Environmental Factor, June 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
The Power of Partnerships
By Thaddeus Schug
Welcoming public health leaders from across the country to the inaugural Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) meeting, NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., pledged her support for establishing and nurturing partnerships as part of achieving the NIEHS mission.
The two-day event brought together more than 200 environmental health advocates, researchers, public health professionals, and community partners in a crowded Rodbell Auditorium at NIEHS April 26-27. Meeting planners organized the agenda into five main sessions that consisted of a mix of presentations, group discussions, workshops, and poster sessions.
Birnbaum told the participants, "I want you all to know how committed I am to this program, especially on issues of community engagement. "
Event host and NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Program Analyst Liam O'Fallon echoed Birnbaum's vision for the PEPH program and said, "This is a new paradigm for the way NIEHS visualizes research. It is truly a program for the future." He emphasized that PEPH demonstrates NIEHS commitment to supporting initiatives that bring communities and scientists together to work in partnership on environmental public health issues. O'Fallon emphasized the significance of the meeting, "This event is the first time that so many grantees from different [DERT] programs have come together to share their individual and group accomplishments" (see program list online).
Engaging the community in environmental public health
O'Fallon explained, "We developed PEPH to serve as an umbrella program for NIEHS activities in environmental public health. The aim is to build upon the strengths of past and current programs and to coordinate new and continuing activities in environmental public health with a focus on research, communication, capacity building, and evaluation." Ultimately, the PEPH program will advance community engagement projects that will reduce adverse environmental exposures and prevent environmentally induced diseases and disability.
Meeting participants shared their personal perspectives on the importance of community engagement in environmental public health. Presenters highlighted the value of community participation, as well as the challenges that have to be overcome to achieve the desired project goals. Many participants noted the importance of fostering equitable partnerships and creating lines of effective communication between and among community residents and research organizations to meet environmental public health challenges.
Workshops offered a model in involvement
The meeting's five sessions and the Federal Coordination Panel embodied the theme of bi-directional engagement that Birnbaum and O'Fallon had mentioned in their introductions (see text box). Presenters gave informal talks that set the stage for a creative interchange of ideas, shared experiences, and suggestions from attendees. Moderated by PEPH working group members from DERT and some of the Institute's grantees, the sessions helped give attendees a sense of group participation in an integrated, ambitious program to meet goals in their respective communities and programs.
At the meeting, the PEPH working group unveiled the PEPH Resource Center, a tool for grantees to share their educational outreach materials with one another and with NIEHS during a workshop on "Getting Acquainted with the PEPH Resource Center."
Along with the information about programs and strategies, administrators were on hand to help grantees and potential funding applicants become better prepared to conduct successful, long-term programs in their communities.
(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction.)
PEPH Workshop Sessions
- Community Participation in Research: Insuring Research Leads to a Public Health Action, followed by a poster session on CBPR, Building Capacity, and Novel Tools
- Building the Capacity of All Research Partners, sharing the strategies used by four programs to develop the capacity of key partners
- PEPH Evaluation Metrics, followed by a poster session on Community Outreach, Education, and Translation
- Federal Coordination Panel, which highlighted programs from NIH partner institutes and centers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- Novel Methods, Models and Approaches Used to Detect Health Effects of Environmental Exposures, presented by three leaders in the field
- Risk Communication: Key Messages, Research, and Uncertainty, a discussion by five communication experts