SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  7 November 2013
Volume 14 Issue 11

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Global Horizon Scanning and Research Prioritization Project Launched in Lusaka

Bryan Brooks, Gary Ankley, Alistair Boxall and Murray Rudd, HSP Team and Patricia Bi Asanga Fai, SETAC Africa President and SETAC World Council Representative

The SETAC World Council launched the Global Horizon Scanning and Prioritization Project (HSP) in September 2013 during the SETAC Africa meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. As introduced in the August 2013 issue of the Globe, the HSP project aims to identify geographically specific research needs to address stressor impacts on environmental quality. This project employs a key questions model in which research questions are submitted by scientists working in various sectors and capacities. SETAC, as a leading global environmental science organization, is uniquely positioned with geographic units in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America to undertake this robust activity, which is unique in the history of environmental science.

The 6th SETAC Africa Conference represented an ideal opportunity to formally launch the initiative as the meeting theme was “21st Century Africa and Beyond–Balancing Economic Growth Opportunities with Environmental Sustainability.” By all accounts, the first meeting of SETAC Africa as a new Geographic Unit was successful with 76 attendees from 18 countries, including 10 different African nations. Bryan Brooks provided a plenary talk in which he presented an overview of the project and examples of an “ideal” question. For example, the ideal question should:

  1. Address important gaps in knowledge
  2. Be answerable through a realistic research design
  3. Have a factual answer that does not depend on value judgments
  4. Cover a spatial and temporal scale that could realistically be addressed by a research team ($10M USD over 5 years)
  5. Not be answerable by “it all depends” or “yes or no” and
  6. If related to impact and interventions, should contain a subject, an intervention and a measurable outcome.

During the meeting, an on-site computer terminal was available for participants to directly enter their questions. Questions had to be scientific and could cover any aspect of the fields of environmental toxicology and chemistry (e.g., methods of chemical analysis, chemical fate and transport, different biomes (freshwater, terrestrial, marine), natural and man-made chemicals, chemical/non-chemical interactions, ecological and human health endpoints, affected populations, susceptible ecoregions or resources, prospective and retrospective risk assessment methodologies and risk management approaches). Participants were specifically asked, “What research question, if answered, would substantially advance our understanding of adverse impacts of stressors (e.g., chemical, physical, biological) on environmental sustainability?”

On-site feedback from participants and general enthusiasm for the project was impressive. At the end of the conference, Alistair Boxall provided a closing presentation, which summarized major themes arising from 55 unique research questions submitted. SETAC Africa is continuing to solicit further questions from others who could not attend the meeting in Lusaka and is advancing the planning process for an expert workshop in 2014 to synthesize and identify priority research questions relevant to Africa. If you would like to participate in this unique exercise, please submit your priority research questions for Africa in English or French.

As the project moves forward over the next few years, priority research questions will be solicited from each of SETAC's Geographic Units, then synthesized by expert teams of academic, business and government representatives to form lists of the top research questions. Following the five GU exercises, priority research questions from each will be examined during global workshops, again with balanced representation from academia, business and government. During these global workshops, priority research needs will be identified and ranked by participants. These top research questions will then be submitted to SETAC and the broader scientific community for further ranking and prioritization. Outcomes from this project will be disseminated through SETAC forums, including publications in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. The resulting list of top global research needs will be launched at the 7th SETAC World Congress from 6–10 November 2016 in Orlando, Fla., USA.

Stay tuned to the Globe for more details as this exiting project progresses!

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