Functional characteristics of health coalitions in local public health systems: Exploring the function of county health councils in Tennessee

Academic Article


  • Context: Partnerships are emerging as critically important vehicles for addressing health in local communities. Coalitions involving local health departments can be viewed as the embodiment of a local public health system. Although it is known that these networks are heavily involved in assessment and community planning activities, limited studies have evaluated whether health coalitions are functioning at an optimal capacity. Objective: This study assesses the extent to which health coalitions met or exceeded expectations for building functional capacity within their respective networks. Design: An evaluative framework was developed focusing on 8 functional characteristics of coalitions previously identified by Erwin and Mills. Twenty-nine indicators were identified that served as "proxy" measures of functional capacity within health coalitions. Setting and Participants: Ninety-three County Health Councils (CoHCs) in Tennessee. Main Outcome Measure(s): Diverse member representation; formal rules, roles, and procedures; open, frequent interpersonal communication; task-focused climate; council leadership; resources; active member participation; and external linkages were assessed to determine the level of functionality of CoHCs. Scores across all CoHCs were analyzed using descriptive statistics such as frequency distributions, measures of central tendency, and measures of variability. Data were analyzed using SAS 9.3. Results: Of 68 CoHCs (73% response rate), the total mean score for the level of functional characteristics was 30.5 (median= 30.5; SD = 6.3; range, 18-44). Of the 8 functional characteristics, CoHCs met or exceeded all indicators associated with council leadership, tasked-focused climate, and external linkages. Lowest scores were for having a written communications plan, written priorities or goals, and opportunities for training. Conclusion: This study advances the research on health coalitions by establishing a process for quantifying the functionality of health coalitions. Future studies will be conducted to examine the association between health coalition functional capacity, local health departments' community health assessment and planning efforts, and changes in community health status.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 16241473
  • Author List

  • Barnes P; Erwin P; Moonesinghe R; Brooks A; Carlton EL; Behringer B
  • Start Page

  • 404
  • End Page

  • 409
  • Volume

  • 23
  • Issue

  • 4