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Vol. LVIII, No. 5
March 10, 2006
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NEI's VISION Network Reaches the Public

Last spring, the National Eye Institute completed an evaluation of its VISION Public Information Network, developed over 10 years ago for the purpose of communicating research results to the public through grantee institutions. The evaluation results were positive, demonstrating that NEI's network may serve as a model for other institutes and centers to consider as a method for communicating with the public.

NEI's network is largely composed of public information officers from research institutions across the country, including 117 institutional members and 210 individual members. Its primary mission is to work with NEI in disseminating vision research results to the national and local media. When a result is forthcoming, NEI develops news releases and other resources such as B-roll video and a dedicated section on the NEI web site. These are provided in advance of journal embargos to network members so they can adapt them for local use and distribution. In the past 4 years, NEI has worked with more than 170 institutions to communicate the results of 12 nationwide, multicenter clinical trials.

Though the network's primary function is to communicate research results to the media, more recently members have become engaged in other areas such as marketing, branding and crisis management. The network also provides opportunities for information sharing, networking and professional development.

One member said, "The personal interactions with NEI staff and other members of the network offer ideas that have increased our own activities in the public information area immensely." Another important finding was that the network facilitated well-coordinated media coverage of study results and produced consistent messages. In addition, the media audit found that both NEI and NIH were consistently cited in the print and electronic media, raising the profile of NIH while simultaneously involving local research institutions.

Though the network has existed for many years, NEI staff and network members see this resource as one of NIH's "best-kept secrets." Few institutions within or outside NIH have something comparable. A member from the University of Alabama at Birmingham noted, "I think the network is unique. There aren't many opportunities for communication professionals in academic medical centers to gather to exchange ideas."

To learn more, visit www.visionnetwork.nei.nih.gov or contact Jean Horrigan at (301) 496-5248.