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Expanding the Environmental Conversation with Communities

At EPA, we want to reach out to specific communities to provide them environmental information impacting them and their community. We also want to hear their concerns, involve them in the decision making process, and promote a new way of doing business. This project supports all three open principles, with a particular emphasis on Participation. The activities within this project support four of our five strategic goals within EPA’s Strategic Plan and 2 of the 3 cross-goal strategies.

Overview of Projects:

Urban Waters: We are convening a federal interagency work group focused on helping communities develop capacity to protect urban watersheds while addressing community sustainability. EPA intends to use Web tools for community-to-community information sharing, reach out to underserved stakeholders, and provide technical assistance to watershed communities.

Improve Communication of Sampling and Testing Results: EPA is developing a new communication methodology to use with the public when contamination is found in their communities. The new methodology will simplify scientific language, provide communities with visual illustrations and clear explanations of contamination levels and associated risks, and recommend actions that community members should take to protect themselves.

Improve Delivery of Information to At-Risk and Remote Communities: We are connecting with communities historically underrepresented in EPA decision making, to enhance their abilities to be informed and meaningfully participate in EPA decisions about land cleanup, emergency preparedness and response, and the management of hazardous substances and waste. A national EPA work group will evaluate how information is provided and make recommendations to improve our processes. The group will focus on electronic access and the digital divide, and ways to provide technical information so that it is clear, accessible and timely for use by affected communities.

Faces of the Grassroots Video Contest: We are sponsoring a video contest asking the public to highlight an environmental justice activity, issue or topic. Submissions via YouTube of public service announcements or short documentaries may be used in future outreach and education.

How we are addressing the Flagship Requirements in the Open Government Directive:

  • How the project supports one or more of the three open government principles. The Expanding the Environmental Conversation with Communities project primarily supports increasing the participation of the public in issues that affect them and their community. The activities within this project employ a range of new communication tools and help us simplify our message – helping us reach out to communities that might not otherwise be engaged. We are looking to find more and varied ways to get input from the public and communities, as well as encouraging the public to take an active role in bringing about positive change. The Faces of the Grassroots Video Contest differs from the other activities within this project in that we ask the public what topic interests them and to create a video that can be used widely to educate others.
  • How agency operations will be improved/benefits across the Agency. We expend a great deal of effort in developing communications to share with the public. Many of the communications activities have essentially been standardized across the Agency for particular actions (i.e., finalizing a major rulemaking). EPA expects to learn from the combination of the activities within this project which methods are effective and should be considered for future efforts. To date, there has not been an Agency-wide focus on how effective EPA communications efforts are, and we will share what we learn throughout the Agency to benefit future outreach efforts.
  • How we will identify affected and interested parties, engage them and maintain a dialogue. Each activity within this project is structured somewhat differently. For example, the activity Improve Delivery of Information to At-Risk and Remote Communities, will identify groups affected by actions such as hazardous site clean-up activities and waste management activities. We will then create communication tools targeted to more effectively reach and engage those groups. For each activity, we will describe how these communities were identified and actions taken in our progress report that will be posted on our open government site.  
  • Identification of any external partners. Each activity within this project involves outside partners at different levels. For example, the Urban Waters effort will work with state, tribal, and local government agencies within the jurisdiction of targeted water resources and with them attempt to develop a broad range of partnerships with non-government organizations, community action groups and others to form a more effective team solution to improving particular resources. For each activity, we will provide this detail in our progress report that will be posted on our open government site.  
  • How we will measure improvements to openness principles. We selected activities to improve and expand communications with the public in a variety of ways. We will track the milestones and measure results in our progress reports that will be posted on our open government site.  Based on the results we find in conducting these activities, we will evaluate the contributions these methods make and describe them in the interim lesson’s learned report due in Q2/2011 (see Appendix A of EPA’s Open Government Plan 1.0).
  • Steps we will take to sustain the initiative and build in improvements. EPA will publicize the benefits and improvements to communication efforts gained from the activities throughout the Agency for reference and use by headquarters and regional offices. We will evaluate communication plans and continue to gather information from future activities to assemble a growing repository of best practices for Agency use as well as any others that can benefit from our findings. We will evaluate the need to establish or modify policies as needed.