Our Approach

Our Approach

We explore opportunities for parks to catalyze lasting, large-scale change to society. Our portfolio is always evolving – as are society’s needs. Our current programs focus on parks as a tool for preventive healthcare, a classroom for climate education, and a resource for critical urban issues like homelessness, income and racial inequity, and rapid development. Every challenge requires a unique approach and the Institute taps a range of capabilities to identify and develop the best tool, model, or partnership.

Discover & Explore

  • Our starting point for addressing any challenge is to draw from best practice but also think outside the box. Using practical, applied research we explore new ideas and existing models, dig into how they work, and create essential tools to support park innovators, such as case studies, toolkits, and trainings.

Incubate & Build

  • While research and discovery is a vital part of our process, we believe it is critical to work with diverse partners to test these ideas on the ground. By building and convening communities of practice, we have a greater impact than any one organization could on its own. Examples of these partnerships include the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative and the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative.

Amplify & Share

  • Critical to everything we do is our ability to amplify and scale what we learn. We share our expertise and problem solving process with local communities to national policy makers, building momentum so that promising ideas become common practice. The ultimate measure of our success is how our programs impact people and their communities.

Piloting Our Model

One of our first opportunities to successfully test our model for change came in the area of food policy. We were inspired by local examples of cafés serving healthy, delicious, and sustainably-grown food, which was something of a rarity among national park cafes. The idea that the mission and values of parks could be embodied in all aspects of the visitor experience—including food service—resonated with us.

Inspired by efforts in our own park to innovate for a better food experience, the Institute researched and published two reports examining how all parks could start to serve food that stands up to a spectacular park experience while also supporting a conservation mission. With the Institute’s support, the National Park Service adopted standards and guidelines that affect the nutrition as well as the sustainability of tens of millions of meals served across all of America’s national parks.

With these standards in place, the National Park Service now leads the way for other large food service operators in other sectors such as museums, hospitals, schools, and stadiums, and is sharing its expertise across the country.

Our Change Makers Report highlights the Institute's passion for strengthening the role of parks as catalysts for social change.