Bart Bosveld, SETAC Europe Executive Director

Strategic goals are helpful tools to give direction to the society. Goals are useful as a checklist for the council, the board, committees and the office when planning activities and resources. If something comes up, we could ask ourselves, “Is this activity really needed to achieve our goals?” If the answer is no, but the idea is attractive, you still may want to continue with it. But, often not realized that in cases such as these, an activity consumes time and money that otherwise could go to an activity that actually does support a goal.

With a strategic plan adopted, it is good to have a clear direction. The downside is that it restricts your freedom. Typically, a strategic plan is quoted to support an initiative that is in line with the plan. But it is easily ignored if the initiative is not aligned. Or, as it is nicely put by Steve Jobs – and I believe him, he has achieved something with this approach:

“People think focus means saying yes to the things you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

I have seen quite a few strategic plans ending up on the shelf while business was going on as usual. But not this time. The SETAC Europe Council has adopted an ambitious set of strategic goals for the 2018–2020 period. Almost too many goals to make it all happen, but we constantly pay attention to them and they provide the backbone for every council meeting and for our actions throughout the year. These goals define the focus for SETAC Europe in the coming period including:

  • Improve the quality and credibility of the science
  • Optimize transfer of science to regulation
  • Organize “not to be missed” meetings
  • Present awards to highlight what we value
  • Develop the certification program as a “must do” for environmental risk assessors
  • Expand the SETAC Europe network
  • Provide career development opportunities for members
  • Maintain a healthy financial status, grow revenues and limit new expenditures to support strategic goals.

With this plan in place for little more than one year now, it is good to look at what has been achieved and see where we stand.

Quality and Credibility of Science

The issue of quality and credibility of science has come up prominently in the past years in SETAC – not only but certainly also when research is funded by industry. By organizing courses on reproducible science and science-based risk communication, initiating the debate about open science and the complete availability and easy accessibility of raw data and encouraging research integrity in SETAC, this point has received much attention in the past year. The SETAC Europe Council has recently approved a “Declaration on Research Integrity” stating that all SETAC staff, members, meeting participants, partners, sponsors and, in fact, the entire community of environmental professionals are encouraged to follow the principles listed in the “European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity” as published by All European Academies (ALLEA, 2017) in all aspects of research, including funding, data generation, interpretation, reporting, dissemination and usage for policy-making.

The issue of quality and credibility of science also has a prominent place in the scientific program at the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting, which will take place from 26–30 May in Helsinki, Finland. The program includes a keynote lecture by Juan Gonzalez Valero from Syngenta on Wednesday, a Special Session about “Your Science or My Science” chaired by Annegaaike Leopold, Charmaine Ajao and Thomas-Benjamin Seiler on Monday, and a training course titled “Conduct and Report Reliable, Relevant and Reproducible Environmental Studies” presented by Marlene Ågerstrand, Charmaine Ajao and Peter Dohmen on Sunday.

Transfer of Science to Regulation

Tripartite representation was one of the founding principles of SETAC. Nowadays, the scope is broadened up and from tripartite (academia, business, government) we have moved to multisector representation aiming at balanced participation involving stakeholders from all sectors. It is of key interest for SETAC that the scientific knowledge that is presented within a sector is not restricted to that sector only and is made readily available for regulators. The science needs to be actually implemented in regulation to protect or further improve our environment in the longer term. To facilitate this transfer, SETAC Europe maintains a good relationship with national and European environmental protection agencies. At the European level, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Environment Agency (EEA) as well as the European Joined Research Centre (JRC) are institutions that are closely involved in the development of guidelines and regulations concerning plant protection products, industrial and household chemicals, and pharmaceuticals in the environment. Recently, EFSA recognized SETAC Europe as a Food Safety Organization enabling us to interact more directly with EFSA. On behalf of SETAC Europe, José Julio Ortega-Calvo has joined the EFSA Stakeholders Forum and represents the academic stakeholders in the EFSA Stakeholder Bureau. To further consolidate the links and facilitate the interactions between SETAC and these authorities, EFSA Executive Director Bernard Url participated in the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting in Rome to present a keynote, and ECHA Executive Director Bjorn Hansen will participate at our 29thAnnual Meeting in Helsinki with his keynote lecture on Monday, 27 May.

Not-To-Be-Missed Meetings

For many –  if not most – of our members in Europe, the SETAC experience is mainly related to the SETAC Europe annual meeting and the SETAC journals. Although we keep encouraging everybody to make more use of SETAC and be more closely involved, we also recognize that many are linked to SETAC by the annual meeting only. These meetings are crucial as a platform for scientists to exchange results, ideas and theories; to broaden the scope to adjacent disciplines, to other sectors and to other regions; to engage in collaborative projects; and to stay up to date on scientific developments. To broaden exposure to adjacent disciplines and facilitate cross fertilization, SETAC Europe has reached out to other societies such as Eurotox, ISES Europe and others. We collaborate with them and with other events, such as the Helsinki Chemicals Forum, to facilitate the interaction between experts from these societies and to learn from the different perspectives.

To further increase the impact of the meetings, we have also increased our presence online. If you missed (parts of) the meeting you will be able to catch up online with video recordings of the keynote lectures and the .pdf versions of most of the posters and platform presentations in the parallel sessions.

And, we realize that for a meeting to be described as not-to-be-missed we should make it easy for our delegates when they are away from home and office for a full week. We will be providing facilities for delegates to bring a child to the meeting, working space, food that recognizes different diets, travel and registration grants for students, and programs to reduce our footprint. We aim to make these meetings accessible and acceptable to a broad audience.

Awards

The SETAC Europe awards program is recognized as an important tool to highlight the SETAC Europe strategic goals and the SETAC mission in general. The SETAC Europe Council and the SETAC Europe Awards Committee have initiated discussions to extend the award program to award individuals that set examples in scientific credibility and risk communication, in addition to the existing awards that focus on publication and education.

Certification of Environmental Risk Assessors

The fifth strategic goal is to develop the SETAC Europe Certification of Environmental Risk Assessors Program as a must-do for scientists working as an environmental risk assessor. The program structure has been adjusted to better fit the needs of the candidates and a uniform, multiple-choice exam was designed to address the basic foundation and competencies in the nine topics that cover the fields of environmental risk assessment. A range of specialized courses will be offered to deepen the expertise in two out of the nine topics as required for the certification. In addition, we are currently collaborating with the other SETAC Geographic Units to combine forces to develop a global certification program.

Network

The SETAC network is typically much more than only the membership. While our active membership in Europe consists of some 1,800 scientists, our network of meeting attendants, Interest Group participants and subscribers to SETAC Globe includes some 6,000 persons in Europe and over 12,000 worldwide. In addition to a core group of loyal members, there is a large group hopping on and off synchronized with annual meeting participation. A survey was initiated to find out how we could best serve that large group and motivate them to retain their membership beyond annual meeting.

At the corporate level, SETAC seeks collaborations, partnerships and sponsorships from organizations with an interest in environmental toxicology and chemistry and grounded in the academic, business, government or non-government sector. In addition to seeking support for our programs, these collaborations are also effective for transferring the science to policy and decision makers. This is illustrated by the stakeholder roundtable that will take place at the annual meeting in Helsinki and is aimed at prioritizing research questions for the Baltic Region. This is one of the various active spin-offs of the SETAC Global Horizon Scanning project.

Career Development

Career development opportunities are recognized as an essential SETAC membership benefit and are of critical importance to our mission to support and facilitate the development of principles and practices for the protection, enhancement and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity. In conjunction with the annual meeting, we have successfully implemented a mentorship program and a job event. These services will now be extended beyond the annual meeting.

Moreover, students are encouraged to participate in Interest Groups and committees. Recent efforts have resulted in better student representation in these groups.

The SETAC Europe Education Committee has put extra focus on the recruitment of training courses at the annual meeting and extended courses throughout the year.

Finance

And last but not least, a healthy financial status was considered an important strategic goal. Between our ambition and an increasing number of activities, the Society has to identify additional revenue sources to fund these activities. A development committee has been established to dig into this. And, to come back again where we started; if the budget is limited it should be realized that making strategic choices means that we also should choose to not do activities that are not aligned with our strategic goals. Put the money where the mouth is and limit new expenditures to support strategic goals.

As you may have noticed, most of the strategic goals actually do not have concrete endpoints, but rather strategic directions. And, with these clear signs, traffic or activities are efficiently directed. The yield of the first year of the three-year planning period is promising. If we manage to keep this focus, we could really achieve something – Environmental Quality Through Science®!

Authors’ contact information: Bart.Bosveld@setac.org

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