2020 SHIFT Summit Now Online

Bowing to the realities of a global pandemic, we broadcast The 2020 SHIFT Summit virtually from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from October 14-16. Entitled “Healthy by Nature,” the Summit focused on the mental health benefits of time outside, with a specific focus on health equity and access to nature.

We are pleased to announce that the keynote presentations and workshops of The 2020 SHIFT Summit are now available to watch on our YouTube channel.

The 2020 Summit retained SHIFT’s signature elements as much possible. It thus had three main goals:

  • Facilitate networking and transdisciplinary collaboration among participants
  • Showcase best practices, i.e., work that is impactful, innovative and replicable
  • Translate the evidence for the mental health benefits of nature contact into both practice and policy

As we’ve done historically, we built the 2020 program to highlight two elements integral to these objectives:

  • The 2020 SHIFT Award winners—the most innovative, impactful and replicable work in the space
  • Fellows of The 2020 Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), which brought youth and diversity to discussions about public health, conservation, advocacy, structures of oppression and community engagement

We developed the three days of the Summit around three main themes.

  • Research: Day 1 focused on the evidence for the mental health benefits of nature contact.
  • Practice: Day 2 highlighted the work of organizations and initiatives around the country, including that of SHIFT Award winners and ELP Fellows, that are translating the evidence into practice.
  • Policy: Day 3 focused on moving practice into policy at the community, municipal, state and federal levels.

Within each of the three days, we divided the programming into three tracks.

  • Next Generation: Track 1 focused on the mental health benefits of nature contact for children, teens and young adults.
  • Psychological Resiliency: Track 2 focused on nature contact as a mechanism for enhancing psychological resiliency and ameliorating the effects of trauma, particularly as it relates to COVID-19.
  • Resource Management: Track 3 focused on the ways natural resource managers can position our parks, forests and waters as mental health care delivery systems, removing barriers to access for vulnerable populations.

The program adhered closely to the structure of in-person SHIFTs. One-hour panel discussions with subject-matter experts, including SHIFT Award winners and ELP Fellows, were followed by two 30-minute rounds of World Cafe-style breakout discussions that allowed participants to continue discussing panel topics in more intimate groups. Each workshop concluded with a one-hour plenary session that highlighted key takeaways from the small-group discussions, followed by a summary of next steps.

Overall, more than 380 registrants participated in the event. Engagement throughout the course of the event was strong as well: participants sent more than 4,000 messages on Slack during the Summit.

Following the Summit, Workshops and keynote presentations were posted on our YouTube channel here.

While the virtual platform understandably lacked some of the chemistry and spontaneity of in-person SHIFTs, it nonetheless retained a number of the elements that have emerged as SHIFT’s defining characteristics.

  • Intentional programming of workshops with representatives from the outdoor recreation, public health, conservation, land management and research communities fostered cross-sectoral and transdisciplinary collaborations that are key to advancement in the space.
  • Inclusion of Fellows of the 2020 Emerging Leaders Program ensured the program was relevant to the priorities and perspectives of the next generation of leaders.
  • By building the program around SHIFT Award winners, the Summit highlighted the most innovative, impactful and replicable work in the health and nature movement, sparking new ideas and catalyzing new partnerships among participants.
  • The lower barrier to entry of a virtual event, coupled with the lower pricing, helped make the 2020 SHIFT Summit the most accessible yet—an accessibility enhanced by the post-Summit publication of workshops and keynote presentations on SHIFT’s YouTube channel.

A review of the Summit was included in the December 2020 issue of Outdoor Retailer Magazine.

An overview of the programming is as follows.


Day 1 of The SHIFT Summit featured three workshops that looked at the evidence for the mental health benefits of nature contact with some of the leading researchers in the field.

Following an opening keynote by Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, the Medical Director of Medicaid from 2015-18, the morning was developed around three panel discussions:

  • Track 1—The Effects of Nature Contact on the Mental Health of Children, Teens and Early Adults—explored some of the deep challenges in research and implementation related to the role of nature contact on mental health of youth.
  • Track 2—Nature Contact and Psychological Resiliency in the Time of COVID—explored the evidence for nature as a means to enhance psychological resiliency, as well as the barriers to this low-risk, low-cost mental health intervention.
  • Track 3—Blue Space, Green Space—highlighted what we know about the evidence for parks, forests and waters as mental health interventions, as well as who we need to target, why we need to target them and what the evidence indicates we should be “prescribing.”

In the afternoon, SHIFT’s second annual Poster Session featured findings from a series of new studies in oral lightning rounds. Presenters had four minutes each to discuss their research, followed by four minutes of Q&A from the audience.

Following the oral lightning rounds, other researchers presented their work in smaller breakout groups with virtual poster sessions.


The second day of The 2020 SHIFT Summit focused on the real-world application of the evidence for the mental health benefits of time outside.

Following presentations by winners of The 2020 SHIFT Awards, three separate workshops were developed around the Summit’s three tracks of Next Gen, Psychological Resliency and Resource Management.

  • Track 1—Delivering the Mental Health Benefits of Nature Contact to Our Children—featured a discussion among 2020 SHIFT Award winners and 2020 Fellows of The Emerging Leaders Program about how they’re delivering the mental health benefits of nature to children, teens and early adults in innovative, impactful and replicable ways.
  • Track 2—Best Practices for Outdoor Recreation and Nature-Based Programming for Veterans—looked at the preliminary findings of  SHIFT’s Outdoor Rec and Nature-Based Programming for Vets study, which is designed to document the current landscape of outdoor recreation programming and nature-based interventions for military veterans.
  • Track 3—Resource Managers as Mental Health Providers—looked at how innovative resource managers are engaging community members in the process of creating natural spaces to deliver mental health benefits to the public, and in the process amplifying the connection between the health of community, individual health and the health of the natural world.


The third and final day of the 2020 SHIFT Summit focused on “making it real:” the ways we can institutionalize nature as a mental-health intervention within policy at the community, municipal, state and federal levels.

Following a keynote address by SHIFT Award winner Atiya Wells, three workshops took place.

  • Track 1—The Children’s Bill of Rights—explored ways to effectively and equitably engage kids in parks, green space and nature in the current and post-COVID world.
  • Track 2—Distributing Nature’s Therapeutic Effects Equitably in the Midst of the Pandemic—looked at ways we can institutionalize nature’s healing effects to help address trauma, particularly among vulnerable communities, amid the convergence of multiple crises.
  • Track 3—A Stronger Argument for Nature Itself—explored explored the mental health benefits of nature contact, barriers that are preventing those who would benefit the most from accessing our natural spaces, and the ways resource managers can make users feel safe and welcome.

The closing keynote presentation of this year’s program featured two Fellows of The 2020 ELP, Alysa Delgado and Caroline Lindquist, and Tyler Norris, the Chief Executive of Well Being Trust, in a synthesization of the Summit’s proceedings and a discussion of the ways we can harness the incredible opportunity created by COVID-19 and the social justice movement to center nature as a mental health care delivery system nationwide.

The 2020 SHIFT Summit was made possible by the support of AllTrails, The Esther and Otto Seligmann Foundation, The VF Foundation, Well Being Trust, 1908 Brands and Boulder Clean, The Lora L. and Martin N. Kelley Family Foundation, Marcia Kunstel, Frederick Reimers, Gerben Scherpbier, Sandy Schultz Hessler, Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, Julie Williams and Rivanna Designs. We look forward to applying the lessons of 2020’s unprecedented virtual reality to an in-person event in 2021.

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