating process.
There was also the added problem that key individuals left or moved jobs within their NGO, government or UN agency.”

Martin Macpherson, Child Soldiers International (formerly Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers)

What happens next?

A coalition that is focussed on achieving specific policy or legal change within a foreseeable timeframe will naturally ask questions about its future once that change has been brought about. This is all the more true when, after a major achievement, it can become more difficult to retain the attention and commitment of member organisations where those organisations face other institutional priorities and the individuals seek to pursue new interests. The structure of the coalition can change as well as the focus of activities.

Resource and energy challenges

Working hard on a dedicated advocacy effort can be exhausting for individuals involved – doing it in a coalition can be even more exhausting. So it’s not unusual for some individuals to feel burnt out or in need of new challenges once an important milestone has been reached. Some member organisations of a coalition will begin to shift their focus of activity and resources away from efforts that are seen to have run their course (even if others recognise that much is still to be done). Some donors may also start to shift funding away from a coalition once it has met its initial objectives.

Adapting the coalition structure

The need to adapt the structure of a coalition might be driven by internal discussions regarding priorities, or it might be prompted by external factors such as a lack of financial resources or a waning interest from NGO members. Some coalitions continue to function in more or less the same way, adapting to the next phase of work to see the changes they have achieved actually put into practice. Some coalitions disband and leave NGOs to work independently. Some adjust their structure to work more loosely as a network. Others might become organisations in their own right, continuing to work on the issue but no longer in a member-based structure.

Coalitions as monitoring partnerships

One of the key functions for those promoting social and political change is monitoring the implementation of agreements that have been made. For a coalition, this monitoring function can be a strong reason to continue working as a global network. Taking on the monitoring function allows a coalition to occupy a position of authority – of course this depends on the way the monitoring is done and the extent to which the actors being monitored accept the validity of the research. Monitoring functions may also be seen as valuable by donors at a time when the funding for advocacy and campaigning work might become more limited. This is true both for the coalition that facilitates the monitoring and the member NGOs that might become researchers on a national basis for the monitoring effort. When the monitoring is done by a partnership of NGOs or the coalition itself, rather than by one NGO, it may have more legitimacy in the eyes of external partners such as governments and businesses.

Coalitions as partnerships of confidence – a basis for further work

When individuals from particular organisations work closely together within a coalition they will inevitably develop strong interpersonal relationships. Where these relationships are positive it can lay the ground for future partnerships among those organisations (and individuals) to work on other issues, in particular issues that may be related.

Many of the individuals and organisations involved in the establishment of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) had worked closely with each other in the process to ban cluster munitions. Founding INEW members such as Action on Armed Violence, Human Rights Watch, Handicap International, IKV Pax Christi, Norwegian Peoples Aid and Oxfam had all campaigned together within the Cluster Munition Coalition. The individuals involved in establishing INEW had a positive working dynamic as a group, but also shared the overarching concerns about the human suffering caused by other explosive weapons, beyond cluster munitions. Addressing these concerns was a logical extension of work to prevent harm from cluster munitions.

How can momentum be sustained during the process of getting countries on board an agreement?

A number of coalitions have run dedicated campaigns to promote further signatures, ratifications or accessions to the international treaty they have helped bring about. The ICBL and CMC both pursued such campaigns in the wake of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Coalition for the International Criminal Court maintains a push for ratifications and accessions to the Rome Statute.

Where possible, obtaining institutional support for such a ‘universalisation’ drive can have a significant impact on success. Canada provided such leadership on landmines, devoting very significant resources in terms of staff time in Ottawa and at Canadian diplomatic posts abroad, as well as funding for advocacy work by civil society. In 2010 the United Nations, led by the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, launched a two year campaign to achieve universal ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The campaign ‘concept note’ suggests a range of activities for UN officials and member states, including events and media work focused on the campaign, direct advocacy with states outside the treaty, technical support to assist states with joining, and supporting civil society activities in aid of the campaign’s objectives.


A campaign to gather signatures and ratifications can sometimes be a starting point for coalition work. For example, the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances was launched in September 2007, about a year after the adoption of the Convention For The Protection Of All Persons From Enforced Disappearances in 2006. The coalition ran an international campaign for ratification and on 23 December 2010 it achieved its initial goal of 20 ratifications necessary to trigger entry into force of the Convention.

What is needed to turn a policy or legal achievement into practical change?

In her 2008 chapter Still Alive and Kicking: The International Campaign to Ban Landmines in the book Banning Landmines previously cited, Elizabeth Bernstein gives a useful description of how the ICBL considered its future and adapted itself to a new phase of campaigning and advocacy work as a coalition. The chapter highlights a number of the items considered here, including whether the coalition should disband, the importance of consulting members of the coalition, the need for changes in coalition structure and possible changes in the focus of work, the turnover of staff and campaigners and the realisation that the hard work often starts once you have achieved your goal.

A number of people interviewed for this book noted the importance of long-term civil society commitment in order to convert legal obligations and policy commitments into concrete action. This is based on recognition that governments and businesses generally don’t do things unless they have to. In this way the continued presence and pressure from civil society can help to determine the success or failure of an initiative. It is important to build a process, for example some kind of forum that convenes the key actors on a regular basis.

It can be easier to get states to make a political or legal change on paper than it is to convince them to make a change to the way they distribute resources. Keeping track of government policy and practice at a national level in relation to the commitments they have made internationally can be a very effective way of promoting implementation. To do this it may be necessary to move towards a country-by-country approach, where national-level work becomes more important than international-level work. This may mean there is less you can do with big international conferences and more to be done through national advocacy.


This section is based on Mary Wareham’s 2008 chapter Evidence-Based Advocacy: Civil Society Monitoring of the Mine Ban Treaty, in Banning Landmines and Thomas Nash’s 2010 article The role of NGO activism in the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, in Disarmament Forum.*

The ‘Landmine Monitor’, set up by the ICBL in 1998, published its first report in 1999 and has published an annual report every year since then. As an initiative run by civil society and funded largely by governments, it has embedded civil society in the implementation structure of the Mine Ban Treaty. The research by ICBL members that make up the research network around the world has forged lasting relationships with government officials responsible for implementing the treaty. The work of the Landmine Monitor system has contributed to a ‘culture of implementation’ and has made it the norm for states to share information with NGOs on issues, such as military stockpiles, that were previously quite sensitive.

The reports of the Landmine Monitor have become the reference for delegates to Mine Ban Treaty meetings and have undoubtedly influenced the level
of reporting by states and the way this is done. It has been the cornerstone of the ”evidence-based advocacy” that Wareham has described as a key pillar of the ICBL’s influence.The annual reports have demonstrated the achievements generated as a result of the Mine Ban Treaty and have not shied away from shining the spotlight on those states that are failing to live up to their commitments.

Very importantly, the establishment of the Landmine Monitor subsequent to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty provided a mechanism for the coalition to evolve its work on the landmine issue, it gave the ICBL a focus during a period of change and provided a framework for sustained engagement by existing members of the coalition and fresh engagement from others. Over the longer term, the Landmine Monitor has been an important funding stream for the ICBL and its key member organisations, facilitating their continued activism within the coalition.

Wareham suggests that the “Landmine Monitor has demonstrated that civil society-based verification is no longer just a concept but can be a practice and a model for other campaigns to consider when exploring similar initiatives.”

* Disarmament Forum, 2010, no. 1, Implementing the Convention on Cluster Munitions, UNIDIR, Geneva.

Can you build a positive and inclusive culture of implementation?

Achieving real change will be easier if the political processes that emerge also pay attention to what can be called a ‘culture of implementation’. In practical terms this requires states and other actors to work together to build an infrastructure around an agreement so that the parties that have taken on obligations can be assisted, encouraged, and perhaps sometimes coerced into fulfilling them

“A flexible committee system, a unique support unit, and a set of informal structures to facilitate implementation – largely unforeseen in 1997, these mechanisms are now viewed as essential to the treaty’s functioning.”

Kerry Brinkert, Director of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implmentation Support Unit, on the architecture developed to support the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

Coalitions can work to identify and foster ‘champions’ – officials from governments, organisations or businesses who are willing to invest in the process above and beyond the level expected of them. Ideally, through its network of contacts, the coalition will be able to find individuals where there is a match between their personal commitment and belief in an issue, their institutional stance and available resources on the issue and their ambition for profile and influence among their peers.

The culture of implementation will also be influenced by the way states monitor each other’s compliance with an agreement. Stephen Goose has written about ‘cooperative compliance’ being effective in the case of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, without a verification regime being built into the treaty. The willingness of states to be transparent with each other and with civil society will determine to a large extent how effective such compliance will be.

Is your coalition structure still relevant for the work needed in the future?

Some organisations – and individuals – that may play pivotal roles in a coalition during its set up and initial phase of putting an issue on the map may not see a role for themselves in the longer term follow-up and monitoring work. The same is true for donors and this of course can be frustrating if funding starts to decline at the same time as interest from some coalition member NGOs is waning. All of this makes it all the more important to think carefully about the activities the coalition and its members are undertaking, the available resources and the most strategic direction for carrying this crucial follow-up work forward.

It might be worth asking whether the coalition is still needed in its original form. Following the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers evolved into an organisation in its own right. It now acts as a key focal point for civil society on the issue of child soldiers and undertakes detailed monitoring and other research on the issue, but it is not a coalition as such.

It may be that what becomes most important for a coalition in building an emerging norm is this dedicated watchdog capacity. It is an ability to draw on a network of people in different countries that may not spend much time on your particular issue on a day-to-day basis, but who have the connections to be able to look into it when needed so that the voice of civil society is heard. This looser network, focused on monitoring, perhaps with fewer centralised staff, might also provide sufficient capacity to facilitate advocacy at national, regional and international levels when required.

Working together to improve efficiency

Coalitions working on similar issues may also decide to merge certain aspects of their work. This can be done at the levels of governance, staff, membership, operations and so on. There are benefits in terms of use of resources and avoiding duplication and competition, but it is important to consider the identities and cultures of the two coalitions and the value of these in terms of influencing targets and maintaining active members.

Building on their shared history, in 2009-2010 the ICBL and the CMC undertook consultation processes to plan for their future organisation together. This resulted in a merger of the governance, finance and staff structures of the two bodies, while retaining both campaign identities for work on their respective issues of landmines and cluster munitions. This restructuring was an effort to make the governance of the two campaigns more effective, to make full use of the opportunities provided by their already overlapping workloads and to put in place a mechanism better able to develop efficiencies where required.


Regardless of what direction a coalition decides to take as it moves into a new phase of its life, it’s important that the decision is made with input from all of the members. The CMC, ICBL and IANSA provide three examples of consultation processes with coalition or network memberships.

In 2003 and 2004 the ICBL undertook a consultation process with its members to determine future direction of the campaign. Coalition staff, together with support from coalition members interviewed members and sought their views on the campaign and its future. On the basis of these consultations the ICBL decided on a strategy and implemented some changes to its structure and activities.

In 2009, after the leaderships of the CMC and the ICBL had begun looking at a possible merger of their governance bodies, the CMC undertook a consultation process with its membership on the future of the campaign and the process of coming together with the ICBL. The process was managed by staff of coalition member organisation with support from CMC staff. Interviews were conducted with campaigners and the findings presented at a joint campaign meeting of the CMC and ICBL in December 2009. At this meeting ICBL also presented the findings of its parallel consultation on the same questions. On the basis of these consultations and the reactions of members of both campaigns, the CMC and ICBL moved forward with the plan to bring the campaigns together at the governance, staff and financial levels.

Following an external evaluation, in 2010 IANSA undertook a series of interviews with members about its future and recruited a consultant to help manage a transition process. On the basis of these consultations with members, including during an open meeting for all campaigners, a future strategy and a new structure for the network were proposed, considered and approved by the members. The structure was then put in place and the new strategy is
being implemented.


Coalitions need to plan beyond the achievement of policy or legal milestones if they are to effect change on the ground. In many ways the hard work begins once an agreement has been reached. So a civil society presence is necessary over the long term if real change is going to happen. A watchdog role can be important for the future of a coalition. Monitoring the practice of individual states helps to keep the pressure on them to live up to their commitments.

Having a mechanism for engaging with states or other actors being targeted is important over the longer term and coalitions have a role to play in shaping the ways of working and the cultures of these mechanisms at the multilateral level.

Passing major milestones can present challenges for continued funding and for maintaining energy and engagement among coalition members and partners. This may require re-structuring and a focus on new activities. It is important to consider these issues in advance in order to minimise any loss of momentum and direct as much of the campaign’s energy as possible at turning policy change into practice.

End of Chap 8