The ‘So What?’ of EJSCREEN

map layersBy Hallah Elbeleidy

We exist in a time when geography is increasingly being recognized as a primary indicator for who, in our societies, benefits from access to resources and who does not. Mapping tools have the unique ability to show relationships between variables that may not have seemed relevant before. Although I, as a geographer, have a vested interest in promoting the relevancy of my discipline, you don’t have to look further than EJSCREEN, EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, to draw these same conclusions.

However, I still think it’s imperative to ask, “so what?”

Perhaps the most daunting time in my graduate career was having to answer the “so what?” of my chosen research topic, the cause of all causes that impassions me until this day. The “so what?” of research motivates me to ask even more difficult questions like who will benefit from a project, what are its impacts and, ultimately, do I have the passion to get it done.

Click on the photo to Launch the EJSCREEN tool!

Click on the photo to Launch EJSCREEN!

My experiences in academia, and the non-profit and public sectors have taught me that well-designed instruction at all stages in a project are imperative to success, and these same experiences have shown me that this consideration is overlooked at times. Practicing education can take place internally among project organizers and externally where outreach to the public can have a profound effect on the success of a project or, I daresay, a mapping tool.

As a research fellow with EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), my goal is to get to the crux of this “so what?” dilemma with EJSCREEN, and the path I am taking to answer this question is education. I believe the next step forward must be creating outreach materials to educate the public on the uses of EJSCREEN, the people affected, and why it matters.

I am developing case studies that exemplify how federal, state, and community stakeholders employ EJSCREEN because I believe it is a practical and fruitful exercise and so do you, according to the feedback you provided us. In addition, OEJ is launching the EJSCREEN user impact survey, a short survey designed to capture how you are using the mapping tool to further your analyses in your personal and professional lives. Share with us a time when you used EJSCREEN, the results, your analysis of those results, and your recommendations for improving the tool. The survey will be open until November 8, 2016. We will select a variety of responses that reflect the diversity of our users and will showcase these stories on EPA’s EJSCREEN website based on unique uses and innovativeness.

Make sure to check out the EJSCREEN user impact survey website to learn how to submit your questions, comments, and suggestions about the survey! You can access this website at https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen/ejscreen-user-impact-survey.

Click on the photo to learn how to use the EJSCREEN tool.

Click on the photo to learn how to use the EJSCREEN tool.

The goals of answering the “so what?” of EJSCREEN are to provide a rich set of examples the public can use to inspire them to make new connections between health and environment that are not always apparent; build on their EJSCREEN knowledge by practicing how to recreate a particular result featured in the case study; collaborate with others who are working on environmental justice in their community or region; and share these stories with others who want to learn more about environmental justice.

Help us succeed by participating in the EJSCREEN user impact survey. The ability for us at the EPA to implement change, after all, is inextricably bound to you—the public—and your trust in, use of, and feedback to what we create.

This research is supported by an appointment to the Research Participation Program for the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the US Department of Energy and the EPA.

About the Author: Hallah Elbeleidy received an MS in Geography from Penn State University in 2015. Her thesis examined tensions between privatization and ecological preservation in the city using Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey as a case study. She was awarded an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellowship with EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) where she is designing and building educational materials on EJSCREEN case studies.

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