Reflections from the National Radon Dialogue Facilitator

January 26, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action month. The EPA’s “National Radon Dialogue”, a voluntary, ongoing forum for conversation and collaboration among the primary stakeholder groups working on radon issues, focuses on increasing public awareness about testing and mitigation in existing homes, and construction of radon-resistant new homes. I have been facilitating the work of the National Radon Dialogue since 2007.

When I began working in the radon community, I was struck by how essential collaboration is to achieving the goals set by the Radon Leaders Saving Lives campaign, and how these goals in turn reflect the shared interests of the participating groups. No one group working on radon has the capacity to achieve it’s goals on it’s own, and all require some amount of resources, action, energy, and engagement from other parties outside of their control.

Many of the forces that push toward collaboration, however, also make such collaboration difficult. The Federal government, state agencies, proficiency programs, professional organizations, and the scientific community each have unique contributions to make, but also have overlapping areas of concern, authority, action, and power. Resources for all groups are limited, and a confusing set of historical events related to the “privatization” of the radon program have led to misunderstandings and mistrust among key players in the relatively small community of radon actors.

When the National Radon Dialogue began in 2007, it seemed that member groups of the radon community were at a low point in their relationships and communication. Accusations about the good faith motivations of others were not uncommon, and substantive concerns about competing standards, fragmentation, and lack of cohesion abounded. The National Radon Dialogue was formed to provide a forum for addressing both substantive and relationship challenges that threatened to weaken the power of the collective radon community to achieve its critically important public health goals. The Dialogue members have worked hard, focused on the real issues people care about and the bottom-line interests they are working to satisfy.

Since early 2007, I have seen some real changes in both the approaches and the actions of the participating organizations. The tone and effectiveness of communication and real-time problem solving between groups has improved dramatically. Participants are more clear on where their counterparts are coming from. And, importantly, the Dialogue has nipped many problems in the bud before they grew out of control. Collectively, the group has developed consensus on the conditions necessary for legitimate standard setting, initiated a multi-party work group to address QA/QC for radon professionals, engaged EPA in a movement toward establishing the USEPA Radon Lab as a reference lab, and shared a starting point for a national policy on Radon Chambers.

This is an updated version of a 2009 blog entry posted on RadonLeaders.org, an online learning and action network. The original entry can be read here.

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