Creating a community coalition

How can you work together as a community?

Community issues like youth suicide are too large and complex for any one person or organization to address alone. Coalitions can help get everyone moving in the same direction.

Learn how to create a coalition by downloading the Building a coalition worksheet.

Building a coalition to mobilize your community’s response to youth suicide is not only about bringing people together, but it’s also about creating a culture that allows people to work together effectively. Creating this culture ensures your community coalition’s work can move forward in a sustainable way. Here are five tips to help create a culture of collaboration and team work1.

Collaboration is about building trust. To achieve this, team members have to make an intentional effort to take ownership of their own motivations, interests, concerns and leadership styles as well as understand those of the others on their team. Building trust is an ongoing process that should be integrated into the work of your coalition. Part of building trust means paying attention to group dynamics and addressing conflicts and differences among coalition members.

There are a number of key factors that can influence the success of your collaborative work. Community groups can use the Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory to assess their strengths and weaknesses as compared to strong collaborations. Consider these factors as a starting point for discussion as you plan and implement your community’s approach to addressing youth suicide.

Category

Relevant success factors

Environment

  • Is there a history of collaboration or cooperation in the community?
  • Is the collaborative group seen as a legitimate leader in the community?
  • Is there a favourable political and social climate?

Membership characteristics

  • Do members demonstrate mutual respect, understanding and trust?
  • Is there an appropriate cross-section of members (including youth, families, school representatives, service providers, police, government, media, etc.)?
  • Do members see collaboration as in their self-interest?
  • Do members have the ability to compromise?

Process and structure

  • Do members share a stake in both the process and outcomes?
  • Are there multiple layers of sustained participation?
  • Is the collaboration flexible and adaptable to be able to modify initiatives to meet the evolving needs of the community?
  • Does the collaboration have clear roles, policy guidelines and formal structures to facilitate decision-making?
  • Is there an appropriate pace of development to the collaboration?

Communication

  • Do members communicate openly and frequently?
  • Are there established informal relationships and communication links?

Purpose

  • Does the collaboration have concrete and attainable goals, objectives, tasks and responsibilities?
  • Do members have a shared vision and mission?
  • Does the collaboration have a unique purpose and a common understanding of the problem?

Resources

  • Does the collaboration have sufficient funds, staff, materials and time?
  • Is the collaboration led with skilled, consistent and motivating leadership?

It’s important that the members of your coalition are representative of the community you’re serving. Those with life experience with suicide along with stakeholders with unique perspectives like LGBTQ, FNIM, rural, racialized and newcomer youth, should be a part of the conversation. A diverse coalition makes for a stronger one.

Your coalition’s suicide prevention efforts should embrace diversity and inclusion at several levels.

  • Structural – ensure there’s diversity at every level of your coalition’s work from the steering committee to the working groups carrying out your coalition’s activities.
  • Organizational – ensure your coalition’s membership includes large and small organizations with diverse leadership. Make sure these partners have an equal voice and level of participation, especially those at the grassroots level.
  • Analytical –when trying to understand why youth suicide is an issue in your community, it’s important to apply an equity lens by analyzing the disparities that might exist and by understanding how power and privilege may distort how we see things. This is easier when there’s diversity at the table – changing who is part of the conversation changes the norms and perspectives the coalition endorses.

To create lasting change, your coalition must recognize that community members (e.g. youth, family members, friends, Elders, neighbours) are directly and indirectly affecting outcomes and change each day. It’s important to view community members as partners in our delivery systems as opposed to strictly as clients. Engage those individuals trusted most in the community (e.g. an Elder in a First nation community). Work together with those already doing the work. Existing or past suicide prevention efforts in your community are assets you can build on.

It’s important to create a learning culture among your coalition members. Acknowledge what’s working and what’s not in your coalition’s youth suicide prevention efforts. This will leave you open to more honest and continuous innovation, learning and progress.

Integrity means being accountable for what you do and say to those you work with and those you serve. Within your coalition, accountability should be a shared value – everyone must be held accountable for their part of the initiative.

Pay attention to the process: define a common agenda and a common culture (i.e. the values, expectations and accountability) everyone will share. Every coalition member/partner should understand how decisions are made, what role and influence they have, what they’re expected to do and how success will be measured and shared. Further, all members need to be treated with the same respect.

Additional resources

Creating and Maintaining Partnerships – section 1 of the Community Toolbox offers guidance on how to build strong coalitions to address a common goal. 

The Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment tool, developped by Living Cities is designed for those involved in a cross-sector partnership. The questions are designed to help partners think through the development of the partnership and can be taken at any point in the partnership life cycle.

The Suicide Prevention Toolkit, developed by the Oklahoma Youth Suicide Prevention Council, includes a worksheet for identifying collaborative partners in your community, which brings into focus the importance of collaborating with youth themselves.

Working Together: Collaborative Practices and Partnership Toolkit is a guide developed by Alberta’s Ministry of Education that explores collaborative practices and partnerships in schools.