Best Practices Report


Solving sustainability problems nationally or globally requires broad social consensus on the nature of a sustainable society and how to bring it about.

Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially foundations, have traditionally organized civic dialogues. However, governments are increasingly stepping back from driving engagement and social change. Businesses have historically played little role, but have the potential to make a major contribution.

This project answers the question: How can businesses help citizens become informed, inspired and engaged in a national dialogue about sustainability?

What's in the Report

This detailed guide describes civic dialogue’s unique potential to promote sustainability, and when it is most useful. Divided into 4 chapters, this best practice guide for business includes:

  • How participation in civic dialogue presents a new opportunity for business
  • The business case for civic dialogue and the role of firms in public engagement, and
  • Models and best practices for effective civic dialogues

Lastly, the report includes a 3-part checklist for action designed to help readers implement civic engagement and recap lessons from the document.

Checklist for Action

A companion “Business Briefing,” intended for executives, provides a shorter overview of civic dialogue’s form, sustainability potential, and business benefit.

About Civic Dialogue

Figure 2E-Title

See more graphics from the report

Greater progress on sustainability is needed and can be achieved through civic dialogue. Business historically has played little role in civic dialogues, but can make a major contribution. Civic dialogue can be an important tool for business, creating business value and complementing other forms of public engagement, such as stakeholder engagement and multi-sector partnerships.

Civic dialogues are facilitated discussions that build broad-based consensus and commitment around issues that are complex and controversial. Dialogues can involve citizens, businesses, governments and other organizations. They represent democratic change, establishing a mandate for action through citizen involvement.

Dialogues can achieve change that is fundamental, deep and broad. Because they are built around education and understanding, they produce thoughtful and innovative outputs. They use techniques that allow people to address controversial issues — such as sustainability — with less conflict. They can work at any scale, from the neighbourhood to the nation or the globe.

Who Should Read the Report?

This report is intended for those charged with implementing business involvement in a dialogue, for example, outreach leaders trying to advance a sustainability agenda within their firm, or brand managers wishing to better understand the wants and needs of clients and customers.

About the Research

This project represents an innovative collaboration between research and practice. Researcher Dr. Thomas Webler summarized the best academic and practical research available on civic engagement. A working session of leaders from the business, non-profit and academic communities provided extensive feedback, which Dr. Webler incorporated into the final documents.

This report addresses one of the top priorities identified by the NBS Leadership Council in 2013.

Additional Resources

CD-Cover Companion resource for executives: Civic Dialogues on Sustainability: A Business Briefing
Figure 2E-Title Figures from the reports
CD Best Practices Checklist Best practices checklist
Tom Web Interview with Dr. Thomas Webler, author of NBS’s civic dialogue resources
Ann Dale Interview with Dr. Ann Dale, civic dialogue researcher
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Overview of NBS’s working session on civic dialogue