Citizens' Juries

A Citizens’ Jury is a small group of randomly selected citizens, representative of the demographics in the area, that come together to reach a collective decision or recommendation on a policy issue through informed deliberation.

A Citizens’ Jury is a form of deliberative mini-public where a small group of citizens are randomly selected to deliberate on a given policy issue and provide recommendations to the organizing entity. The jury are usually given a specific question to answer or a clearly defined scope, and provide a report at the end of the process detailing their recommendations.[1]

The purpose of a Citizens’ Jury is to bring deliberation and public participation into public policy decisions. A CJ is a small enough group to help ensure genuine and effective deliberation can take place,[2] and utilises a random or stratified sample of the community to try and ensure that the group is sufficiently diverse and representative of the broader affected public. Proponents of the CJ model suggest that decisions made by a representative group of citizens are more likely to be accepted and viewed as legitimate by the broader public, because the jury making the recommendation are everyday citizens as well.[3]

Citizens’ Juries are usually used in an advisory capacity, tasked with producing a collective recommendation or verdict.[4] In many cases, decision makers may give some prior commitment as to how they might respond to recommendations from a jury. For example, in South Australia the state government usually commits to presenting all jury recommendations directly to parliament.[5] In some cases, the decision-making authority will agree in advance to accepting and implementing the jury’s recommendations.[6]

Citizens’ Juries can be used to address a wide range of problems and policy issues. CJs are deliberative processes, which emphasise the importance of deliberation and making collective decisions. Inherent to these processes is the provision of a range of perspectives and information, so that jurors can be fully informed and base their deliberations on solid reasoning. Therefore, CJs are particularly suitable for addressing complex issues such as health policy where deeper understanding is required.[7] They can also be useful for addressing controversial issues or where evidence is contested[8] because the jury will hear from a full range of perspectives rather than receive a one-sided view of the debate. CJs may also be used when the public is distanced from a decision-making process or there is a (perceived or actual) lack of transparency and democracy associated with an issue,[9] with the hope that bringing citizens into the process may also enhance trust or legitimacy.

Citizens’ Juries are often deployed alongside other consultative processes, or as one component of a broader participatory processes. In Australia, it has been used as part of participatory budgeting processes, where the jury decides how a city or local council’s budget should be spent. Two Citizens’ Juries were held in South Australia alongside a statewide public engagement and consultation program on nuclear fuel storage. The first jury had an agenda-setting remit, helping to decide the key issues for the broader engagement and the second jury to deliberate upon. In the U.S., CJs are used to evaluate ballot initiatives as part of the Citizens’ Initiative Review.

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