Since our origins in 2009, the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership has held an annual meeting every Fall to set the agenda for the coming year. 2020 was no different. 

No, wait, it was very different!

But was the pandemic-imposed difference a shortcoming? We’re not so sure. 

We missed the contemplative setting of our usual meeting location at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown WV. And wouldn’t it have been nice to spend time together over a meal or a drink? 

But, we’re struck by how an all virtual 2020 Annual Meeting actually worked. What stands out?

A quick recap:

We focused on one specific theme — generating ideas on how to operationalize a new draft public health goal and its clear focus on equity. And instead of the normal two day in-person working session we held 5 separate sessions over six weeks. The lead up to the final Annual Meeting session included:

  1. We Need to Talk: Conserving Land for Public Health, Equity, and Access to Nature. This candid conversation among a diverse group of distinguished professionals set a tone for the whole Annual Meeting Series. The conversation was powerful, compelling, and direct. Get a brief synopsis here or watch the session on YouTube.
  2. Working Session on Public Health & Conservation in Urban Areas. A diverse group of participants gathered for work in Zoom breakout rooms using a Covision interface to think through advancing urban public health through conservation. Here’s the quick report out of key themes.
  3. Working Session on Public Health & Conservation in Rural Areas. The third session took on rural public health and conservation. Again, we shared a quick report out of key themes in a recent Lightning Update.
  4. Working Session on Data and Analysis for Driving Equity in Public Health and Conservation. This session explored various types of analyses and geospatial data for informing work to advance equity in public health and conservation.

How do you distill four sessions so participants in the final 2020 Annual Meeting can digest them quickly?

With a first draft of a set of principles, policies, and actions that came directly from the prior sessions. We shared these in our last Lightning Update.

Then, pose the questions:

  • What’s missing? What might be improved, strengthened or changed?
  • What ideas do you have for a project that can happen in the next 12-24 months that would start operationalizing the public health goal?

We’re still taking all of the content generated through this work to outline a strategy for the way forward. And we’ll share that information as it develops. 

But, let’s go back to the question of the possible benefits of an all virtual annual meeting.

This year, over the four working sessions (excluding the We Need to Talk conversation which drew over 150 attendees and another 150 plus views on YouTube):

  • 96 organizations participated with over 114 unique attendees;
  • 74 participants were new to the Partnership’s Annual Meeting;
  • and the overall group of participants was more diverse, with many more people working in urban conservation, more people of color participating, and new types of organizations as well.

This simply would not have been possible in our regular 65 person capacity room at NCTC. 

The Partnership’s annual meetings have always been primarily working sessions — not conferences or seminars. The virtual annual meeting actually seems to have made those working sessions more productive. Good use of technology with Zoom breakout rooms and the Covision tool to capture every idea generated loads of detailed content — you can view it for each session here. A team identified themes coming out of every breakout room and played them back during the meeting in real time. All of this provides crucial material for moving forward. 

How did people feel about it? Here’s a sampling:

“I appreciate how eager people were to have real conversation around local conservation efforts. It was a lovely group to work with.”

“Broad set of participants and ideas; we are making progress!”

“The freewheeling discussions where everything can be on the table.”

“Continual pushing us to think differently and engaging new partners.”

“The leap forward in thinking on these issues that the Partnership has made in a relatively short time. We are offering great programming and collective thought-leadership that I as a member am benefitting from enormously.”

“I am really pleased to see that the land conservation community is talking about ways to be more relevant outside their normal arena and look forward to the actions taking to make greater and deeper connections.”

“The honest conversation regarding the lack of diversity in conservation and the White Savior Complex. These are hard conversations for many people to have and everyone in the meeting was completely honest and humble in their suggestions for working toward a more inclusive space.”

“This is my first meeting. I did not have expectations. Ultimately, this has been the most informed conversation of this that I have been involved in professionally. Really great work and leadership!”

Where to from here?

At annual meetings for several years, Partnership members have raised the need to bring new faces and voices to the table. We have finally made some progress. Why? A firm commitment by the Partnership’s Steering Committee over the past year; setting out clear goals in the Partnership’s strategic plan; and the driving forces of the pandemic and a national reckoning with racial inequity.

But 2020 represents only a partial start to meeting the need. There is much more to do in engaging directly with underrepresented communities, in setting out clear strategies for operationalizing work on public health and equity, and in making the face and focus of conservation more inclusive and equitable.

Not a small agenda for beginning a new year! We’ll report more here regularly as we move forward together.

Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.