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PHIN Launches Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice Promote Collaboration and Communication
At the 2008 PHIN Conference, NCPHI launched its Communities of Practice (CoPs) approach for PHIN. This approach focuses on enabling PHIN to become more collaborative and democratic, with CDC and other partners sharing equally in leadership and responsibilities. The Community meetings held at the Conference included the PHIN Community and five CoPs forming around a functional or technical area of PHIN.

EA CoP MeetingMaking PHIN More Open and Collaborative
The PHIN Communities of Practice address partner feedback. Many PHIN partners have felt that PHIN needs to be more open and collaborative, with greater transparency and bidirectional communication. These concerns are being addressed through the collaborative structure of the PHIN Communities of Practice.

Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. CoPs have three crucial characteristics: a shared domain of interest, a community of members who learn from each other, and a shared practice that the members develop through sustained interaction over a period of time. It is by developing these three elements in parallel that one cultivates such a community.

CoP Activities at the 2008 PHIN Conference
Communities of Practice met at the Conference to begin or continue their work, and members from the PHIN Community gathered to begin talking about governance for the CoPs within PHIN. A variety of CoP-related activities also took place, including an interactive CoP Workshop, a CoP Session, and a keynote address about CoPs. Abstracts and other information about the CoP activities are available at the PHIN Conference website.

IN Community Updates
Below are descriptions of each of the 5 PHIN Communities and the conversations in their meetings at the Conference.

  • Laboratory Messaging Community of Practice (LM CoP) included participants in the area of ELR as well as those working in other lab areas such as Laboratory Response (LRN) and the Public Health Laboratory Interoperability Project (PHLIP). Providing linkages and facilitating communication among these and other lab messaging groups was suggested by the Community Meeting attendees. They stated that improved communication will not solve all problems associated with lab data exchange, but it may be the first step and is an immediate need. Interested participants from these areas will continue the conversation around this communication focus and have renamed the CoP from ELR to Laboratory Messaging.
  • Enterprise Architecture Community of Practice (EA CoP) brought together those working in or with an interest in this new field. Discussion focused on defining EA and why it's important. Some likened it to a "city map for PHIN." Attendees voiced the need for a clearer definition of PHIN in order to determine how to plan EA work for the Network and agreed that a baseline understanding of EA should be one of the first goals of the CoP. The Community will continue its exploration of EA for PHIN in virtual meetings this fall.
  • Information Links Community of Practice (InfoLinks CoP) seeks to build, improve, and promote Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) within public health systems. At the Conference, current and new CoP members participated in "The Road to HIE" exercise by identifying important HIE milestones and challenges along the Roadmap. In the following conversation, attendees discussed issues such as technology, funding, policy, and privacy and shared from their states examples of challenges and successful steps forward in moving the focus of HIES beyond clinical care into public health. Community members identified awareness of and responses to HIE activities within the eHealth initiative, the Certification Committee for Health IT (CCHIT) and the American Health informatics Community (AHIC) as valuable contributions of their CoP.
  • Outbreak Management Community of Practice (OM CoP) attendees discussed issues at the heart of managing the informatics aspects of cross-jurisdictional public health outbreaks. In small groups that re-convened to share back with the entire group, participants grappled with the definition of OM, agreed that their scope must be beyond focus around any one tool, stressed the need for engaging with other groups such as Epi-X to reduce silos, and emphasized the need for all PHIN partners to participate equally in setting the direction of the CoP. Suggested future activities of the Community included creating a space to share event "Lessons Learned" and gathering to discuss topics such as the difference between Incidence Management and Outbreak Management, data ownership issues, and representing the OM community to public health leaders.
  • Vocabulary and Messaging Community of Practice (VM CoP) expanded the scope and membership of the Public Health Vocabulary Community of Practice (PHVCoP) to include messaging and PHIN members working in this area. The attendees agreed that the ultimate objective of the expanded CoP is to correctly exchange meaningful data where "what I send to you means the same to you as to me." The group will focus on "whatever will allow us to interoperate and share data in a common format and evaluate the efficacy of the exchange." The Community sees their purpose as an educator and promoter of standards rather than a creator of them, though evaluating and gaining approval for candidate terms needed for public health data exchange could be a valuable function of this CoP. Another key issue identified is the ability to collaborate around data mapping/translation of vocabulary in legacy systems to current standards. The Community will seek to stay current with other vocabulary and messaging organizations/SDOs such as LOINC and HL7. This fall the Community is working on its scope, revising its Charter, and hosting presentations and conversations with vocabularists and messaging developers from the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and the PHIN Vocabulary Access and Distribution System (VADS).

What's Ahead for PHIN CoPs
The PHIN CoP leaders took part in a series of meetings after the conference to debrief and to discuss their next steps. The PHIN Communities of Practice Program is currently supporting these communities in taking steps best suited to their particular situation. In most cases, next steps involve continuing discussions from the Conference, which includes focus and scope of each community. CDC is committed to being an equal partner alongside State, Local, and other organizational PHIN Partners in the development and support of these Communities.

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