Coalition Empowerment Self-Assessment Tool

(Originally published in Wolff and Kaye, From the Ground Up: A Workbook on Coalition Building and Community Development
Question I
Goals and objectives

The first critical question is whether empowerment is the stated goal of the coalition. Often it is an implied goal of the coalition—one that is assumed by many members but never stated.

1. How do the coalition’s goals and objectives clearly demonstrate that empowerment is one of its desired outcomes?

2. Which specific objectives translate empowerment into more concrete terms? Is the coalition working toward leadership development, advocacy, and increased capacity of communities and individuals to solve their own problems?

3. If empowerment is a stated goal, how is empowerment defined and who is to be empowered (citizens, agencies, government, business)?

A coalition that is serious about creating empowerment outcomes and processes will include empowerment in its goals and objectives, and will clearly and specifically define both what its members mean by empowerment and who will be empowered.

Question II

Coalition membership will vary in ways that are partially determined by how seriously the coalition takes its commitments to empowerment.

1. In what ways is membership inclusive or exclusive? Who can or cannot join?

2. What, if any, are the financial barriers to membership? For example, does someone have to pay or to appeal for a scholarship to join?

3. Describe the diversity of the coalition's membership (for example: geographic, racial, ethnic, and economic variety among members). What sectors of the community are represented in the coalition (education, religion, business, and law enforcement, media, health and human services, and/or neighborhood/citizen groups)?

4. In what ways are explicit attempts made to engage residents in the coalition? What roles do residents have in the coalition? How are these roles stated in the coalition's goals and objectives? At what levels and in what ways do residents and resident groups actually participate in the coalition?

Coalitions that intend to be successful in accomplishing empowerment goals need to have open and inclusive membership; to limit barriers to coalition membership for all potential participants; to be diverse and multisectoral; and, most importantly, to have resident and resident group membership in the coalition.

Question III

1. How well and to what extent is information on coalition activities and decision-making distributed? What information do new people receive that makes them feel part of the group quickly?

2. How can community residents access coalition information?

3. How does the coalition use the media to inform people who are not part of the coalition about its activities?

4. In what languages are meetings and materials presented? Does this choice of languages provide adequate access to members of the community and members of the coalition?

The degree to which language, data, information, and other forms of communication encourage grassroots participation is critical to collaborative efforts being successful in their pursuit of empowerment.

Question IV

The degree to which the people who are most affected by the collaborative mission, goals, and actions shape the mission, goals, and actions is critical to the success of the coalition.

1. How are key coalition decisions made? Are they made by the people most affected by those decisions? Key decisions include at least the following: coalition start-up, coalition ending, designing coalition activities, allocation of resources, and hiring of staff.

2. How is the decision-making process spelled out? Is it in writing? Is it understood and accepted by the entire membership?

3. Is decision-making in the hands of a few individuals or a single individual? Is there broad power-sharing around decisions?

4. If a subgroup (a steering committee) makes decisions for the coalition, is that group democratically chosen and representative of the community?

5. What is the organizational chart for the coalition? How much does the chart represent a typical hierarchical organization versus a more lateral organization that spreads out decision-making, power, and communications?

A critical question in decision-making centers on who can be considered a “representative of the community.” In coalitions defined by geography, it is critical to clearly define what it means to be representative of the community. Being a citizen or resident of the community is generally the core criterion. Although this may seem obvious, we often see coalitions where people who provide services in the community but live elsewhere are designated as representatives of the community. The bottom line in assessing a coalition's commitment to empowered decision-making is whether the people who are most affected by its decisions are the key architects of those decisions.

Question V
Leadership and leadership development

In coalitions committed to empowerment, opportunities for coalition leadership and efforts devoted to leadership development are critical. Empowerment involves a process of working with people rather than doing for people. Thus leadership issues are essential to the coalition's commitment to empowerment. If the coalition’s leadership roles are always filled with “the same old faces,” then it’s obvious that leadership development is not occurring.

1. Is coalition leadership confined to an individual or a small handful of individuals? Are most of the leadership roles filled by professionals or by residents?

2. How do new members of the coalition gain leadership roles?

3. Is leadership limited to individuals who match any particular array of age, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or class descriptions? Do women, people of color, and low-income people hold leadership positions?

4. In what way has the coalition made an explicit commitment to leadership development among residents? Are there plans and resources in place with which to implement leadership development?

Coalitions that promote empowerment provide leadership opportunities for all coalition members and actively commit themselves to the development of new leaders, not just in the coalition but throughout the community--leaders from low-income populations, from minority groups, from the neighborhoods, and among youth

Question VI
Use of resources

Money talks. How a coalition uses its resources is an excellent indication of its commitment to empowerment. Resources means not only dollars but also access to training, travel, consultation, literature, and special events.

1. Does everyone have access to coalition resources, or are those resources only available to a small handful of people or organizations that have certain connections?

2. Who controls decisions concerning the use of coalition resources?

3. Toward what use(s) is coalition funding committed? Is it committed to expanding the effectiveness of the coalition in its catalyst role, or to utilizing the coalition as a program developer? If the coalition runs programs, do these programs have empowerment goals?

4. Do the long-term resources generated by the coalition benefit those who did not initially have access to them? In what ways?

The use of money and other resources in the coalition can be very telling with regard to its commitments to empowerment. Coalitions that use their resources to become service providers, especially of services that are not focused on empowerment, may be no different than a typical human service agency. John McKnight's critique of service providing suggests that professional and human-service approaches emphasize the deficits and needs of individuals and communities instead of their assets and capacities. He states that “as the power of professionals and service systems ascends” then “the legitimacy, capacity, and authority of citizens and communities descends” (1989).If a coalition is committed to empowering the community, then the allocation of resources should reflect that commitment.

Question VII
Coalition activities

A coalition's commitment to empowerment is evident in its activities. Coalitions that attempt to change community policies, practices, or programs related to the coalition’s goals are moving in the right direction toward increasing empowerment.

1. Does the coalition take actions outside of the coalition in order to create change in the community? What are these actions?

2. Does the coalition provide community organizing and education activities? In what ways?

3. Does the coalition engage in advocacy?

4. Does the coalition have a relationship with local government officials--city, town, state, federal? How does the coalition advocate within these relationships on behalf of the needs of its member citizens or agencies?

Coalitions that claim to focus on empowerment, but essentially provide services that support the status quo service delivery model, are not necessarily empowering coalitions.

Coalition outcomes

The proof is in the pudding. If coalitions are committed to empowerment, then the coalition outcomes should reflect this priority. If all a coalition can claim as its successes are programs designed and implemented by professionals, then its commitment to empowerment must be questioned.

1. Are community groups and individuals better able to address and resolve their concerns because the coalition exists? In what ways?

2. Is there an increase in resident/citizen participation in any aspect of community life? If so, describe some of these increases. Have more citizens emerged as leaders?

3. Do residents report a greater sense of community? If so, give some examples of this increase sense of community and of how it was achieved.

4. In what ways do citizens and the community at large have access to and control over more resources to meet their needs?

5. Has the quality of life in the community improved? In what ways?

 Although increases in empowering processes are important, ultimate long-term empowerment outcomes are the ultimate test of whether the original empowerment goals and objectives have been achieved.