Citizens' jury

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A Citizens' Jury is a mechanism of participatory action research (PAR) that draws on the symbolism, and some of the practices, of a legal trial by jury. It generally includes three main elements:

  1. The "jury" is made up of people who are usually selected "at random" from a local or national population, with the selection process open to outside scrutiny.
  2. The jurors cross-question expert "witnesses" — specialists they have called to provide different perspectives on the topic — and collectively produce a summary of their conclusions, typically in a short report.
  3. The whole process is supervised by an oversight or advisory panel composed of a range of people with relevant knowledge and a possible interest in the outcome. They take no direct part in facilitating the citizens' jury. Members of this group subsequently decide whether to respond to, or act on, elements of this report.

The term "citizens' jury" was coined in the late 1980s by the Jefferson Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They had developed the process in 1974 as a "citizens' committee", but decided to create and trademark the new name in order to protect the process from commercialization. The practice of citizens' juries has thus been tightly regulated in the US. Virtually the same process was created in Germany in the early 1970s; American inventor Ned Crosby and German inventor Peter Dienel did not learn of each other's work until 1985. In Britain, the process spread rapidly because of a publication by IPPR in 1994. Outside the US and Germany, citizens' juries have been conducted in many different ways, with many different objectives, and with varying degrees of success.

As with much PAR, there is a great deal of controversy over what constitutes good practice or professionalism in the area of public consultation. Lacking the methodological self-regulation that exists in some areas of PAR, or the legal sanctions available to the owners of the citizens' jury brand in the US, consultation practitioners elsewhere are free to use almost whatever label they wish, without being limited to the approach taken by those who invented the particular tool. Conversely, many people have used all three elements above, yet called their processes by another name: community x-change, consensus conferences, citizen's councils, deliberative focus groups or, most commonly, citizens' panels. The participants' roles once a jury has taken place vary from nothing to being asked to help bring about the recommendations they have made.

A citizens' jury in Mali on the future of food was recently endorsed in a briefing by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter.

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