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General Considerations when Developing Health Networks & Coalitions

All networks and coalitions are centered on an issue(s), develop a strategy, and engage members. There are a variety of ways to organize and structure networks and coalitions, depending on membership, issues being addressed, and strategies being used.

Many networks and coalitions have similar, humble beginnings where people and/or organizations gathered around a common issue or concern in their community. Issues and concerns may be identified by grassroots means, such as recurring themes that surface when talking to neighbors. They may also be identified more officially, such as political or institutional leaders implementing new policies. Or they may be identified by intentional means, such as reviewing data in the following ways:

  • Reviewing County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which provides an annual snapshot of community-specific social determinants of health and strategies for how to address them.
  • Conducting a Community Health Assessment (CHA) and developing a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) which often go hand-in-hand. The CHA is a formal, collaborative, community-driven evaluation of a community or population that identifies key concerns, opportunities for improvement, and community assets. The CHIP is often developed as a result of the CHA.
  • Reviewing local Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), a federally-mandated expectation of tax-exempt hospitals to collect standardized information with the goal of improving community health.

Multiple stakeholders invested in the cause can lead to a network or coalition's success. A benefit of working as a group is that there is the expectation that resources will be shared. Individuals with varied expertise and vast social capital can be just as valuable as individuals with access to infrastructure resources.

There may be many distractions along the path as a network or coalition becomes organized. The overriding goal of the network or coalition could easily get lost in the details. There are organizational and legal steps that can (and sometimes must) be taken that have the benefit of staying focused on the goal as the network or coalition is getting off the ground. Sustainability and planning go hand in hand, so keeping long-term sustainability at the core of these considerations is key. See Module 6: Sustainability Strategies for Rural Health Networks and Coalitions for more information on sustainability.

Resources to Learn More

Coalition Building I: Starting a Coalition
A step-by-step web-based guide that outlines considerations to developing a network or coalition, including community health promotion tools and guidance.
Author(s): Rabinowitz, P.
Organization(s): Community Tool Box

Coalition Start-Up Tools
Comprehensive list of resources that support the start-up, planning, development, evaluation, and sustainability of coalitions.
Organization(s): Society for Public Health Education

Developing Effective Coalitions: An Eight Step Guide
Comprehensive manual outlining how to develop and make partnerships work, and how to tap into existing resources to move forward the work of the coalition.
Author(s): Cohen, L., Baer, N., & Satterwhite, P.
Organization(s): Prevention Institute
Date: 2002

Forming Rural Health Networks: A Legal Primer
An overview of legal issues that pertain to network development.
Author(s): Teevans, J.
Organization(s): Alpha Center
Date: 10/1999