Thursday/Friday: What lessons have you learned? Share advice and resources.

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Thursday/Friday: What lessons have you learned? Share advice and resources.

In this discussion topic, we're exploring the lessons we can learn from past experiences. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • From your experience, or from your reflection in this online discussion, what advice or ideas could you share for human rights practitioners regarding building strong partnerships and/or coalitions?
  • What lessons have you learned from successful or unsuccessful partnerships? Let’s learn from our mistakes!
  • What resources exist to support collaboration within the human rights community?
  • Are there next steps?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please visit these online instructions. New feature: you can now add images and video to your comments!

Resources on building partnerships & coalitions

Our lovely intern, Brittany, found some great resources on this topic that I want to share with you all of you:

  • Kansas University's Community Toolbox has a section on coalition-building and it includes a checklist, examples, tools and a powerpoint with key information.
  • The Prevention Institute has published an 8 step guide to developing effective coalitions. This step-by-step guide to coalition building helps partnerships launch and stabilize successfully. It supports advocates and practitioners in every aspect of the process - from determining the appropriateness of a coalition to selecting members, defining key elements, maintaining vitality, and conducting ongoing evaluations.
  • Beyond Intractibility has an interesting article on coalition-building, including rationale on why it's important, how to do it, key benefits, and key challenges
  • Public Interest Projects has information on alliance-building, including examples of success stories and a list of grants available to alliances in the United States.
  • New Organizing Institute has a 30-min video of a presentation on building relationships for campaigns (video below) along with materials you could use for a training on this topic.

What other resources are out there to help human rights defenders build strong partnerships and/or coalitions? Share them here!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Re: Resources on building partnerships & coalitions

Thanks for that great list Brittany and Kristin! 

Anouska mentioned in another thread the work of Amanda Tattersall on community/union coalitions. The insights are relevant for all sorts of coalitions. The main resource is her book Power in a Coalition but additional articles and training resources can be found at Community Unionism

The Movement Strategy Center, based in California, works with a range of groups to support the development of coalitions and stronger social movements. Check out their resources (including the Nuts and Bolts of Building an Alliance), Healthy Alliance Assessment Tool, and Let's Talk blog. 

All the best

Holly Hammond

Plan to Win – social movement learning

Videos of Amanda Tattersall on the power of coalitions

Thanks, Holly! I also found a few videos of Amanda Tattersall talking about the power of coalitions. (Part 1 of 2) (Part 2 of 2) (embedded below) - Full of great information such as lessons-learned.

Some of the interesting information she shares is on principles/lessons of successful coalitions:

  • Less is more. Often, the fewer groups involved, the more power - quality is more important than quantity.
  • Individuals matter. Individuals become leaders and they build relationships. Having champions inside of organization. Having a coalition coordinator.
  • Build a pro-active agenda. Articulate what you want (specific reforms). Run positive demands - this helps to build a common vision.
  • Plan. You have to plan to make coalitions and campaigns successful.
  • Take multi-scaled actions (local, regional, national).
RE: principles/lessons of successful coalitions

Great principles for successful coalitions, thanks for sharing Kristin! To expand a little on the need to plan, a lesson learned I’d add is plan for much longer timeframes that you except you’ll need and add ‘false deadlines’ where necessary. I’m not sure if this is the same experience that others have had, but I’ve found working in a coalition inevitably slows down the pace at which decisions get made and things get done much more than you think it’s going to. Of course, it’s a worthwhile trade off in light of the benefits of working in a coalition. But it’s something to plan for or it can end up being a source of frustration! 

Coalitions can slow down the pace of decision-making

Great point!

Big Orgs working with small orgs.

Hello everyone,

The conversations so far have been really interesting for me. It seems as though there is a thread of questions regarding how larger international organizations partner with local or smaller organizations and the issues that arise from those partnerships.

There’s no easy answer of-cause but I’m happy can share my experience from the perspective of working as the Victorian Community Organiser Amnesty International in Australia and maybe some of these examples / info will be helpful.

In my experience smaller organisations tend to be the ones with specialised skills and experience in one area which larger organisations don’t always have.

When I reach out to a smaller org it is usually for a very specific purpose. That is to further the impact of the campaign I am working on at the time, a campaign that has a timeframe and a specific goal.

The org’s that I tent to reach out to are those with specialised knowledge or relationships within a particular community that I do not have. Usually, there is some common ground to the ultimate aim and smaller org’s are interested in working together because the larger org can sometimes add weight or provide resourses to their work but as they also have their own priorities and less resources it’s not easy.

The key is to find a strong enough mutual interest area where we can all get something out of the time we give to the partnership. Sometimes this means that we run an event together where the smaller org raises funds for their priorities while Amnesty reaches a new community to build the movement around the campaign, all under one overarching theme (e.g. LGBTQI rights).

At other times finding common ground means finding a way to combine the priorities of each orgs campaigns / issue focus into one activity e.g. a public forum on a variety of issues or mutual promotion of each other’s activities.

However the most successful partnerships I’ve had are on very broad issues e.g. ‘women’s rights’- any area of women’s rights where there is no specific area focused on (e.g. not specifically violence against women, or reproductive rights or …etc…) This gives each org the opportunity to focus on their area of priority within whatever activity you’re doing. The problem is that this type of relations ship isn’t ideal if your aim is campaign specific, but if you have another aim, e.g. perhaps the aim itself is to start forming relationships within a community of orgs working on a particular thematic area  (LGBTQI or women’s rights for example) then you’ll have a winner in my experience. With a partnership like this I have had interest from more ‘non-traditional groups’ such as museums and police as well. This kind of partnership also keeps each orgs part in the partnership separate enough to reduce (but not illuminate) the risk of impeaching each other’s independence and impartiality because each group is focusing on their own specific areas within the overarching theme.

The flip side of working for a larger org partnering with smaller orgs is keeping up multiple relationships with smaller orgs who have very specific focuses that only rarely cross paths with the priorities I work on. When the priorities are the same it is a critical relationship but when they are not the same (which is more often than not) it is hard for me to priorities the time to keep up multipul varied relationships. Most of the orgs working in the human rights space have inspiring and important work to do so it’s hard not to want to work together. The best I can do is to be is to be as transparent as possible about what I am looking for from the relationship, be open to negotiations and be prepared for the other org to choose not to take part if they can’t get what they need.



The next steps for me

The next steps for me will be to try to develop a ‘mutual interest group’ of orgs to meet regularly with a view to sharing our plans in order to give us the best chance of finding common ground with enough time to make the most of it.

Thank you for helping me decide that it is worth taking the time to make this work. Hopefully some of you might be interested in taking part?



How police and NGOs can work together

This is a booklet that was published quite a while ago, in 2004, under auspices of the European Platform of Policing and Human Rights, an intiative of the Council of Europe. The booklet discusses the rationale for cooperation, and also provides a template for cooperation. As I mentioned earlier this week, though this is focused on working together with police, I believe the dynamics with other partners can be similar to those of working with the police, and as a consequence the booklet is useful for other forms of engagement as well. 


Very useful resources


I'm so glad that you've shared this great resource!  I was taking a look at the questions asked, that are indeed transferable to other forms of engagement and reflect so many of the experiences that have so wonderfully shared in the various discussion I threads.

I found this list of questions on Page 20 that can be a very useful resource:

  1. How to build trust?
  2. What are the aims and activities of the partnership?
  3. What is the nature of the partnership? (rules of engagement)
  4. Which NGOs should the police engage with?
  5. At what level in the police and NGO organisation does the engagement take place?
  6. What are the communication mechanisms?
  7. How is the engagement monitored to ensure progress is being made?
  8. What is the level of resources required to achieve the aims of the partnership?

I also want to share another terrific manual - ABCs of Advocacy by Lina Alameddine and Cristina Mansfield, available in both English and Arabic (though I think you have to request the Arabic version) – the English version can be downloaded here:

You can find the section on Building a Coalition on pages 94 – 101.

Churches and unions

After reading these insightful posts I just wanted to add the opportunity that exists out there to partner with faith based institutions and labor unions. As Anouska wrote prior, campaigns that focus on human rights, with a broad message, are easier to secure commitments for from varying organizations. In my experience churches can bring resources to a coalition such as excellent turn out to events and a media opportunity to show legitimate wide spread public support. Labor unions can bring administrative support and of course turn out, and from reading Amanda Tattersall's book on coalitions, partnering with them seems to work best when the smaller organizations take the lead on decision making.
It's exciting when different organizations get together to work on campaigns, but only when it's more than letterhead support. Steadfast commitments need to be made, and for that the tool of the "one-on-one" is very important. If there are membership based organizations involved, it's a good idea for those members to mix with people from the other organizations and get to know eachother, this helps the organizational leaders remain committed to the cause. Thanks and I look forward to reading more posts.

Re: Churches and unions

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Denisse! Faith based institutions and labor unions can indeed be beneficial partners and allies in human rights work. Excellent point!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Thank you for participating in this conversation!

Thank you for participating in this practical and interesting discussion on building strong human rights partnerships and coalitions! I can't thank you enough for contributing to the creation of such a great resource!  I especially want to thank Anouska Teunen for helping to facilitate this dialogue and engaging her network of practitioners to participate.

I hope you found it helpful to reflect on the benefits and barriers of partnerships in human rights work, exchange stories and examples of what successful partnerships look like and how they are built, and to share your advice and resources for others. I hope you all are taking away new ideas, resources, reflections and allies!

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Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder

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