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Effective steering structures

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Steering an alliance is different from managing an organization, as each member of the alliance maintains its own distinct identity and leadership.

An effective steering structure should meet the following requirements: (adapted from GTZ, 2009:148)

It should strengthen ownership and members’ self-reliance through a culture of participation and negotiation.

It should be transparent – this strengthens confidence in the leadership through broad-based communication on decisions and the criteria on which these were based. Transparency is also about creating a climate in which conflict and failure can be discussed openly.

It should be efficient in that it is simple to coordinate, making it possible to reach decisions without excessive transaction costs being incurred for consultations, negotiations and coordination.

It should take into account the variety of perspectives and perceptions of stakeholders. It combines both “hard” data and more personal reports on individual experiences, (anecdotal) as well as different interpretations of these data.

It should be sensitive to potential conflict, making it possible to identify potential tensions at an early stage and to work these through. Compliance with the ethical principles outlined in Adhering to Ethics in Campaigning is important in that respect.

It should be flexible, allowing for swift decision-making, so as to respond to changes, e.g. in the environment, the personnel system and financial resources.

It should allow for learning from patterns of action that help actors to take on new roles. An effective structure should help them practice new patterns of management action, for instance in communication and decision-making.

It serves as a model for organization, stimulating and generating innovative and better ways of working in the alliance’s partner organizations.  


Other important issues to take into account:  

Gender balance in alliance leadership: alliances bringing together both women’s groups and groups including men (or men’s groups and groups involving women) may experience tensions, especially if there is a strong gender imbalance in campaign leadership. Such imbalances should be addressed openly so as to agree on decision-making mechanisms that are both democratic and gender-sensitive.

Diversity in leading structures: Especially in larger campaigns, it may be crucial to create leading structures that reflect the diversity of the alliance or of the society as a whole – for example, by including representatives of different religious or other community affiliations.

Participatory and democratic decision-making: This enhances the sense that the campaign is jointly owned by all alliance members. For decisions affecting the entire alliance, all members, or a representative body of members, should be consulted.

Common options for reaching joint decisions are:

(i)  By consensus, i.e. the decision is taken only if all members agree to support it (even if some may have reservations)

(ii)  By democratic vote, i.e. the decision is taken if the majority agrees with it; it may be convenient to require a “super-majority”, e.g. 70% of all votes, for well-defined strategic decisions.

Reaching a consensus takes longer than passing a vote, but it increases the chances all members remain committed to the campaign. For example, an alliance that disagrees on some elements of its campaign issue may decide to focus campaign activities only on those elements all alliance members agree on. Conversely, a quick vote on a contentious issue may yield a faster decision, but a disappointed minority may choose to leave the campaign altogether. See also Overcoming Challenges in Alliances.

Checklist for successful partnerships  

-          A joint coordination platform is established.

-          Binding terms of engagement are defined.

-          Joint milestones are defined.

-          Conflict management rules are formulated.

-          Different interests and expectations are taken into account.

-          Mutual trust-inducing activities are taking place or are planned.

-          Periodic evaluation of experience and joint success stories are made visible.

Adapted from GTZ, 2009: 139.