Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of a group known as the Built Environment Network. The two-day meeting took place just outside of Chicago in Oak Brook, Illinois, on the Hyatt Lodge on McDonald's corporate campus--a lush, green, picturesque site with hardly a golden arch in view (although the subtly named Hamburger University was there). While the Built Environment Network may be a new name to many readers, I expect that in the next few years, BEN (as members refer to it) will become very well known indeed.

The Center for Health Design--the group behind assembling BEN--describes the network as its "premier collegial network of executive-level professionals who are dedicated to improving safety, quality, and sustainability in healthcare." In layman's terms, however, the Built Environment Network is a healthcare design think-tank like no other, made up of facility-based executives from around the country (and Canada), based in big systems (like Kaiser Permanente) and individual facilities (like Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, which we toured as part of this meeting) and all sizes and styles in between. More interesting, perhaps, is who isn't there: architects, a strategic decision as it turns out.

Augmented by representatives from sponsoring partners Mazzetti Nash Lipsey Burch, Nurture by Steelcase, Turner Construction Company, and of course The Center for Health Design (as well as various "guest stars" invited to meetings as the topics may warrant), BEN manages to cover more ground in a two-day meeting than most meetings could cover in a week. Each topic on the agenda (this meeting included discussions on Lean principles, integrated design build, capital infrastructure planning, and more) was a deep-dive exercise in every conceivable aspect of the issue; any one thread of discussion could have continued for an hour as the conversations spread amoeba-like around the room.

It was utterly fascinating to be a fly on the wall at this meeting; I can imagine it is even more worthwhile to participate, and the members back up that notion. BEN member Frank Weinberg, Corporate AVP, Facilities, at MedStar, explained the appeal of membership to him lies in the fact that the diversity of the group and the applied knowledge therein leads to a deeper understanding of where and how these various models work. Gail Dahlstrom, Vice President of Facilities Planning and Management at Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center values the time given to undergo a "recalibration" from day-to-day work and focus on the big picture as opposed to the million small details that busy professionals must regularly deal with.

Ultimately, however, BEN wants to give some of this knowledge back to the industry. Plans are afoot to issue whitepapers, executive summaries, benchmarking studies, and even articles for our own sister publication, HERD Journal. The question of whether the group should test the water to see if it, in fact, has influence, is still up for debate internally, but I feel secure in advising anyone reading this that when BEN finally does decide to speak, it would be in all of our best interests to listen closely.