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Authour: Hilary Best
Edited by Christine Keene
In a democratic society, it is widely recognized that the best solutions are those that are embraced by the population. Consequently, public consultation has played a central role in public decision-making (Wiklund and Viklund, 2010). In Canada, a consultation process is a key component of many policy-making activities, and is reflected as a legislative requirement in matters such as urban planning, natural resource extraction, environmental assessments and more. In spite of this focus on consultation, many existing consultation options have suboptimal outcomes – producing polarized and unhelpful public input and resentment and cynicism amongst the populace. There is a need for action research methods that empower the populace to make informed choices that advance public policy decisions.
Citizen juries are one answer to this need. A citizen jury is the action research method whereby a randomly selected yet demographically representative group of citizens learns about, reflects on, and presents a collective statement on an important issue (NCDD, 2010). Citizen juries are distinguished from other types of engagement frameworks by their length and the representative nature of their selection process (Wiklund and Viklund, 2010).
Citizen juries were first developed in 1974 by the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes (Crosby and Hottinger, 2011). Huitema et al. (2007) argue citizen juries are grounded in deliberative and pluralist political philosophies. The pluralist perspective recognizes citizens as autonomous individuals pursuing their self interest, while the deliberative perspective sees that opportunities to debate and discuss issues of public importance is critical to the health of a democracy (Huitema et al., 2007). Taken together, these perspectives value the contributions that a group of citizens can make with sufficient information on an issue of public concern and time to discuss it.
As a research method, citizen juries are grounded in an interpretive, interventionist and participatory philosophy that empowers citizen participants to be co-creators in developing solutions to complex issues.
Citizen juries are appropriate for use when there is an opportunity for informed citizens to have a meaningful impact on public policy, when there is sufficient time to conduct a lengthy process, and when deliberation will be helpful to achieving optimal outcomes.
Citizen juries are well suited to the deliberation of sharply polarizing social issues. They are useful for raising the level of public debate and creating recommendations to inform public policy choices. Citizen juries have been used to address a variety of issues including transit investment, arts and culture plans, online voting, health care, and income inequality.
1) Demographics – A researcher selects a panel of citizens to participate in the jury. This selection is performed randomly and is constructed to be demographically representative of the broader population being studied. Demographic representation can be determined according to variables such as age, education, gender, geography, and ethnicity (Jefferson Center, 2004). On average, 18 to 24 individuals are selected to form the jury.
2) Session – The citizen jury is invited to meet over the course of several days (usually 3-5). During this period, the citizen jury goes through a process of learning, reflecting and presenting.
The citizen jury is invited to learn deeply about the issue under consideration. This may include readings, videos, and testimonial from expert witnesses. The intention is that the citizen jury will become sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic so as to inform the reflection phase of the process. It is important to note that the issue under consideration must be appropriately scoped to allow the jury to delve deeply, while not getting lost in particular pieces of the issue at hand or related issues (Jefferson Center, 2004).
Once citizens are well versed in the topic, the jury begins a process of reflecting on the issue and the information they have gathered. Through a process of respectful deliberation, the jury attempts to reach some shared conclusions about the issue at hand. The jury need not arrive at complete consensus on the issue. They must, however, arrive at a place of common ground that they can share with a wider stakeholder group.
The citizen jury is responsible for crafting a collective statement on the issue under consideration, summarizing or synthesizing their process and conclusions. They must then present this statement and their recommendations to decision makers and/or the public.
3) Compensation – members of the citizen jury are offered a stipend for their time and contributions.
Examples: Citizen juries can be used in a variety of controversial public policy contexts. In 2012, the Centre for Public Involvement in Edmonton, Alberta held a citizens jury on the issue of online voting. Jury members were randomly selected members of the public, reflective of the diversity of the population of Edmonton. Over several days, members of the jury received expert testimony from a number of witnesses, reflected on the information presented, and deliberated to create a set of recommendations on the issue. In January 2013, these recommendations were presented to city council to inform their decision-making.
While the format of citizen juries is fairly rigorously defined by its custodial organizations, including the Jefferson Centre, the method has been adopted in several countries. This has resulted in regional interpretations. For instance, the English citizen jury model is distinguished from its American counterpart by its role for jurors in establishing their own ground rules for the proceedings, its use of pilot projects to test assumptions, its request that participants think from a community perspective rather than an individual perspective, and its requirement that the decision making body make a formal response to the recommendations of the jury (Crosby et al.).
Centre for Public Involvement. (2012). 2012 Citizens Jury on Internet Voting. Retrieved from http://centreforpublicinvolvement.com/work/archives/2012/07/18/online-‐civic-‐ voting-‐project/
Crosby, N., & Hottinger, J.C. (2011). The Citizens Jury Process. Book of the States, 321-325. Retrieved from knowledgecenter.csg.org/drupal/system/files/Crosby2011.pdf
Crosby, N., Romslo, J., Malisone, S., & Manning, B. (n.d.). Citizen Juries: British Style. Retrieved from https://fp.auburn.edu/tann/cp/juries.htm
Huitema, D., van de Kerkhof, M., & Pesch, U. (2007). The nature of the beast: are citizens’ juries deliberative or pluralist? Policy Science, 40, 287-311. DOI: 10.1007/s11077-007-9046-7
Jefferson Center. (2004). The Citizen Jury Handbook. Retrieved from www.epfound.ge/files/citizens_jury_handbook.pdf
National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. (2010). Engagement Streams Framework. Retrieved from www.ncdd.org/files/NCDD2010_Engagement_Streams.pdf
Wiklund, H., & Viklund, P. (2010). Legitimizing Public Policy: Citizen’s Juries in Municipal Energy Planning. Jibs Working Paper Series, No: 2010-1. Retrieved from http://hj.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:315216