I’m at the tail end of a project in which I’m facilitating an organizational development process for an asset building coalition to determine what its permanent organizational structure should be. (In this case, asset building involves advocating for policies that increase the financial and tangible assets of low income communities.) This includes their legal structure, but also their governance, decision making and communications strategies, etc. My team conducted interviews with stakeholders, did a literature review and studied other coalition models around the country.
This coalition is intentionally diverse, racially, economically and geographically, and is committed to continuing to be so. As a part of our literature review we read the article Addressing Cultural Conflicts in Multicultural Coalitions (2009) in which the author suggested a number of strategies leaders of civic action initiatives or coalitions may wish to consider when planning to engage organizations that comprise cultures other than their own. The author begins with the premise that cultural conflicts are inevitable in civic engagement initiatives and, through preventative measures, they can be minimized. Below are some of his suggestions:
- Listen to all voices – A conscious effort must be made on the part of leadership to listen and consider the viewpoints of everyone involved before making decisions, setting processes, etc. Leadership must attempt to counter the tendency to reinforce its own viewpoint.
- Work to undo racism and build cultural competencies inside your organization – In addition to working outside your organization to undo racism, remember to do it in your own house.
- Engage organizational leaders - Organizational leaders must endorse, participate, and value cultural competency skill building efforts.
- Hire folks with civic engagement skills - Hire individuals who have practical and proven experience with civic engagement and cross-cultural work.
- Build a power analysis - Share your research and analyses of power and racial and economic inequities with community members to avoid future cultural conflicts.
- Make the rules fair and clear - Make your coalition’s structure, rules, and norms clear to everyone involved.
- Expect value conflicts - Expect conflicts around deep-seated cultural values and plan for such conflicts.
- Build the civic table - Facilitators build the civic table, but don’t set it. In other words, they enable the discussion and decision-making, and help to resolve conflicts, but do not advocate for a particular position or outcome.
- Respect language needs – Accommodate the language needs when more than one language is spoken among constituents, such as providing interpretation and translation.
- Differentiate your message from branding – Differentiate the messages of the coalition from organizational branding to help members and constituents communicate their own values, issues, and action ideas. This allows them to “own” the messages; thus they will be more likely to disseminate them.
The Coalition Coordinator with whom I’m working has done a wonderful job of recruiting diverse organizations and perspectives to the asset building coalition table. Now the hard work of ensuring that all voices are heard and power/resources are shared has begun.