Keeping Momentum in NORA Councils: Different Ways to Achieve Partner Engagement

Posted on by Emily J.K. Novicki MA, MPH, and Summer Slaughter, MPH


The National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) is a partnership program, stewarded by NIOSH, to stimulate innovative research and improved workplace practices for the nation. Currently, there are 17 NORA councils that align with each of the 10 industry sectors and 7 health and safety cross-sectors. Membership in NORA councils is diverse and includes individuals from large and small businesses, worker organizations, academia, professional societies, and other organizations. These stakeholders all come together to set the occupational research direction for the nation by writing research agendas and then working together to address the agendas through information exchange, collaboration, and enhanced dissemination and implementation of solutions that work.

However, like any other workgroup, panel, coalition or team, theses councils must also focus on maintaining engagement among their members in order to progress. In a 2019 Evaluation of NORA Councils, a council member survey, administrative records, and annual reports were used to understand how well councils were functioning. Members were asked about their perceptions of the council’s effectiveness and to give suggestions on improvements. Best practices for engagement included meeting on a regular schedule, having devoted leadership, setting goals or milestones, and creating workgroups when councils have more than 40 members. Engagement varied among the 17 councils, but the five highly engaged councils were shown to have robust participation among members and received generally positive feedback in the survey. Interestingly, these five councils used three different, and sometimes contrasting, approaches and yet were all able to maintain member engagement.

Model 1: Face-to-Face Interaction

The Construction and Oil and Gas Extraction Sector Councils found success with face-to-face interaction through meetings at partner facilities held about twice per year. These long-form meetings tend to focus half the time towards presentations and the other half to breakout sessions for workgroups. The advantage of this approach is the face-to-face time that may help acquaintances to become partners, but the challenge is that it can be difficult to maintain momentum between meetings.

Model 2: Online and Interpersonal Balance

A second model comes from the Manufacturing and Services Sector Councils. These two councils have a mix of in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings are held either every year or every other year but are also supplemented by regular online meetings. Online meetings throughout the year for the full council are typically devoted to presentations, information sharing, and in-person meeting planning. The workgroups from these councils have meetings outside of the larger councils that are also held online. This approach has less face-to-face time but the advantage of more regular interactions.

Model 3: Online Only

The third model is from the Respiratory Health Cross-Sector Council. This council meets exclusively online, with the occasional informal gathering at professional conferences. Meetings are primarily focused on partnership activities, and when the council does do presentations/webinars, they are in conjunction with other councils or organizations. While the other four exemplary councils have been operating since about 2006, Respiratory Health is one of the seven cross-sector councils formed in 2016/2017 at the start of the third decade of NORA.

Although these councils approached engagement in different ways, one thing they all did was find out what worked best for their members. Some groups enjoy three-hour virtual meetings, some don’t. What are some other best practices for partnerships that councils could use to increase member engagement? Let us know in the comments down below.

If you’re interested in joining one of the 17 NORA councils contact the NORA Coordinator, Emily Novicki, at

Emily J.K. Novicki MA, MPH is a health scientist in the NIOSH Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation.

Summer Slaughter, MPH is a public health advisor in the NIOSH Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation.

Posted on by Emily J.K. Novicki MA, MPH, and Summer Slaughter, MPH

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Page last reviewed: April 15, 2021
Page last updated: April 15, 2021