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Questions for consideration

• Who leads the coalition?

• If the coalition is hosted by another organisation, does the host have undue influence over the work of the coalition?

• Who implements activities?

• Does the coalition have a strong facilitating secretariat balanced by a strong executive committee?

• Does the secretariat communicate and meet regularly with the members?

Ideally, a coalition should be led by the interests of its members. But practically, distilling and representing the interests of all members is a complex and time-consuming task. As a result, coalitions often appoint a secretariat to undertake the daily management of the coalition: in theory to be led, themselves, by the interests of their members, usually represented by an elected executive committee.

These competing power agendas have sometimes had a negative impact on the coalition’s operation and its image. Coalitions need to ask themselves how they can best institutionalise the connections and knowledge that are held by a person within the organisation, so that the benefit transcends the individual.

If coordinators are facilitators rather than directors, and if they are managed and supported by proactive executive committees, there is likely to be a better balance of power and work between the secretariat and the members.

The leader is responsible for ensuring that optimal progress is made, so must be able to foresee and interpret various scenarios that occur on the road, as well as to negotiate obstacles. Within a coalition this means going beyond a strictly technical role and being able to read political scenarios and negotiate conflicts.

Thus, those involved in coalitions need to reflect carefully on who does what in the coalition, and decide whether there are sufficient staff to facilitate the coalition or too many management staff who come to dominate it. The guiding premise is that management staff need to support members to carry out activities and not take over from them, and that they must be responsive to what the members feel should happen.

This information has been drawn from the CEF's report Driving the bus: the journey of national education coalitions.