Episode 230 - Dr. Jessica Greenawalt: Predicting Coalition Success and Failure: A 25-Year History of Leader Experience

Monday, January 01, 2018, 9:15:56 AM

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In this episode, our guest Dr. Jessica Greenawalt discusses her research examining twenty-five years of coalition leaders' perceptions of their effectiveness and how time has affected their appraisals of their activity. She describes what she discovered, the implications for current social change efforts, and what constitutes effective leadership of alliances for combined action.

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Average Rating: 4stars  greenawalt, Sunday, February 03, 2019

By Alfred Womack :

Dr. Greenawalt describes a study she designed to build on the work of her mentors, who worked with labor organizers to figure out what worked best in their organizing. Much of the podcast is spent defining terms and describing study designs. At the end we hear her findings: that coalitions (preferred, she notes, over “organizations,” describing a durable network over a looser, time-limited collaboration) need structure to persist, and that that structure must be codified in the operations of participating institutions in order for resources to be reliably directed to the coalition’s work; and that diversity, along with a consensus-based, egalitarian leadership structure, were favored by participants, but more difficult to practice and not as long-lasting as top-down leadership with less community participation. Most of all a coalition’s success depended on its leadership, the “linchpin” of many interlocking functions. The leader has to be focused on the small things and the big ones at once—to keep one eye on the cookpot and one eye on the horizon—and she must be able to adapt, especially to other people’s needs: she has to make it possible for everyone to participate.
This is valuable stuff, and important to preserve. These researchers’ work to systematize the elements and structure of the social movement that the leaders grew out of and then helped to grow is admirable, and seems to have been a success. I would like to hear more of the leaders’ words—not in translation, so to speak, but verbatim. The gap and gatekeeping between the academic world and the people it studies is probably unavoidable, and probably necessary to the process of doing research. But it alienates the researcher from her subject, and preserves the hierarchy that modern social work inverts: the client is the expert. At some point the expert should not have to have her words translated into pseudo-scientific jargon to have them be heard by those whose interests she shares.

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