38 Volume 85 • Number 4 A D VANC EME N T O F T H E PRACTICE BU I LD I NG CAPAC I TY Darryl Booth, MBA Building Capacity Through Communities of Practice Some of my favorite times are when I can get together with friends and colleagues who I have worked and collaborated with over the years. On the other hand, there is also the joy of making new connections—prompted by mutual needs, interests, and history—that provide a fresh infusion of perspectives and ideas. The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and its regional a liates are superb examples of eective communities of practice. In addition to NEHA, there are also associations for hazardous materials, wastewater, drinking water, vector control, and many more. Communities of practice establish social learning systems for circulating skills, methodologies, and innovations. Even just swapping stories is extremely constructive and supportive. Communities of Practice for Software Users Your software provider ideally facilitates communities around its software and users. The village can embrace environmental health experts (e.g., program managers, inspectors), as well as power users who manage renewals, billing, collections, report writing, and other functions. Cross-connecting with these experts is ideal. Healthy communities are larger and more vested in common interests, enough to be self-sustaining. When the thoughts, ideas, and educational materials are member-generated, they become self-sustaining. Said better, it is superior when the membership “owns” the organization, providing direction on a multitude of programs that make the organization the place to go for valuable resources. It Is Time to Emphasize the Face-to-Face Yes, these communities can function digitally (e.g., through message boards, Discord, Slack, etc.), but they really become something special when done face-to-face, or at least via video conference. Coming together face-to-face for an organized conference, user group meeting, or regional training might feel like just another calendar appointment to be scheduled around. It is not. Being in person feels more di cult now perhaps because we are out of practice. Here are some ideas on how to get back into the swing of face-to-face meetings. Make Travel and Time Requests Relevant With the agenda in hand, relate requests for time and travel to the needs of your agency. In my experience, liberally using the words “training” or “educational” helps a lot. If you cannot attend or are not approved to attend, recommend a colleague to represent your agency in your stead. Good leaders should recognize the prospect for all sorts of intangible benefits from these event. For example, these events provide opportunities for recruitment and retention, professional development, leadership, presentation skills, and benchmarking. Be on the Program One of the best ways to be preapproved to attend an event is to be on the agenda. Most Ed i tor ’s Not e : A need exists within environmental health agencies to increase their capacity to perform in an environment of diminishing resources. With limited resources and increasing demands, we need to seek new approaches to the practice of environmental health. Acutely aware of these challenges, the Journal publishes the Building Capacity column to educate, reinforce, and build upon successes within the profession using technology to improve eciency and extend the impact of environmental health agencies. This column is authored by technical advisors of the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) data and technology section, as well as guest authors. The conclusions of this column are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of NEHA. Darryl Booth has served as a NEHA technical advisor for data and technology. He is the general manager of environmental health at Accela and has been monitoring regulatory and data tracking needs of agencies across the U.S. for over 20 years.