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Reflections from the Radon Stakeholder Dialogue Facilitator

As a relative outsider to the Radon community, I have been 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 and rely on the efforts of the others in order to meet the shared goals that each has come together to set. EPA’s mandate to
protect human health from the risks of radon gas, CRCPD’s aims to support State efforts to reduce radon exposure, and AARST’s mission to support a viable, skilled, and professional radon industry capable of providing measurement, mitigation, and information to the public – all
require some amount of resources, action, energy, and engagement from other parties outside of their control in order to succeed. The three key organizations – and the many constituents that make up each – have so much to gain from working together to increase results.

Many of the forces that push toward collaboration, however, also make such collaboration difficult. The Federal government, state agencies, proficiency programs, professional organizations, and scientific community each have unique contributions to make, but also overlapping areas of concern, authority, action, and power. Resources for all groups are limited, to say the least. And a confusing set of historical events that took place when and since the radon program became “privatized” led to misunderstandings and mistrust among key players in
a pretty small community of radon actors. Add to that some unique historical events (like the first Consumer Reports article in the 1980's, the privatization of the RMP, and the establishment of both voluntary certification programs) and you had the potential for misunderstandings and mistrust among key players in a pretty small community of radon actors.

When the Radon Stakeholder Dialogue began, in 2007, it seemed to me that the 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 Stakeholder 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 was created NOT as a way to
require consensus on all the work each group does, but rather to have up-front, honest (sometimes brutally), and clear conversations about interests, and to seek resolutions that all parties could understand and live with. Rather, the goal is to help the member groups of the radon community to communicate and coordinate actions that impact each group’s abilities to achieve their own missions and those of the community as a whole. It has been hard work - it is 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 have increased their understandings of the underlying concerns and motivations of their counterparts, and raised and clarified multiple occurrences of miscommunication that have happened since. The tone of conversation has improved. There is less accusatory language being used (although it sometimes surfaces). Participants know where their counterparts are coming from more clearly. And, importantly, the Dialogue (I think) has nipped many problems in the bud before they grew out of control. On substantive matters, the participants have undertaken efforts collectively and on their own to respond to the concerns of others in the group. The Standards consortium has begun a “harmonization” process for the two existing mitigation standards, and has opened the
possibility of becoming an independent organization to codify its neutral consensus standard setting role within the radon community. Collectively, the group has developed consensus on the conditions necessary for legitimate consensus 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.

All members of the radon community are encouraged to be engaged in the work of the Stakeholder Dialogue, by communicating with your representatives in the group and joining any working groups or other collaborative efforts. I urge you to get involved!

Thank you all for the opportunity to work with your community on this initiative.