Stakeholder Engagement: The key to building more sustainable systems within the IRIS Program

By Elizabeth Corona


On November 13, I attended a public stakeholder meeting for EPA’s  Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program. During the meeting, IRIS leadership spoke about changes being considered to improve the Program, and stakeholders shared their views on the changes and made other recommendations.

Dr. Ken Olden, Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA), home of the IRIS Program, shared his vision for IRIS.  This vision is based on the idea that proactive stakeholder engagement and transparency will increase the scientific quality of IRIS assessments and the efficiency of the assessment development process. Vince Cogliano, Acting Director of the IRIS Program, then talked about some of the specific changes that stakeholders can expect in the coming year, such as improving peer review and using systematic review – an automated process to identify, evaluate, and integrate data – to develop IRIS assessments. 

The majority of the meeting, however, focused on listening to stakeholders. A panel of individuals from various stakeholder groups shared their views about IRIS. An open forum followed, during which participants (both in person and online), panelists, and NCEA leadership had a lively discussion. 

Stakeholder engagement is widely recognized as an essential element of sustainable organizational systems.  Meaningful engagement can help build mutual respect between parties, and ensure the quality and timeliness of outcomes. Its importance was recently emphasized by the National Research Council in their 2011 report “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA” (also known as the “Greenbook”). For several years now, EPA has been working to infuse sustainability and systems thinking into its research and other activities. This meeting was an excellent example of how the IRIS Program has embraced these concepts.

With sustainability as the new guiding principle for IRIS, the Program will become more resilient, enabling scientists to more easily take on new challenges and adjust as new risk assessment methods and types of data become available. Many stakeholders who participated in the November 13 meeting seemed excited about these changes and eager to see how our new direction improves the Program.

However, this is only the beginning. The long-term sustainability of the IRIS Program will require continued and frequent engagement with stakeholders representing a wide range of perspectives.

To make sure your voice is heard, visit the meeting webpage, view the meeting materials, provide your input through the “Virtual Comment Box,” and be on the lookout for the next opportunity to provide input!

For more information on the IRIS Program, planned changes, or future opportunities to engage, please visit the IRIS website or subscribe to the monthly Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) Bulletin. To subscribe, click here and enter your e-mail address.  

About the author: Elizabeth Corona is the Program Associate for EPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) research program. She joined the EPA two years ago and has a Ph.D. in Organizational Systems, with a focus on sustainability.