What’s the best way to ensure the people affected by a decision get a voice in that decision? For Ned Crosby, founder of The Jefferson Center in St Paul, Minnesota, the answer is to sit them down and provide as much information as possible in as understandable a way as possible. From this concept the Citizens’ Jury was born, and in our July 14 webinar, we heard from two Jefferson Center experts – Andrew Rockway and Larry Pennings – and Sherrill Johnson, who has facilitated Citizens’ Juries (CJs) in Edmonton, notably the 2012 jury on Internet Voting, with the Centre for Public Involvement.
The idea of the CJ is to present information and reach a decision in a way that transcends politics. The CJ is made up of a representative cross-section of the affected population, reflecting the ethnic and social makeup of the community. These people then study and gain understanding of complex issues, deliberate respectfully and present well-considered recommendations based on solid information.
That was the way the Edmonton exercise was approached. The manifold and complex issues surrounding Internet voting – including fears of hacking or electronic ballot-stuffing – were addressed by experts in all aspects of the issue. At the end of it, the jury returned a verdict that the city should go ahead with Internet voting: city staff endorsed the recommendation; and city council decided against it.
Sherrill Johnson noted, that spoke to another issue: that despite the CJ’s apolitical nature, elected officials needed to be included in the process at an earlier stage, so they can understand both the process and the issues, themselves.
Is a Citizens’ Jury something you could use in your toolbox? You can watch the entire webinar and learn more about the Centre for Public Involvement and The Jefferson Center (including contact information) in the “Members Only” section here.