The Dialogue Project: A Profile

In today’s polarized world perhaps the only thing virtually all of us agree on is that we’re too polarized. The state of civil discourse is broken, and the problem goes beyond just civility – we have lost the ability to solve big problems. Some people are even saying democracy itself no longer works.

Unless we find a way to return to constructive debate and consensus building, our way of life will be in jeopardy. Can business play a role to help make things better?

I believe it must. To that end, I am working with several highly respected organizations to make it happen. Our effort, the Dialogue Project, will identify those ideas that companies are pursuing to help foster better civil discourse and lead to real problem-solving. The Dialogue Project’s “deliverable” will be a sharing of the most interesting, promising ideas that can be put into action right now.

Well-known American psychologist Kenneth Gergen said civil discourse “requires respect of the other participants. It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences.”

Clearly, we have some work to do, and business has an essential role. Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer said business is now expected to be an agent of change. Employees want their companies to improve economic and social conditions in the communities where they operate.

And when so many of us have retreated inside bubbles of like-minded people in every other aspect of our lives, where we work may be the last place that we engage on more than a superficial level with people who have viewpoints different from our own.

Plus, many of our companies have international operations that expose employees to cultures they wouldn’t encounter in other aspects of their lives. There simply may be no other sector of society that cuts across those lines the way our organizations do.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink helped mainstream this trend a couple of years ago by demanding the companies they invest in demonstrate a higher purpose, and more recently the Business Roundtable said maximizing shareholder value can’t be the only corporate objective.

Now, the Dialogue Project is putting those ideals into action – attempting to help to create a more respectful, moderate society in which our citizen-employees are better equipped and inspired to listen and respect one another and to embrace compromise.

This is a year-long research project, being undertaken in conjunction with the University of Southern California (The Annenberg School’s Center for Public Relations), the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), and my own company, ICF Next. The project is being administered by IPR, an §IRC 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, under my direction. It is scrupulously non-partisan.

Research and development of our report is expected to run through December 2020. At that time, we will produce a detailed report identifying the creative, innovative steps companies are taking to elevate the quality of our civic life and restore our ability to do great things.

Support for The Dialogue Project is being provided by a group of well-respected organizations, including Google, HPE, Corteva, Chevron, Chick-fil-A, California Resources Corporation, Bristol- Myers Squibb, Southwest Airlines, ICF Next, and the Page Society.

Thank you.

Bob Feldman
Director, The Dialogue Project
Vice Chair, ICF Next