The terms community partnership, coalition, and collaboration have been used interchangeably by some authors and have been differentiated by others. Frequently their parameters are assumed or implied. Some definitions have, however, been offered.
Early definitions of coalitions saw these groupings as relatively short-term, loosely structured alliances. In more current usage, coalitions are "inter-organizational, cooperative and synergistic working alliances....[that] unite individuals and groups [representing diverse factions or constituencies] in a shared purpose."(242) In contrast to other types of groups, they are "formal, multi-purpose and long-term alliances."(243) Coalition members advocate for both the organization they represent and for the coalition itself; they exchange mutually beneficial resources; and they direct interventions at various levels.
Abramson and Rosenthal provide a similar definition of collaboration, in which autonomous partners, diverse individuals, as well as organizations, work toward common goals. "Ideally, collaboration entails a common vision, a jointly developed structure; and the sharing of work, resources, and rewards."(244)
According to Chavis, the term partnership reflects "their multi-sectoral (e.g., spiritual, business, government, grassroots citizens, schools) make up...[and] implies the shared and long-term commitment of effective community coalitions; everybody brings something of value to the table."(245)
Bailey and McNally Koney use the term community-based consortium and define it as "a partnership of organizations and individuals representing consumers, service providers, and local agencies or groups who (1) identify themselves with a particular community, neighborhood or locale, and (2) unite in an effort to apply collectively their resources toward the implementation of a common strategy for the achievement of a common goal."(246) The consortium is similar to the participatory federation in that members have an active role in decision- and policy-making; however, the federation may be issue-based rather than community-based, and the central office retains significant control over the resources and activities. They distinguish coalition from consortium in that the latter can include individuals as members while the former consists only of organizational members. In addition, the community is identified by the consortium/coalition members.
Another, related concept is the network, which Alter and Hage define as "the basic social form that permits inter-organizational interactions of exchange, concerted action, and joint production. Networks are... clusters of organizations that are nonhierarchical collectives of legally separate units."(247) They have four characteristics: 1) a shared conceptual framework with common goals and methods; 2) nonhierarchical structure and joint decision making and equal status among members; 3) division of labor, each member contributing compatible competence to the whole; and 4) self-regulation in the production of a new service. The forms of networks vary with their degree of cooperation, the number of member organizations, and the competitive or symbiotic relationship of member organizations. They also vary in their purposes, structure, operations, and outcomes. Obligational networks, like ad hoc committees, are loosely knit groups. Promotional networks, like coalitions, are associations of organizations that pool resources to accomplish a common goal. Systemic production networks contain multi-organizational units that create a community-based service delivery system through division of labor. They usually pursue a larger societal goal. (See Appendix C, "Models of Community Partnerships," for further discussion of this framework.)
Mattessich and Monsey differentiate among the terms collaboration, coordination, and cooperation. Collaboration is "a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. The relationship includes a commitment to mutual relationships and goals; a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility; mutual authority and accountability for success; and sharing of resources and rewards."(248) Communication channels are well defined and operate on many levels. Authority is determined by the collaboration structure. Cooperation, in contrast, is an informal relationship without a commonly defined mission, structure, or planning effort. Information is shared as needed, and authority is retained by each organization. Risks, resources and rewards are not shared. Coordination falls in between the other two. It involves somewhat formal relationships, with some planning, division of roles and understanding of compatible missions. Formal channels of communication are established. Individual organizations retain authority but share risk, resources, and rewards to an extent.
These definitions suggest the elements of a working definition of community partnership. Such an alliance
- is composed of two or more legally separate units, which may include individuals as well as organizations, agencies, or other entities;
- shares a commonly defined mission and goals;
- develops a nonhierarchical structure that makes decisions and policy and has well defined channels of communication;
- shares responsibility and resources and rewards and risks; and
- includes citizens of the local community and representatives of local community groups and organizations.