The challenge of social networking in the field of environment and health
Van den Hazel, P., Keune, H., Randall, S., Yang, A., Ludlow, D. and Bartonova, A. (2012) The challenge of social networking in the field of environment and health. Environmental Health, 11 (Supp 1). ISSN 1476-069X
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Publisher's URL: http://www.ehjournal.net/content/11/S1/S15/
Background: The fields of environment and health are both interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary, and until recently had little engagement in social networking designed to cross disciplinary boundaries. The EU FP6 project HENVINET aimed to establish integrated social network and networking facilities for multiple stakeholders in environment and health. The underlying assumption is that increased social networking across disciplines and sectors will enhance the quality of both problem knowledge and problem solving, by facilitating interactions. Interand trans-disciplinary networks are considered useful for this purpose. This does not mean that such networks are easily organized, as openness to such cooperation and exchange is often difficult to ascertain. Methods: Different methods may enhance network building. Using a mixed method approach, a diversity of actions were used in order to investigate the main research question: which kind of social networking activities and structures can best support the objective of enhanced inter- and trans-disciplinary cooperation and exchange in the fields of environment and health. HENVINET applied interviews, a role playing session, a personal response system, a stakeholder workshop and a social networking portal as part of the process of building an interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary network. Results: The interviews provided support for the specification of requirements for an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary network. The role playing session, the personal response system and the stakeholder workshop were assessed as useful tools in forming such network, by increasing the awareness by different disciplines of other’s positions. The social networking portal was particularly useful in delivering knowledge, but the role of the scientist in social networking is not yet clear. Conclusions: The main challenge in the field of environment and health is not so much a lack of scientific problem knowledge, but rather the ability to effectively communicate, share and use available knowledge for policy making. Structured social network facilities can be useful by policy makers to engage with the research community. It is beneficial for scientists to be able to integrate the perspective of policy makers in the research agenda, and to assist in co-production of policy-relevant information. A diversity of methods need to be applied for network building: according to the fit-for-purpose-principle. It is useful to know which combination of methods and in which time frame produces the best results. Networking projects such as HENVINET are created not only for the benefit of the network itself, but also because the applying of the different methods is a learning tool for future network building. Finally, it is clear that the importance of specialized professionals in enabling effective communication between different groups should not be underestimated.