How to Reform a Reform Coalition
Outreach, Agenda Expansion, and Brokerage in Urban School Reform

Coalitions have always played an advocacy role in policymaking, but they are increasingly regarded as a form of community capacity that can be harnessed to civic ends. As explored in this study of urban school reform in Oakland, California, this civic view of coalitions confronts a tension between the cohesiveness and the inclusiveness of coalitions. Coalitions unified around cohesive goals and beliefs are often narrowly based, which can encourage the formation of rival coalitions. By contrast, reform coalitions that build broad-based support across the community may have difficulty developing coherent reform strategies. Using a social network analysis of key stakeholders to analyze the challenges of building civic capacity in Oakland, we find that the school district's recent reform experience more closely resembles an advocacy coalition than a broad civic coalition. The article then explores strategies for developing a broad civic coalition by expanding the existing advocacy coalition. We use the network analysis to identify opportunities for brokerage across individuals, institutions, and issues.

Political science and public policy scholars have long recognized that coalition dynamics can affect policy outcomes. Foundations, policymakers, and academics have recently gone a step further and begun to think of coalitions as instruments of effective policymaking and implementation. As alliances of individuals, groups, or organizations united to achieve specific public objectives, coalitions have the potential to enhance urban and regional problem solving (Thompson, 2005; Weir, Wolman, & Swantsrom, 2005), reduce corruption (Johnston & Kpundeh, 2004), develop and sustain educational reforms (Stone, 2001), and deliver effective health services (Kadushin, Lindholm, Ryan, Brodsky, & Saxe, 2005). From this more instrumental perspective, coalitions continue their traditional advocacy role, but are also seen as having an expanded civic role in problem solving, community building, and resource mobilization (Lasker & Weiss, 2003; Zakocs & Guckenburg, 2007). As a result, coalition building becomes a self-conscious strategy to facilitate collaborative policymaking and implementation (Rosenthal & Mizrahi, 2004).

The opportunities and constraints inherent in an instrumental view of coalitions are illuminated by contrasting their advocacy and civic roles. Significant policy reform typically requires political muscle that can push innovations in the face of concerted resistance (Hess, 1999). An "advocacy coalition" of like-minded and tightly linked groups and individuals can provide the necessary political resolve.[1] Yet there can be consequences to enacting changes preferred by a narrow but cohesive coalition. Reforms of this type are likely to be shorted-lived and can contribute to "policy churn," or the tendency to cycle through popular reform initiatives by adopting and then abandoning them in quick succession rather than pursuing a long-term, integrated reform strategy (Hess, 1999; Marschall & Shah, 2005).

Our conclusion is that outreach from the reform core must be strategic; reformers should target moderate but well-connected actors rather than risk "talking past" more adamant reform opponents.

Click here to read the full article as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

Andrew Kelly is a research fellow at AEI. Chris Ansell is professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Sarah Reckhow is assistant professor of Political Science at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Andrew P.
Kelly

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.