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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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Outcomes of the SWOG Executive Summit

-- by Guest Blogger, Anne Schott, M.D., SWOG Deputy Group Chair

Apr 29, 2015 - Last week a number of SWOG leaders met in Phoenix for an executive summit, or retreat (we were never consistent in naming it ... ). Attending the retreat were the Principal Investigators of SWOG's various grants, the Executive Officers, and the Executive Leadership of our related organizations including The Hope Foundation and Cancer Research And Biostatistics (CRAB). There were several goals of this meeting: 1) to educate members of the various SWOG offices on the larger picture of SWOG; 2) to clarify roles and responsibilities of our executive leaders; 3) to identify priority areas for SWOG's continued growth. Since the issues discussed affect all of our membership, herein I present an overview of the discussions held, as well as some resulting action items.

During the summit, I displayed a poster depicting a flow chart of SWOG's protocol development and activation process, and offered Sharpies for folks to mark up the chart with their comments and suggestions. The chart, beyond being a conversation piece, was useful as an educational tool; it described, all in one place, the roles of the many intra- and extra-SWOG offices that influence protocol development. Discussion around the poster also allowed us to identify areas needing improvement. Following this exercise, retreat participants agreed on our highest strategic priority: we needed to update our project management approach to SWOG protocols, including both NCTN treatment protocols and DCP-supported NCORP protocols, not to mention unique hybrid models such as Lung-MAP.

Subsequently, we identified a team of individuals to plan the next steps for updating our project management approach. Some identified areas of focus include better integration of Executive Officers, both in the decision to submit a study capsule to triage, and in the shepherding of a protocol once an executive review decision has been made. We will also work on improving the communications to Study Chairs and Committees following executive review, and formalize a "funding needs assessment" step in protocol development, as the issues surrounding supplemental funding for protocols are particularly vexing to our investigators. As the Protocol Coordinator is the central administrative figure around which this increasingly complex protocol development process evolves, we plan to provide these individuals with additional project management training, in keeping with their greater set of responsibilities. Finally, we need to round out our project management working group by adding an interested Committee Chair. If this describes you, please contact me.

I thought that the chart might also be welcomed by SWOG members, both new and not-so-new, as it illustrates what it takes to take a SWOG concept from its genesis in the investigator's brain to a fully activated protocol. So, I plan to present a revised flow chart in poster format at this week's Group Meeting in San Francisco. During the pre-Plenary II reception on Friday I will be in the foyer standing by the poster, and I invite you to visit me. I want to hear your suggestions and ideas, as end users of this process, on how we might make the protocol development and launch process more efficient. I hope that the poster will serve an educational function as well, particularly for younger investigators who haven't yet been through the complexities of developing and launching a cooperative group clinical trial. The poster will be subsequently displayed at the "Navigating SWOG" session immediately after Plenary II, and it will be available at the Board of Governors and Committee Chairs meetings as well.

Though it topped the list, improving project management wasn't the only priority initiative we identified during our day and a half in Phoenix. Given our growing international engagement (which will be a theme of this week's General Plenary in San Francisco), we have now formed an International Working Group for SWOG -- supported by Executive Officer Manuel Valdivieso, of course -- which will serve as a vehicle for our engagement with the NCI's Center for Global Health. We will present a description of the Working Group's function and composition to our Board of Governors on Saturday.

Rounding out our list of top priorities under discussion were the need to better document our successes and our failures as a Group -- both to disseminate news of progress and to ensure we learn from our mistakes -- and a need to better engage our non-disease site committees. Executive Officers Lisa Kachnic and Craig Nichols will draft initial proposals for an initiative addressing this last item. If such an initiative is to succeed, it needs the participation of leaders from our modality and interest committees. If this describes you, we could use your help.

Leadership retreats are a chance to focus intensively on what is and isn't working in the organization, and to collectively identify threats and opportunities on the horizon. In short, they help us clarify our vision, and develop strategies and tactics to achieve that vision. I hope to see many of you in San Francisco on Friday just before Plenary II at the SWOG protocol development poster, where you can make your own contribution to improving our strategic success.


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