Unit 3 Section 3.5: Developing Operating Norms

At the partnership’s very first meeting, the group should consider developing a set of “Operating norms” to get the partnership off to a good start. Engaging in a collaborative process for developing these norms can enhance trust among the partners involved. The Operating norms should be a living, breathing and dynamic document that can be revised based on team process evaluations and periodic review and discussion by the partners. Applied successfully, the norms will encourage, not hinder, honest and direct discussion from all parties. Ongoing attention to process and facilitation issues helps to facilitate equitable processes and procedures in a partnership.

Operating norms differ from CBPR principles in that the norms provide guidance to the partnership in how it works together to get things done (for example, at meetings and during small group and one-on-one interactions) while the Principles serve as the overarching blueprint to ensure that the research is conducted using the CBPR model.

Emphasis needs to be placed on jointly developing norms and principles for working together such as:

  • Mutual respect

  • Equitable involvement of all partners in all aspects of the process, openness

  • Agreeing to disagree

  • Valuing of diverse cultures and expertise

Importantly, these norms cannot be imposed on a partnership; rather, all of the partners need to engage in a process of defining and adopting the norms. In addition, these principles need to be applied to all aspects of the partnership's actions (for example, facilitation of meetings, decision-making processes, and evaluation).

A set of operating norms can outline the strategies for decision-making (e.g., making decisions by consensus, by majority vote). For example:

  • Meetings facilitated by someone with considerable group process experience.

  • Community members serve in positions of power – such as chairing the board and/or serving as Principal or Co-Principal Investigators, and participating in all levels of decision-making, can help to create a balance of power between community and institutional partners.

  • Hold regular meetings of the partners that are accessible to all partners – and ensure that meetings take place during convenient times, with available parking, child care, and food.

  • Ensure that all members have an opportunity to express their opinions and be heard, especially when multiple languages are spoken, encouraging quieter members to contribute their ideas.

  • Resolve conflicts when they occur.

  • Ensure that all partners are involved, to the extent they are interested, in the governance and day-to-day operations of the partnership. 

Exercise 3.5.1: Developing Operating Norms for the Partnership

Ask participants to take 5 minutes to complete the following task individually:

“Think about groups in which you have been a member that have been positive experiences - groups in which you enjoyed participating, groups that have accomplished their tasks, whose meetings you liked. Considering these groups, write down the three to five factors that contributed to this being a positive experience. That is, what was it about the group that made it successful? If you have not had any such experiences working with groups, then think about groups in which you were a member that you did not think were effective and consider what are the three to five factors that would have needed to change in order to have made it a more effective group?”

After participants write down their responses, ask them to share their responses. Record their comments on newsprint until all of the factors identified are written down (15 minutes).

Examples of points that might be raised include: everyone listened, mutual respect, people agreed to disagree, meeting agendas were well organized and covered, humor was used, all members were encouraged to participate, and decisions were made by consensus.

After recording all of the factors on newsprint, give participants an opportunity to ask for clarification of any of the factors listed. After everyone is clear on the meanings of each element on the newsprint, explain that, for the most part, these are the very principles that are identified in the group process literature that defines the characteristics of effective groups.