The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And often times when it comes to advocacy and affecting change, that whole is the coalition or task force.

Joining forces with similar organizations can be an excellent strategy to advance a common goal.

Take, for example, transparency in health care costs. Whether you are a consumer of health care,Health care work in health care or do business in the health care sector, cost transparency is important. Last week, Modern Healthcare reported that a task force led by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) had released a report and recommendations and guidelines for making the costs of health care transparent. The guidelines and recommendations highlight how hospitals, physicians, and health plans would share reliable information on health care prices with consumers.

Even before the Affordable Care Act, calls for pricing transparency were loud. They’ve been amplified, and HFMA, along with America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital Association, Catalyst for Payment Reform, Community Health Advisors, and others, are answering the call.

The task force has developed a lot of good information. But developing good information is only part of the necessary effort. As the task force has said, it’s now time to execute.

Recommendations and guiding principles are a great start, but they’re not mandates, which represents a challenge. Add in the magnitude of what HFMA is recommending, and it’s monumental, making good follow-up critical to the effort’s success. If a coalition lacks appropriately aggressive follow through and proactive outreach, the effort will die on the vine.

In my experience developing alliances and working with coalitions to advance objectives “on the ground,” there are several key considerations, all of which come under the question, “How do you go from grass tops to grassroots?”

If your organization is part of a coalition or considering joining or developing one, ask yourself the following.

  1. How will grassroots partners be proactively engaged? A scalable, repeatable, efficient and effective model is needed to proactively engage health care providers and payers in the regions and communities in which they work. In this example, the HFMA task force has established a sound national agenda. Effectively driving it from the top down will take a smart approach. Don’t expect that just because you’ve built it, they will come.
  2. What is the media strategy? All politics is local, and so is media. How will the story be localized to heighten awareness and drive momentum?
  3. In getting into the grassroots from the national level, the Internet can be the great equalizer. What is the online strategy to advance the recommendations? How will social media be leveraged?
  4. Will local lawmakers be engaged, and if so, how? In the HFMA task force example, the group acknowledges there may be a policy component of the effort at some point, but does it make sense to educate and engage legislators now? If not, at what point does it, and what is the approach?
  5. If you’re part of or developing a coalition, how will you know whether you’re moving the needle? In other words, how will you constantly measure your success? In this case, the publishing of pricing as a result of the guidelines and recommendations may be the holy grail of the effort, but there are other metrics that can demonstrate a worthwhile, high-value effort that yields ROI.

Budget, human resources and the realities of day-to-day business present challenges for not only HFMA’s task force, but for most coalitions. But I’ve seen them work. I’ve seen them rally stakeholders, create deeper, ongoing dialogue and advance (and sometimes kill) legislation.   A laudable, national effort can wind its way into the grassroots for maximum effectiveness. The follow-through strategy is key.