Roles in Community Engagement

This section describes the professionals typically involved in community engagement activities and the roles they play.

The site lead and a multi-disciplinary site team are involved in implementing community engagement activities. The site team lead is responsible for creating roles and responsibilities for the site team. A site team’s roles, membership, and responsibilities will vary. For smaller efforts, team members may perform multiple roles. Professionals commonly involved are described below, and also discussed in the Who’s Involved section.

Establish a Point of Contact

Throughout the PHA process, community members may need help to clarify specific issues and decisions. Be sure to establish a main point-of-contact within ATSDR who can answer residents’ and other stakeholders’ questions.

Site Team Leads

The site team lead is responsible for directing the multi-disciplinary team and provides leadership for developing the agency’s technical advice to communities, states, tribes, and other agencies. This includes working with ATSDR tribal programs and providing leadership on site-related environmental justice activities.

Regional Representatives

Because of their proximity to communities, alongside state and local health department partners, the ATSDR Regional Representative is often the first ATSDR staff member to contact communities. This individual works with the site lead and specialists to develop and implement community engagement activities. He or she attends almost all ATSDR community meetings and may also attend other agencies’ meetings. He or she takes the lead on working to understand the state and local issues surrounding the site (e.g., the regional representative communicates with local elected officials such as the mayor or town council members to get their advice on working with the local community and to share information).

Community Involvement Specialists

These individuals provide a central point of contact for community members at most sites. They take the lead in developing and implementing community engagement activities; manage and coordinate community engagement activities with the site lead, specialists, community members, and other groups; conduct community meetings; and develop culturally specific communications materials, such as fact sheets, social media, and web page content.

Health Education Specialists

These specialists coordinate and oversee all PHA process-related health education activities. They can assess the health education needs of a community and develop planned learning experiences for community members. They provide community environmental health education and/or health care provider education on types of contaminant exposures, exposure routes and pathways, health effects, treatment options, and methods to prevent and minimize environmental exposures.

Other Communication Specialists

Other communication specialists involved in the community engagement process can include public affairs specialists, writers/editors, and visual information specialists. Public affairs specialists will help address site-related media inquiries, either with written statements or by facilitated interviews. Writers/editors can help create public notices and press releases to best reach the target audience, ensuring information is in plain language for the public. Visual information specialists help convey information and data in an easy-to-understand format using creative visual displays, such as maps, graphs, and charts.

Policy Specialists

For some sites, assistance from an ATSDR policy specialist might be sought. These individuals help coordinate with state and federal partners and provide information to additional groups, such as congressional offices. They can also help identify environmental health resources for communities exposed to hazardous substances.

Page last reviewed: April 14, 2022