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In 2011, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) undertook a multipronged process to develop a five-year strategic plan. We incorporated four key elements into this process to maximize the usefulness of its outcome as a guide for NIEHS and for the global environmental health research community. It was consultative in seeking the combined wisdom of a wide range of relevant experts who were both internal and external to NIEHS. It was innovative in making use of both a public website where interested people could submit and rate “Visionary Ideas” and an Open Space meeting format designed to encourage nontraditional thinking about our field. It was inclusive in encouraging the participation of diverse stakeholders through an extensive awareness campaign and in offering multiple access points into the process. And it was transparent, using a public commenting forum, meeting summaries, a dedicated website to provide information throughout the process, and a publicly accessible home for the plan once it was published (https://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/strategicplan/index.cfm). The process for developing our next plan, which we began in June with an announcement at our National Advisory Environmental Health Science Council meeting, will incorporate these same elements.
Our investment in the 2011–2012 process resulted in a strategic plan (NIEHS/NIH 2012) that captured the scientific and training priorities of the diverse disciplines that comprise environmental health while setting new paths of exploration in areas such as data technologies, emerging threats, and economic evaluation. The plan articulated our mission and vision and set goals in 11 discrete areas supported by the crosscutting themes of Collaborative and Innovative Approaches and Knowledge Management. NIEHS immediately set about putting the 2012–2017 plan into action by creating teams to devise ways to implement the goals and integrate their priorities across the Institute’s divisions and programs.
As NIEHS approaches the end of its 2012–2017 Strategic Plan (NIEHS/NIH 2012), it is not only appropriate but also critical that we review the efforts expended, the progress made, and the shortfalls remaining in the pursuit of its goals. As a U.S. government organization, we have a responsibility to account for our stewardship of the public’s resources and trust. As a leader in environmental health, both profession and practicality require that we share the knowledge we generate across the global research, public health, and biomedical research communities to advance our field. Such reviews also offer us the opportunity to inform, refine, and expand future goals with the advantage of hindsight. Our current strategic plan (NIEHS/NIH 2012) has functioned as an invaluable roadmap for NIEHS and for the entire field of environmental health.
The evidence to support this assertion has been collected and documented on our strategic plan implementation website (https://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/strategicplan/implementation/index.cfm), which I invite you to explore. This site details accomplishments including 52 research funding opportunity announcements; more than 18,000 publications from NIEHS-funded work; new collaborations on topics as diverse as children’s environmental health, metabolomics, and Zika; new tools and resources to facilitate both research and its dissemination; and landmark convening of experts to focus on some of the most complex environmental health issues both in the United States and around the world. Although they are extensive, these pages are only highlights because not every possible outcome of the Strategic Plan can be assessed. And just as with effects of environmental exposures, the impacts of our research and programs are often measurable only over time, so evaluation is an ongoing process. Nevertheless, I believe that the evidence bears me out when I say that the level to which we have sought to use this Strategic Plan to guide, focus, and integrate efforts across NIEHS over the last five years is unprecedented.
The momentum of these successes propels us forward as we develop a plan to guide our next five years. We begin, as always, by seeking broad input. To this end, we have created an online survey, “Trends & Insights: Next Steps for NIEHS” (https://www.research.net/r/niehs_strategic_plan), through which anyone can provide feedback on the existing Strategic Plan as well as offer any other relevant comments. This survey will be available until 11 August 2017, and the results, along with input collected in other venues, will help to inform a draft Strategic Plan that we anticipate making available for review later this year.
I invite you to join NIEHS in this strategic planning process as we continue to provide global leadership that is focused on ensuring ongoing support for environmental health science, that are flexible enough that we can take advantage of new paradigms and capacities, and most importantly, that are fit for the purpose of achieving our mission: to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives.