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Summary Report: Forum on Engaging the Community

This report summarizes key lessons from NBS’s community engagement forum, which brought together representatives from business, government, and academia.

Effective community engagement results in measurable benefits, including cost savings, enhanced reputation, and innovation.

On February 29, 2008, NBS held a forum to explore the concept and practice community engagement further. The audience represented a diversity of interests: 50 per cent of participants were managers and consultants from various industries; 50 per cent came from academia, government, and non-governmental organizations.

This report provides summary of key learnings from the forum. It builds on the systematic review of research on community engagement commissioned by NBS.

The Future of Community Engagement

Summary, Learnings, and Next Steps

How do you acquire the benefits of social trust and innovation?

Joint solutions create better outcomes. Firms need to start early and give stakeholders ownership over the engagement process. Firms also need to understand the communities with which they engage. ‘Mental modelling’ is one way in which EPCOR learns the values of the communities in which they wish to do business.

How do you measure the benefits of social trust and innovation?

There are no easy answers. Community and stakeholder engagement is unique to each company, industry, community, and situation. Processes and best practices can be developed, but these must be flexible enough to deal with the nuances of each engagement process. But we learned today that the universal values of honesty, trust, respect and transparency are critical for healthy engagement leading to positive collaboration and outcomes.

Forum Highlights

Stakeholder Landscape: Context, Trends, and Pressure Points

Dr. Sandra Waddock, Professor, Boston College

  • Globalization is tipping the balance of power in favour of corporations. But this power is accompanied by increasing pressure on corporations to improve their social performance.

  • Corporations face increasingly serious consequences if they fail to integrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles into their strategies.

  • Firms are responding in a variety of ways, from adopting internal performance measurement systems and voluntary CSR assurance, to engaging external institutions and the community in the firm’s activities.

  • Read page 7 of the full report

Conflicts & Crises: Business Responses to Stakeholder Conflicts

Dr. Charlene Zietsma, Assistant Professor, Ivey Business School

  • ‘Little c’ conflicts are usually about the impact of business operations on a limited group of stakeholders. They are local and focused on a single firm which has the power to make changes regarding the issue in dispute.

  • ‘Big C’ conflicts may start local, but become global. They focus on large, influential, and reputable firms which have only a loose connection to the issue and lack the power to make changes.

  • ‘Big C’ conflicts emerge, intensify, and resolve and there are tactics associated with each stage.

  • Firms can collectively manage their industry’s reputation, as they jointly seek conflict resolution.

  • Read page 9 of the full report

Engaging Stakeholders: Causes of Conflict and Crises

Ms. Denise Carpenter, Senior Vice President, Public and Government Affairs, EPCOR Utilities Inc.

  • Companies that do not engage with their stakeholders in an open, honest, transparent, and inclusive manner will often face opposition.

  • Companies should engage stakeholders in project design early and often, and use their input to anticipate and avoid impacts.

  • Doing the right thing can improve company relations with stakeholders and lead to cost savings.

  • Read page 11 of the full report

Consultation and Communication

Mr. David Meads, Consultation and Community Affairs Manager, Mackenzie Gas Project

  • Extreme weather events will severely challenge business as usual and may threaten firm survival.

  • The development of an inventory of vulnerabilities across the organization and its supply chain appears to be a key success factor to enhance the firm’s adaptation and resilience.

  • To adapt to climate change, better climate change data are required to understand the nature, type, severity and probability of direct climate

  • Read page 14 of the full report

CSR Round Tables: A Pyrrhic Victory

Mr. Pierre Gratton, Vice President, Sustainable Development, Mining Association of Canada

  • The CSR Round Tables were a valuable demonstration of civil society and industry engaging to build common ground.

  • Best practices include: Don’t cherry-pick with whom you engage; don’t change the rules mid-stream; respond in a timely manner; make sure you have the buy-in of senior management; engage only if you are prepared to listen; and be transparent.

  • Read page 16 of the full report

Collaboration – The New Model: Corporate-Cause Collaboration

Ms. Jocelyne Daw, Vice-President, Marketing & Social Engagement, Imagine Canada

  • Business contributions help build strong and healthy communities, which is good for business.

  • Businesses that stand for something that their employees and customers care about, find that the community stands with them.

  • Businesses are moving from supporting an organization, to supporting a cause, to supporting outcomes.

  • Read page 19 of the full report


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    The Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) is a non-profit advancing sustainable development to build a fairer and more environmentally sound future. We aim to improve business practice by facilitating knowledge sharing across an international community of business leaders, scholars, students and policy makers. With these stakeholders, we co-create high-quality content that enables practical action. Our content focuses on 6 critical sustainability themes, from climate change to social justice.

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