Transforming the Community through Collaborative Problem Solving – Part 2

Harold Mitchell’s presentation at the recent community forum described the process later codified into the EPA Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Model  (EJCPS).  Using this process ReGensis has been able to both address the environmental challenges posed by hazardous waste dumping and improve the quality of life for many Spartanburg, South Carolina residents.

The EJCPS model consists of 7 key elements:

  1. Community Capacity-Building and Leadership Development
  2. Consensus Building and Dispute Resolution
  3. Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships and Leveraging of ResourcesEPA Collaborative Problem Solving
  4. Constructive Engagement by Relevant Stakeholders
  5. Sound Management and Implementation
  6. Issue Identification, Community Vision, and Strategic Goal Setting
  7. Evaluation, Lessons Learned, and Replication of Best Practices

We found Representative Mitchell’s insights on several of the elements to be particularly illuminating and wanted to share these with you. Element 2 of the EJCPS model is consensus building.  This seemed to be one of the keys to the success of the ReGenesis initiative overall. The project arose as community members started getting sick (and dying) from the contamination affecting the air and water near their homes. According to Harold, taking an adversarial stance toward the un addressed contamination was not productive; as the community pursued a lawsuit, everything shut down.  When community members turned toward more of a dispute resolution process and were able to get other parties to share a vision of a stronger neighborhood, the groups who were partially responsible became more responsive. A cleaner, greener neighborhood was better for everyone.

Element 3 of EJCPS model focuses on developing multi-stakeholder partnerships. ReGenesis Stakeholders included federal state and local government agencies in addition to community members.  Every conceivable agency was engaged in the effort including education who one might think might be relevant to an environmental health project. Indeed, one of the spinoff projects funded provided a computer  lab to local schools which enabled Spartanburg student to work with students in south African around the issues of civil rights and environmental issues.

Some of the core lessons learned, Element 7 of the Collaborative Problem Solving Model, were that a project such as this requires a holistic approach in order to succeed.  The projects engaged and benefited the entire community and emphasized the areas of health, education, job creation and training.  Secondly the community must empower themselves by understanding their history, creating a shared vision, creating a robust organizational structure for project implementation and building their capacity to respond in a way that advances the project. The EJCPS model provides a road map and the Spartanburg project is a snapshot of what can be achieved when communities seek environmental justice in a systematic way.  Thank you HERCULES for providing the venue where this success story could be shared with Georgia communities.

You can find out more about the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem solving model here.

The community outreach and engagement core of HERCULES is committed to developing partnerships with the Atlanta community to understand their environmental health concerns. ECO-Action is a member of the Community Advisory Board which meets on a regular basis to oversee outreach and bring together community leaders, government agencies, other universities and Emory scientists. You can find out more about the Emory HERCULES Community Engagement Initiative here.

Transforming the Community through Collaborative Problem Solving

Harold Mitchell, Photos courtesy HERCULES Exposome Research Center

How does a community transform two superfund sites and several brownfields into housing developments, health centers and a golf courses?  That’s exactly the question the keynote speaker Harold Mitchell answered during his hour long talk at the HERCULES Environmental Health Community Forum last month. State Representative Mitchell had spoken to community members at ECO-Action’s June Community Forum, who wanted to hear more from him.

The process Harold and his community used has been codified into EPA Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Model (EJCPS).  The forum provided local communities both from the metro-Atlanta areas and from as far away as South Carolina to learn from Emory University scientists about the latest research around such topics obesity, healthy schools, climate change, mold and asthma.  The forum also presented overview training in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Action and Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Models with hopes that communities would begin the groundwork to improve environmental health in their communities. ECO-Action has successfully used elements of this model to advance its work in Proctor Creek in Atlanta and other Georgia communities.

Mitchell now a South Carolina State Representative shared some of the secrets of the success of ReGenesis, a 15-year old program he founded to serve his Spartanburg South Carolina community. Starting with a $20,000 Environmental Justice Small Grant, around 50 community participants developed goals for the project as a whole that would address the environmental contamination in their neighborhood. Community Goal Setting is the first Photo courtesy HERCULES Exposome Research Centerelement of the collaborative problem solving model. For this Spartanburg project, goals were compiled in four areas: Environmental, Health, Economic and Social. The initial goal setting did not define the specific built infrastructure or programs that would ultimately be constructed. Instead, these were left open-ended which allowed the community to later take advantage of opportunities which they really couldn’t have imagined at the start of the process. To date ReGenesis has been able to leverage this initial investment into more than $250 million in funding that has revitalized the community.

More about ReGenesis and the Collaborative Problem Solving model next week.


EPA Awards over $179,000 to Promote Proctor Creek Restoration

ATLANTA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it is awarding over $179,000 to three organizations for the restoration of the Proctor Creek Watershed in Atlanta, Ga. Nationally, $2.1 million was awarded to 36 organizations in 17 states and Puerto Rico to help protect and restore urban waters, improve water quality, and support community revitalization and other local priorities.

The awardees, receiving approximately $60,000 each, are the Center for Watershed Protection, Inc., the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Inc. and ECO-Action.

Read more at the EPA’s website.