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.

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