SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
19 January 2017
Volume 18 Issue 1

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Change Is Here!

Tamar Schlekat, SETAC North America Science Manager and Roel Evens, SETAC Europe Science Manager

What were previously called SETAC Advisory Groups (AGs) are now officially called Interest Groups (IGs).

AGs have been part of the landscape of SETAC since the early 1990s. Many AG members have contributed significantly to the implementation of “Environmental Quality through Science®.” To date, we have a total of 27 groups with varying levels of membership and activity, but all are aligned with SETAC’s mission and tripartite philosophy.

Last year, SETAC explored several lingering issues surrounding these groups around a variety of subjects through a combination of membership surveys, small group conversations and discussions with leadership. These discussions are leading to some positive changes in the operations of these groups, starting with a change in their names.

The original name reflected an internal capacity to advise SETAC governing bodies in matters of science, especially on aspects leading to enhanced science programming. While it also has been possible for AGs to provide technical advice to bodies developing scientific standards and harmonizing methods, the internal designation as an AG was a conflict to some external bodies. Suffice it to say that although some felt that “advisory” was an appropriate and effective designation, given the nature of possible previous activities, there were opinions expressed that a change should be made.

SETAC polled members to determine the desire for a change and what preferences there were for alternatives. We surveyed over a thousand SETAC members who are also members of AGs, and of the more than 400 respondents, the majority (73%) felt that a name change should be made. We also polled students, very few of whom currently belong to AGs, and they also wanted a name change. A second survey question provided a number of choices for alternatives. Members, both professionals and students, voted for “Interest Group” as their first choice, followed by names like “Discussion Group” and “Expert Group.”

Despite the fact that long-time members will need a mental transition period to adopt the new name, the change to IG makes sense for a number of reasons.

One, it is more inclusive. Students and early career professionals responded overwhelmingly that the term “advisory” seemed intimidating and did not appear to invite their participation. SETAC and the Geographic Units have increased their outreach and support to students and early career scientists, and emphasize that the interest groups are a venue for learning and collaboration for all members. The name change should appeal to more SETAC members and increase participation in the IGs. SETAC leadership supports the strong desire that IGs should be open, inviting and inclusive – the only requirement to join an IG is an interest in its topic.

Another motivating factor for the change is that certain external agencies, particularly global and European chemical and food safety entities, have designated the term “advisory” group or body to mean narrowly a group of senior experts who provide technical input to those bodies on various issues. Even though it is likely that SETAC has used the term for as long if not longer, it does cause confusion and even precludes some SETAC members from inclusion in these external groups.

Third, although some AGs in the past have indeed provided advisory services, both internally to SETAC and externally to bodies, not all have done so or want to do so. Does this mean that IGs cannot give advice or provide outreach? Definitely not! Any IG has the option of establishing an advisory or expert subgroup. IGs can have subgroups that are strictly ad hoc such as those for workshop and topic meeting development, or others that are designed to maintain activity as long as desired by the IG such as advisory sub-groups.

Advisory or expert sub-groups can be established within any IG according to the expertise and other needs for a particular advisory effort and in conformance with SETAC policies and any requirements established by the body to which advice is given. If an IG wants to initiate a formal external advisory activity, they should do two things. First and foremost, find out what are the requirements of the advisee entity for both organizational and individual participation. Secondly, coordinate with the respective SETAC science manager who is the staff coordinator for the IG to understand how to interpret and apply the requirements within SETAC.

The mode of establishing an advisory or expert group remains as it has been, which is to amend or annex the IG governance document to describe what the expert group will do; how its members will be selected (typically nominations with the necessary expertise and experience from the IG membership and approved by the IG steering committee); and who will oversee its activity (usually the steering committee or the staff liaison or both). Any requirements imposed on the experts by the outside advisee, including timing and mode of contributions, should be recognized. A process and decision flowchart is helpful to control the activity. Where appropriate and necessary, depending on the nature of the advisory services being offered, it may be necessary to engage with the public outreach or communications committees or SETAC leadership.

At the end of the day, based on the survey responses and extensive discussions, the SETAC World Council, SETAC Europe Council and the SETAC North America Board (currently the three councils and boards that maintain IGs) have approved the changes to the IG designation and operations. The name change to “Interest Group” officially became effective on 1 January. The terminology is being revised on SETAC’s website, and in documents and communications. Groups are encouraged to begin using the new name as soon as possible.

It’s not just a name change. With the name change, we hope to encourage stronger IGs committed to the SETAC mission. It was exciting to see the energy in IGs in Orlando, and we encourage you to keep that momentum going. Groups are already following up in the new year with ideas for focus articles, session proposals, workshops and inter-IG collaborations, and working to give all IG members an opportunity to contribute to priority activities. To help achieve this goal, SETAC will provide our IGs a stronger platform from which to operate. Revised guidelines will provide recommendations for IG membership rules and composition as well as suggestions for best operational practices. Communication regarding the revised guidelines is forthcoming. We’re looking forward to great things from our IGs in 2017!

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