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Jefferson Center Launches New Series on Citizen Juries

Our friends at The Jefferson Center, an NCDD Sponsoring member organization, recently shared an article on their site which offers a fantastic overview of Citizen Juries, that we wanted to repost here. The piece by Annie Pottroff answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the public engagement method, which was started in 1971 by Jefferson Center founder Ned Crosby. This is the initial post in the new blog series by The Jefferson Center to continue to dive into the Citizen Jury process – so stay tuned for more! You can read the article below and find the original piece here.

What exactly is a Citizens Jury, anyway?

We talk a lot about Citizens Juries at the Jefferson Center. After all, they were invented by our founder, Ned Crosby, in 1971. We believe they can help restore trust in democracy around the world. And they give everyday people the knowledge, resources, and time they need to create powerful solutions to our biggest challenges.

But what is a Citizens Jury? How do they work? Who’s involved? In this blog series, we’ll explore some of our most frequently asked questions, starting with Citizens Jury basics.

What is a Citizens Jury?

A Citizens Jury is a public engagement method that provides individuals with the opportunity to learn about an issue, deliberate together with a diverse group of their peers, and develop well-informed solutions to the given issue.

Juries also allows decision makers and the broader public to know what people really think once they have the opportunity to study an issue closely and weigh different options and perspectives.

Citizens Juries are typically composed of around 18-24 citizens who have been randomly selected to represent the demographics of the larger community.

Over a number of weekends, one week, or a few days, we provide the group with background information from expert speakers and stakeholders to inform their conversations. With this information in mind, Jurors deliberate and craft recommendations through dialogue and voting, which are then published and delivered to the public and decision makers.

Who are the “citizens?”

Citizen Jury participants are randomly selected to represent a specific population. For example, in the Willmar Community Assembly, participants represented their community of Willmar, Minnesota.

We invite citizens to apply to participate in the Jury via postcards, posters, direct community outreach, social media, local employment websites, and more. Citizens are selected to participate through stratified random sampling, often based on the age, race, gender, education, and socioeconomic background statistics of the target population. These criteria can slightly vary depending on the Jury. The population a Citizens Jury represents can range anywhere from a small town to an entire country.

Why might a Citizens Jury be used on an issue?

Citizens Juries are an important tool for decision-makers, organizations, and communities to use when faced with a particularly challenging issue. Often these issues are complex, technical, divisive, and can’t be resolved in a short amount of time, such as nuclear storage or climate change adaptation. Most individuals don’t have the opportunity, time, or energy in their daily lives to study these tough issues, understand the nuances, and form a strong opinion, making it difficult for decision-makers to know how the public really thinks. As a result, officials often make decisions based on their own assessment and the loudest voices in the room.

But at a Citizens Jury, participants learn more about the issue from experts and stakeholders, discuss different perspectives and considerations with their peers, and work together to create recommendations. This gives individuals the chance to confront the big challenges usually left to decision makers. Their conversations surface new ideas and overlooked problems, leading to more representative, informed, and powerful solutions.

How do you evaluate the success of a Citizens Jury?

Are Citizens Juries all the same?

Juries are specifically designed for the issue or problem at hand, and they can vary according to:

  • Number of Jury participants
  • Number of actual Juries per project
  • Jury topic
  • Target Jury community
  • Final report audience

Want to learn more about how to conduct a Citizens Jury and how to collaborate with us? Let us know below or contact us!

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center blog at www.jefferson-center.org/2019/05/what-exactly-is-a-citizens-jury-anyway/.

Keiva Hummel
Keiva Hummel serves as NCDD’s Communications Coordinator. She graduated cum laude from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Communication Studies, Minor in Global Peace, Human Rights and Justice Studies, and a Certificate in Conflict Resolution Studies.

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