Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Defining Rural Health Networks and Coalitions

A rural health coalition is a general term that refers to a collaboration between diverse organizations or constituencies that agree to work on a specified action-oriented opportunity, typically at the policy, system, and environmental level. Some coalitions are grassroots, short-term collaborations that convene to address an immediate, resolvable concern and then part ways when the goal is accomplished. Other coalitions are more formal, long-term, and take on multiple local concerns.

A rural health network is a group of three or more rural health providers and/or other stakeholders that join forces to address mutually agreed-upon needs in the community. While they sometimes come together in response to an identified need, networks may organize to avert a potential crisis. Or their purpose may be broader and may evolve over time as the community's needs shift. Network members may include a variety of participants, including (but not limited to) healthcare providers, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, public health professionals, educational providers, and private organizations.

There are a number of common types of rural health networks and coalitions that represent a variety of topics and stakeholders. Some networks include members from safety net programs who come together to address healthcare quality and delivery concerns. Others are cross-sector collaborations who are opting to address concerns from multiple perspectives. All networks, however, recognize the value of social capital and its role in addressing community-level social and public health concerns. Although there are a variety of names and nuanced definitions for the general concept, for the purpose of clarity in this toolkit, we will use the terms network and coalition throughout, though a different designator may be more appropriate for your group.

For more detailed information on how networks and coalitions organize, visit Module 2: Organizational Models for Rural Health Networks and Coalitions and Module 4: Implementation Considerations for Rural Health Networks and Coalitions.

Resources to Learn More

National Cooperative of Health Networks (NCHN)
Professional membership organization that provides support to existing health networks.

RHIhub Health Promotion Toolkit: Partnerships and Coalitions
Part of the Health Promotion toolkit that gives high-level overview of benefits of developing coalitions and partnerships.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub

Rural Health Networks Literature Review
Provides high-level information on benefits, barriers, and what makes some networks more effective than others.
Author(s): Sullenberger, C. & Davis, R.J.
Organization(s): Rural Health Network Resources
Date: 2011

Using Rural Health Networks to Address Local Needs
Exploration of five networks to demonstrate a variety of methods networks can apply to organize and address local concerns. The report includes each network's history, planned objectives and progress toward goals.
Author(s): Moscovice, I. & Elias, W.
Organization(s): AcademyHealth
Date: 7/2003