Components of a Citizens Jury

Nearly forty years’ experience has revealed several key elements that are necessary to generate a trustworthy and informed voice of the people. These include:

Microcosm of the community: We stratify a randomly selected participant pool so the jury resembles its community in terms of characteristics such as age, education, geographic location of their residence, race, and political affiliation. This method ensures that, as much as possible, the perspectives of the community are represented in the jury.

Democratic conversations: A jury should be large enough to represent the (demographic and cognitive) diversity and collective will of the community, but not so large that the voices of quieter jurors are drowned out. A jury of fifteen to twenty-four people is consistent with these goals, though the Center has run successful projects with as few as twelve jurors.

High quality information: A major impediment to citizen participation in public dialogue is the lack of high quality or unbiased information. The Citizens Jury method addresses this issue in two ways. First, it asks experts presenters to bring necessary information to the jury — some are background experts and some represent their specific ideological positions on the issue being considered. Second, the process educates jurors about uncovering biases and asking tough questions. By purposefully focusing on these critical thinking skills, a Citizens Jury makes participants better critical thinkers in the future.

Productive deliberation: Skilled moderation is fundamental to vibrant deliberative dialogue. Our moderators help foster discussions open enough for jurors to express themselves freely, but focused enough to address the question at hand and no juror dominates the discussions. Expert presenters are required to reserve ample time to answer jurors’ questions — providing brief, direct answers. Moderators are carefully trained in order to support and direct, not dominate, the will of the participants.

Minimizing biases and outside manipulation: Empowering the informed will of the people is essential to the spirit of the Citizens Jury method. We invest considerable effort into forging a genuine conversation between jurors, unimpeded by outside manipulations or staff biases. Daily evaluations are solicited from jurors to ensure that that they perceive the staff as fair and impartial. Final recommendations are given by jurors in their own words.

Sufficient time to study the matter: Many public policy issues are complex and it takes time for any non-expert to grasp the nuances. For this reason, a typical Citizens Jury event lasts from three to six days. Consistently, jurors find the process so enjoyable and informative that they wish for more time to dive deeper into the issue. The duration of an event is largely dependent on the policy area being tackled, with national or relatively complex problems taking more time.