HHS Flu Blog Success?

The preliminary outcomes of the HHS Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog and leadership forum held on June 13 are starting to emerge. While my last take on the situation came at a time when it seemed the blog was acting as a lightning rod for all the frustrations with government inaction felt by flublogia, the comments that emerged from the forum are encouraging. It seems the blog and forum may have somewhat bridged the gap between these two necessary partners in pandemic preparation.

The forum was liveblogged by two tireless unnamed bloggers from Ogilvy who did an amazing job of providing summaries of each speaker and session as soon as possible, uploading pictures of the proceedings and responding to requests from commenters (including passing along a technical question for Flu Wiki’s Greg Dworkin to ask of CDC head Julie Gerberding).

Several of the speakers made it clear that they have been paying attention to the goings-on at the blog, and that they are aware of the efforts of the flubies.

HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt’s remarks included this mention (though I’m not sure I would call posting without responding to comments “interactions”):

We have also launched our first “blog summit” on pandemic preparedness. Many of you have participated in the summit — at blog.pandemicflu.gov. If you haven’t, there’s still time. It will run for another two weeks. I have greatly enjoyed my interactions with you and thousands of other engaged individuals. I am sure you will find the open dialogue on the site very useful.

Stephanie Marshall, the Director of Communications at HHS, said:

Our online research also revealed that there is an online community of “flubies” who are informed and already preparing. And they’re on the Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog.

And Admiral John Ogwunobi, who incurred the most wrath for his blog posts, extended an olive leaf during his closing remarks:

As a noteworthy end to the Pandemic Flu Leadership Forum, Dr. Agwunobi invited others to make closing remarks. (“My handlers are shaking their heads and telling me not to do this – but I’m gonna do it!”) He encouraged Dr. Greg Dworkin of Flu Wiki to share his thoughts. The two have recently become acquainted as contributors on the HHS blog.

– our blog community will appreciate this –

Dr. Dworkin: One of the things we’ve learned today, over the past three weeks, and will continue to learn, is that there are a lot of potential recruits for this effort. . . A lot of people who are already engaged and feel strongly about this want to help.”

Dr. Agwunobi: I didn’t realize until I became an avid reader of the HHS blog that there is an army of people who are already preparing and want to help further this goal of preparedness. (I also learned you have to be completely open and honest and forthcoming in that world or they won’t treat you very nicely!)

Because one of the main criticisms by the commenters on the HHS blog had been that they didn’t think that HHS was listening, having a spotlight shown on the flubie community, particularly with Greg Dworkin as their able spokesman (who was added to on the panel discussion at the last minute and included in the press conference afterward), was empowering. Kudos to whoever at HHS or Ogilvy made the decision to give him a bigger role. Here is Greg’s summary of the results of the day from his perspective.

Michael Coston of Avian Flu Diary offered his take on what had come out of the summit, which was echoed in many of the comments on the HHS blog and on other forums:

While I know many were expecting more out of all of this, I think we maybe got more than we realize. We’ve got a clear clarion call from the Secretary of HHS, to go forth into our communities and spread the pandemic awareness message. We’ve been validated, at least unofficially, as being partners in the national effort to prepare for a pandemic. And our voices, for the first time, have been heard on this issue.

I suspect we may have surprised a few folks with our knowledge, our passion, and our dedication.

The reality is; no one is going to get everything they want out of this leadership summit. Many questions will go unanswered, many policy decisions will be withheld pending consultation and review, and concrete results may yet be months away. This experiment, like all experiments, was conducted without knowing in advance what the end result would be.

The HHS is mixing ingredients, looking for a catalyst that will spark a reaction among previously inert components. Praying for cold fusion in a test tube. We can be that catalyst. Regardless of how we feel about what has, or hasn’t been done to date by government agencies, we can take the lead in our communities and promote pandemic awareness. If enough of us do that, we can start a groundswell around the nation, and hopefully show the rest of the world how it is done.
Despite some early hitches in the process, and a miscommunication or two along the way, I’d have to say the Leadership Summit has advanced the ball down the field a bit. We have recruited a few more community leaders into the fold, and we have engaged in a open, and often spirited conversation with a Federal agency.

So, while there are still many detractors who feel that whatever HHS does is too little, too late, it seems that communication channels have at least been opened. HHS has developed a healthy respect for the knowledge and engagement of the flubies, who in turn are feeling like their efforts are finally being validated. Whether HHS does the right thing and works with this active community as a partner in building the necessary grassroots movement has yet to be seen, but this is a hopeful beginning.

I’ll be posting more soon on the HHS blog about my thoughts on the content of the leadership forum.

UPDATE: From Greg, you know your issue has arrived when it’s the subject of a Dilbert comic.

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  1. Hi, Nedra! The decision to add me to the panel wasn’t last minute; I was actually a pencilled in participant early on. The difficulty with me was figuring out which sector I was representing. I could have been there for health or community but as it turned out the panel had others from those sectors, so I wound up representing flublogia!

    PS I’ll take the liberty of quoting from my own piece.

    Finally, there are pleasures (Sister Patrica Talone is as warm and approachable in person as she is online) and regrets to share (Nedra Weinreich and Michael Coston and Pierre Omidyar, among others, were not there for their wisdom and counsel, and I didn’t meet some of the other blog participants, though I read them all) . The participants, too numerous to mention, taught this so-called expert things I didn’t know every time a comment was made and an idea discussed. These human contacts are worth far more than any press conference or single blog post. And they mean most when we use those contacts going forward to build a message of pandemic preparedness.

  2. Sorry about the misimpression, Greg. And thanks for the kind words – I wish I’d had a chance to meet you as well.

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