NIEHS kicked off a new strategic planning process at the June 6-7 meeting of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council, as the institute reaches the end of its NIEHS Strategic Plan 2012-2017 – Frontiers in Environmental Health Sciences (Booklet) (7MB).

Looking back, five years later

“It’s time for us to be moving on,” said NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. “Moving on doesn’t mean abandoning what we’ve been working on for the last five years,” she added, referring to the plan as a living, breathing document. “I am constantly and happily amazed that all of our grantees and our NIEHS staff can tell you where their work fits within our strategic plan.”

Senior staff members from across the institute illustrated how their groups’ accomplishments over the past five years aligned with the plan’s strategic goals. The councilors expressed appreciation of NIEHS and NTP initiatives in all aspects of environmental health sciences.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of strategic planning exercises in a lot of scientific organizations, and I have never seen an exercise that has been started and carried all the way through so well, including your very thoughtful and sensible plan for this next phase,” said councilor Kenneth Fasman, Ph.D., from the Jackson Laboratory.

Planning the next five years

Because the current plan provides a solid foundation, the next planning phase will be a less intensive process. “The bottom line here is that it’s not necessary to start from scratch,” said Sheila Newton, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation.

“Some parts of the 2012-2017 plan will continue to be relevant to current scientific realities, and just need a little updating,” she explained. “Other parts deal with areas of the environmental health sciences that have changed dramatically since 2011.”

To gather input from stakeholders, NIEHS established an online survey, Trends and Insights: Next Steps for NIEHS (see sidebar). Participants may submit input on overall needs and priorities for environmental health sciences, as well as suggested revisions to the existing strategic plan.

With considerable analysis and drafting to come, Newton said NIEHS aims to publish the update in October 2018.

Science talks

Grantee Donna Spiegelman, Sc.D., from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, described her work in implementation science, a new and growing field.

“Implementation science is about determining what works, in real-life, full-scale settings,” she told the council. “We need to figure out how to get these effective, cheap interventions out to … families all over the world who don’t have access to them,” she said. “And doing that is the implementation piece, which can be researched as rigorously and systematically as any primary biological or epidemiologic hypotheses.”

An epidemiologist and biostatistician by training, Spiegelman is in the third year of her five-year National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award.

NIEHS lead researcher Guang Hu, Ph.D., also delivered a science talk, describing his laboratory’s groundbreaking work on the molecular mechanisms that regulate embryonic stem cells. A few days earlier, an NIEHS workshop welcomed experts in that field to a symposium and workshop.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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