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NIEHS Hosts Strategic Planning Forum in Chapel Hill

By Blondell Peterson
November 2005

The Strategic Planning Forum held at the Chapel Hill Sheraton Oct. 17-18 drew a crowd of approximately 90 participants. Sixty-six were extramural scientists and advocates of the NIEHS mission.

Sheila Newton, director of the Office of Science Policy and Planning, said all the discussions were focused, lively and energetic. She credited that to the 24 seasoned discussion leaders who lead the breakout groups and presented summaries of the 1-½ hour discussions at three plenaries. The 24 breakout groups consisted of no more than 12 people.

Newton said all of the participants were extremely engaged, and there was lots of good discussion. "People told me how much they learned by having an opportunity to be in a group with people that work in different disciplines," she said.

The first cycle of breakout sessions was the meatiest, according to Newton, because participants were asked to think about NIEHS research in a global way-not just their own individual research discipline. The questions given to the groups dealt with using environmental exposures to understand human biology-what's actually going on in the cells.

Newton said the second cycle of breakout discussions was intended to move toward using environmental sciences and exposures to understanding human diseases. After the plenary, the groups were mixed up and sent back out to talk about exposure sciences.

"If we're going to use environmental exposures to study human disease and human biology then we need to look at the needs and the research challenges in making sure we have the ability to track exposures in human systems," she said. "We also need to look at the infrastructure investment needs."

In cycle three, according to Newton, the groups tackled two overarching issues that included elements of issues discussed in the first two sessions-global health and training.

"The last thing we talked about was training because you have to make sure that your programs are fulfilling your needs to train people to do all of the things we talked about in the three sessions," said Newton.

"The results of all the discussions are being pulled together in a proceedings document. A contract science writer will use all the summaries and synthesize all the main ideas," Newton said. She hopes to get the outline of the proceedings so that she can present the results at a November NIEHS town meeting. Newton will also present the summary and a strategic plan status report to the Public Interest Liaison Group in Crystal City, Virginia on Nov. 29.

Newton said once she gets the proceedings document, management will be in a position to start outlining what the plan is going to look like and when it will be circulated.

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