Our Toolbox includes handbooks, guides, digital and mapping toolkits, and similar resources designed to help in step-by-step practice in various areas of civic engagement, public problem solving, consensus building, and collaboration. Some are directly relevant to those areas covered within CivicGreen, while others are more general but may also have application in these areas.

As in a carpenter’s toolbox, some tools are better for some uses than others. Some are state-of-the art, while others may need updating but still can help jerry rig a workable solution. Some, of course, may be truly outdated, because social and ecological complexity have far outrun our wrenches and sprockets, and because values of equity, inclusion, and environmental justice require that we think outside the usual democratic toolbox.

Good carpenters mix and match, working with existing materials, workmates, resources, and time constraints, even as they try to craft something workable for now. All learn from imperfections as they hone their skill and sometimes invent new tools. We hope to expand and refine this initial toolbox as we learn from our readers and partners. Some of the references in other sections also include tools, paired with a discussion of usefulness, appropriateness, and limits. We welcome suggestions at

For full reviews and short annotations of scholarly books, also see our Bookshelf.


Here we include handbooks and guides that provide insight into various methods of civic engagement and public participation, compare and contrast them, and suggest criteria for choosing among them.

Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger, Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2015). 349 pages.

A terrific overview of diverse forms, terminologies, and rationales for public participation. The core chapters focus on four arenas: planning and land use, state and local government, health, and education. The book grounds current forms in a brief but thoughtful discussion of the history of participation in the U.S., and considers future options. The writing is clear and succinct, and the tables and chapter subheads are most useful in the classroom, in the community, and in professional training programs. Extensive bibliography for the novice and the expert. A wonderful resource.

John Gastil and Peter Levine, eds., The Deliberative Democracy Handbook: Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the Twenty-First Century (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

This edited handbook is especially broad in scope and clear in presentation, yet well-grounded in democratic theory. Part One has essays that provide historical and contemporary context for American politics, although the other chapters are not limited to the U.S. Part Two analyzes core deliberative forms common to the field: National Issues Forums, public journalism, deliberative polling, citizens jury, consensus conferences, and combinations among deliberative forms. Part Three presents the 21st Century Town Meeting, online dialogues within government agencies, collaborative learning within national forest planning and stewardship, and other forms. Part Four considers study circles and other innovations, including the need for dynamic updating. The concluding chapter analyzes consistent and promising findings, as well as persistent challenges and questions for further research. A terrific resource that is unusual in its combination of fine-grained attention to practice and its sophisticated theorizing.

Andrae Beachtiger, John S. Dryzek, Jane J. Mansbridge, and Mark Warren, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2018). 948 pages.

Indispensable handbook for scholars and researchers on the central concept of deliberative democracy, as well as its many variations and applications. Chapters include the relation of deliberation to justice, equality, representation, and multiculturalism, as well as the many forms and settings in which deliberation occurs, such as the media, everyday talk, online communication, social movements, governance networks, planning, science, policy analysis, and negotiated dispute settlement. Thorough overviews and probing analyses, but not for the faint of heart.

Citizen Science

Everyday citizens, school students, Audubon birders, community groups, and other lay actors are increasingly partnering with professionally trained scientists to collect and analyze data, much of it critical for ecological and community health, and much of it useful for stewardship in the face of climate and related threats.

Christopher A. Lepczyk, Owen D. Boyle, and Timothy L. V. Vargo, eds., Handbook of Citizen Science in Ecology and Conservation (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020). 313 pages.

Truly one of the outstanding handbooks for organizing complex civic work, in this case among citizens and scientists in a broad range of ecological and conservation settings. The chapters are crafted with extraordinary care and clarity and give due attention to virtually every aspect of recruiting, motivating, and retaining lay contributors and partners; collecting, managing and visualizing data; and communicating results to broader publics. The book represents a model of democratic professional knowledge and practice that can further build the institutional capacities of this critically important field. It includes contributions from leading practitioners situated in an array of settings:  university departments, Extension Services, natural resource, park and wildlife agencies, local, regional, and national associations and conservancies. The volume is exceptionally coherent and comprehensive and avoids the typical pitfalls of many edited collections.

Climate Action Planning

Michael R. Boswell, Adrienne I. Greve, and Tammy L. Seale. 2019. Climate Action Planning: A Guide to Creating Low-Carbon, Resilient Communities. Revised edition. Washington, DC: Island Press. Order info.

This detailed guide takes readers through a wide range of steps for developing climate action plans and implementation strategies at the city level and across multiple sectors. The authors build upon a vast range of experience in California cities, as well as their academic knowledge of global cities. They provide step-by-step guidance on building teams, sequencing actions, developing technical reports, and enlisting partners. They pay special attention to the range of ways in which citizens and stakeholders can participate, as well as to the public communication and education strategies that address skeptics and highlight co-benefits. They have a keen understanding that the legitimacy of the climate action planning processes depends on a good mix of participation tools and forums. Tables, lists, and figures make for ease of use.

Stephen R.J. Sheppard, Visualizing Climate Change: A Guide to Visual Communication of Climate Change and Developing Local Solutions (Washington, DC: Routledge, 2012). Order info.

This beautiful book serves as a guide to visualize climate change in our communities, its potential to disrupt places we love and depend on, as well as how we might use visualization techniques to engage publics to transform them. The author provides numerous photographs, 3D and 4D visualization techniques, and other visuals for community presentations, deliberations, and campaigns. These provide a good basis for scenario workshops as well as community narrative that empowers ordinary citizens. The potential use of such visualization tools for community dialogue, environmental education in schools and colleges, and collaborative planning is enormous and should be an area of significant public investment and foundation support.

Coastal Protection and Restoration

The depth and breadth of volunteer monitoring, as well as scientific, economic, and digital tools produced by public agencies, national environmental organizations, universities, and local citizen science and stewardship groups, will become ever more relevant in the face of sea level rise and climate change.

Ronald L. Ohrel Jr. and Kathleen M. Register, Voluntary Estuary Monitoring: A Methods Manual, second edition (Washington, DC: Ocean Conservancy, 2006). 396 pages.

Developed in partnership with the Ocean Conservancy (with EPA funding) and several hundred local groups, this methods manual covers all manner of project planning, organizing volunteers, managing safety, and testing the broadest spectrum of nutrients, oxygen, toxins, alkalinity, temperature, salinity, turbidity, bacteria, submerged aquatic vegetation, and other living organisms – each has a chapter. The second iteration of the manual is built upon a meticulous combination of technical knowledge and civic practice represented by EPA’s collaborative work with some of these organizations and their local partners in the National Estuary Program.

Office of Coastal Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Digital Coast. 

This online digital toolkit includes economic, land cover, and satellite tools, a Sea Level Rise Viewer and Land Cover Atlas to enable coastal communities to plan more effectively and transparently. The data partnership of Digital Coast includes a very broad array of civic associations and nonprofits, local and state governments, academia and tribes, and private organizations that contribute many other tools. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt yet to aggregate such as wide variety of relevant tools on one site.

Community Design

Design professionals can engage ordinary residents and diverse stakeholders in the process of design, from neighborhoods to major public buildings and spaces, as well as rebuilding in response to disasters.

Bill Lennertz and Aarin Lutzenhiser. The Charrette Handbook: The Essential Guide to Design-Based Public Involvement. Second edition (New York: Routledge, 2014). 183 pages.

A very clear and eminently useful handbook from the National Charrette Institute that provides detailed step-by-step guidance on planning and conducting charrettes, with sample checklists and worksheets. Topics include charrette planning and research, outreach and stakeholder analysis, stakeholder and public meetings, developing a vision and alternative concepts, site tours and project management. Also includes a history of the charrette process and variations among organizations in the field.

David de la Peña, Diane Jones Allen, Randolph T. Hester Jr, Jeffrey Hou, Laura J. Lawson, and Marcia J. McNally, eds., Design as Democracy: Techniques for Collective Creativity (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2017). 326 pages.

This self-described cookbook of recipes, techniques, stories, games, and apps from the U.S. and around the world seeks to renew participatory design to help unleash creativity and redistribute power. Inspired by a deep sense of place, relationship, and local knowledge, it is intended for use in academic, professional, grassroots, and youth contexts, and is filled with wonderful photographs, drawings, and worksheets.

Aaron Welch, Kaid Benfield, and Matt Raimi, A Citizen’s Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development: How to Tell if Development is Smart and Green. 41 pages.

Jointly developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Congress for the New Urbanism, with assistance from other land use and smart growth organizations across the field. LEED-ND has become an important tool in the green building toolkit administered by the USGBC and extends green building concepts across entire neighborhoods and, in the more recent LEED for Cities and Communities, to entire cities and towns. Designed to empower citizens with basic concepts, as well as to map key avenues and opportunities for them to shape public choices, it is written in plain English and covers a wide array of areas: civic and public spaces, green building, transportation, green infrastructure, street connections and pathways, public health, housing, and equity and social justice. Includes an extensive but clear and well-organized checklist. A complementary guide for local government is also available.

Community Visioning

Visioning has become an important process that communities, as well as many kinds of organizations, have come to utilize in considering where they want to be over the next decade or more, and then beginning to sketch alternative ways of enlisting actors and mobilizing assets to get there. Community visioning might include an entire city and range across all the major areas of potential development, or it might be more restricted in scope. Multi-stakeholder and inclusive participation has become a core norm of visioning processes.

National Civic League, Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook (Denver, CO: NCL, 2000).

One of the most utilized handbooks for developing an inclusive community visioning project among diverse groups of stakeholders. It was developed initially by Derek Okubo and is based on years of practice in the many communities in which NCL has worked, as well as among those hundreds of city contestants and finalists in NCL’s annual All-America City Awards. It takes readers through early planning stages, community outreach, assessing civic infrastructure, visioning process, action planning, and implementation. 55 pages, provided free to members of the National Civic League, or $15 for nonmembers.

Parks and Recreation

David L. Barth, Parks and Recreation System Planning: A New Approach for Creating Sustainable, Resilient Communities (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2020).

This guide proceeds from the idea that parks and recreation systems are part of an integrated public realm and that they can be designed and planned to enhance multiple benefits, such as controlling flooding and cleaning air, preserving biological diversity and promoting healthy lifestyles, providing opportunities for youth and attracting retirees, preserving historic and cultural districts and enhancing natural areas and trails, stabilizing neighborhoods and improving property values. Over the past two decades, some communities have developed collaborative interdepartmental processes that include parks, transportation, stormwater and other utilities, and that involve the public in planning through a broad range of activities, such as workshops, focus groups, visioning, open houses, online engagement, surveys, and citizen summits. This clear, hands-on guide builds upon the author’s experience with teams of planners across several hundred communities, including those with some of the most integrative and participative approaches. Amy Pohler does not merit a reference, but our first lady of Parks & Rec comedy might find redemption in these new and innovative practices! Amy, meet Kate Parmelee of Port St. Lucie, Florida!

Water Conservation

Water has been central to the environmental movement from the beginning and the challenges of managing, protecting, and restoring water systems and ecosystems have increased in complexity, and civic approaches now complement many of the regulatory programs.

Robert I. McDonald, Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2015). 280 pages.

This primer covers a wide array of areas where green infrastructure can be utilized to enhance ecosystem services in cities. It ranges over such topics as drinking water, stormwater and floodwater, as well as coastal protection, climate adaptation, recreation, physical and mental health, and biodiversity. While mainly technical, the guide is clearly written and can assist citizens in planning and stewardship strategies, as well as inform cost-effective democratic decisions for funding green infrastructure. An essential guide.