Citizens’ juries – 3 scenes from a facilitator’s viewpoint

A facilitator at a citizens' jury

I’ve been a facilitator for many citizens’ juries and helped out at a few. Often I take 20 or 30 photos at each one. Lately I’ve realised that the same three photos tell the story of every jury I’ve been part of. It doesn’t matter that the topic for one is investment in rehabilitation and another maintenance of infrastructure, that one is the country and another in the city, or that the faces are all different. Those photos say it all.

Photo 1, 2 and 3 could be scenes. Those scenes show that a citizens’ jury, like a good story, is compelling because of tensions in plot, through the beginning, the middle and the ending.

Scene 1: What are we doing here?

This photo is the one that is most interesting from my point of view as a facilitator. It’s the one I take of a bunch of random people waiting for the start. It’s a photo of individuals sitting having their own thoughts. They may be sitting well spaced, away from others. They may be looking at their papers or their phone. Some look as if they’re anticipating the jury with mild interest. Some look very uncertain.

Essentially they’re killing time until they get to answer the question: What are we doing here? This is the single most important question all jurors want dealt with at the start. There are no juries where jurors simply want to get on with it. Or there may be, but they will be limited.

As individuals, jurors seek to get a response from the sponsoring organisation on how their work/weekend/commitment is going to make a difference. This isn’t surprising given that many pre-polls of jurors reveal that they tend to have above average interest in public life or local governance. These people have seen many citizen consultations that don’t make any difference.

Until this question is answered to their satisfaction a jury can make no headway. For the sponsor this can be a very uncomfortable phase. They’ve put months and weeks and hours of work into getting the right sample, making sure the briefings are prepared and the speakers lined up. What’s going on? These citizens appear to be rather underwhelmed by our courage and initiative. What makes them so heated? Why this cutting critique?

As a facilitator of many juries, I know it’s just a stage. The jurors just seem to be difficult. Inevitably their questions have to be addressed to their satisfaction before they will begin work.

Scene 2: Jury at work

This photo may be taken only a few hours after the first, or the next day, or the next weekend. Jurors whose faces earlier reflected such strong and personal concerns have warmed to each other and warmed to the task. Often we first see this when the large group of twenty or thirty or forty people has moved into smaller group work, and everyone can have a voice. It’s like a cog clicks in and jurors start to feel productive and involved.

People talk of being on a roll, of focusing on what needs to be done. At times they’re reluctant to move on to the next activity on the agenda. Interactions are lively. Jurors start to get the measure of each other. Many jurors bring special expertise whether as a barrister, a parent, an architect, an accountant, a man who has worked on infrastructure maintenance or seen someone go through the experience of rehabilitation, a woman who’s employed by another local government municipality or another hospital. They bring knowledge of localities and special circumstances. They’re young and they’re old and in between.

The random stratified sample is in the process of acting effectively on this remit. In photo 2 we see interested, purposeful and collaborative participants.

A facilitator at a citizens' jury

An interplay is developing between these people, the remit and its scope, and the agenda. It is crucial to get this right for a successful jury within the chosen time frame.

As a facilitator how do I believe this is this done? Firstly by ensuring the scope of the remit is as straightforward as possible. Secondly by designing or structuring the agenda very well. You could almost see it like a play or a script, with prologue, three or four ‘acts’ and many ‘scenes’, and occasional flashbacks to review significant learnings. We write an agenda that will build an increasingly sophisticated perspective on the remit. This gives us as facilitators confidence that even if jurors are on a roll, there is the next thing waiting for them to do, and it will take them one step further toward making recommendations as a group.

Scene 2 is satisfying. Of course, along the way, a small group or an individual will throw in a major question or challenge just when things seem to be resolving and it must be given its due. Clients worry about how the jury’s divergent thinking will ever come together into recommendations. And no jury has ever got through the process without major qualms and the biggest is how they will get through it all.

The doubts and challenges are grist for the mill. In Scene 2, the jury that the organisation set out to form has taken shape and is hard at work. I say hard at work in attempt to explain how incredibly hard people work on a citizens’ jury.

Scene 3: Jury presents recommendations

This photo shows the most public phase of the jury. In most cases guests have arrived from the sponsoring organisation and as representatives of interested parties. The jury has often been under ridiculous time pressure to get here. They have chosen representatives to speak. Their slidepack is ready. The rising action through the jury plot has arrived at a point where the story is wrapping up.

As a facilitator I’ve seen this scene many times. Yet Scene 3 is still something of a miracle. How did those characters from my first photos move this far, in what has really only been a short time? How is it possible that the random group of strangers that sat apart experiencing mistrust based on their own personal experience have entered into a sophisticated collaboration? Who would have thought that citizens with little or no understanding of rehabilitation or infrastructure maintenance (or planning for growth, or rating strategies, or public safety, or disability) could become so knowledgeable and refined in this area of technical expertise?

These characters have written good recommendations. Not every juror will be satisfied with them … if only there had been more time. Nonetheless, the recommendations impress the guests. Some guests who earlier believed citizens would never be capable of dealing with the issue or remit may even be slightly intimidated by the strength of conviction and expertise of the jury. There is no doubt of the commitment, learning and growth in understanding of the political or investment process that informs what has been presented.

For those who are planning a jury … work needs to be done on the setting

Like any good story, a satisfying ending emerges from the setting of the jury, from interwoven narrative threads, from conflicting perspectives, and from the traits and characteristics of jurors. Above all a satisfying ending emerges from the organisation having put time and planning into the setting of the jury to enable everything that happens next. If they are committed and can rise to answer the question: What are we doing here? with clarity, and if their staff and the facilitators have developed the right script, the scenes unfold. The jury gets to work. They make their final recommendations.

If you’re interested in training in your organisation to create a good jury setting please contact myself or Chad Foulkes at Liminal by Design.

How to have outstanding engagement with children?

engagement with children

City of Greater Dandenong ensures outstanding engagement with children. They are committed to Child Friendly Cities and Communities Charter, hold an annual forum with children, and a Children’s Advisory Group makes sure engagement with children is age and culture relevant.

I met Caroline Meier on site to learn more about Council’s recent Children’s Forum which investigated:

  1. children’s views of the library
  2. the public space of Harmony Square and City of Greater Dandenong parks and playgrounds
  3. activities, workshops and events offered to the children  at various locations (including Heritage Hill, Drum theatre, Libraries, events and festivals)


The site

Harmony Square is an outdoor space at the heart of the City of Greater Dandenong civic precinct. The large library’s floor to ceiling glass windows at ground floor forms the margin between the world of the square and the looking, learning and settling in space of the library.

I walked on to the square seeing a sunny open space well supplied with colourful seating. Oh great! a big screen like Fed Square. A quite formal planting of Norfolk Pine and some more free formed trees. A coffee shop with a servery facing out on to its grouped seats.

Children apparently like the coffee shop being there so their parents have something to do when they’re at the library. Council has also learned about what children don’t like so much about the Square through input from the Forum. Activities also took place in the library and other locations. Prior to the Forum Caroline had worked extensively within council in the lead up phase, and liaised with schools. She’s now busy getting the kids’ views back to council departments.

Children’s Forum: views on the library

Caroline and I sat in the library near the cafe. ‘The library staff designed their part of the children’s engagement,’ she said.

What she had to say next make me pause and reflect on deliberative forums. That is, participants have to become knowledgeable on what it is they are making recommendations about. To do this, there was a treasure hunt roving over two levels as the starting activity. Kids had to find certain kinds of chairs and various sections in the collection, such as the location of the children’s non-fiction.

engagement with children
Thanks to Weekend Notes!

Only once they had this level of familiarity did the activities begin. A children’s author got them to design the cover of a book and give it a title. This generated great insight into what kind of books they would like to see in the collection. The fact that the author had written bilingual children’s stories validated cohort’s diverse cultural backgrounds. It really gave them permission to express a desire for books reflecting their culture.

There was a survey on iPads. The kids said they’d like it to be a space where children’s art is displayed. What about a message tree? suggested one child, so that children could leave messages there and read messages from others.

‘A community intent,’ Caroline reflected.

Engagement with Children: an Advisory Group

One of the strongest elements of community intent in Caroline’s own work is a Children’s Advisory Group comprised of a small group of children representative of the local primary schools. They meet regularly to contribute to the planning of the Children’s Forum, design surveys and give feedback on ideas. The Children’s Forum is age and culture relevant because of their critical eye of the process. This reminds me of how important advisory and reference groups are to the success of citizens’ juries.

Next: Children’s views on Harmony Square

Engaging Children – what we learned at Engage2Act

Engaging children in decision making

At a curated session on engaging children ‘How I wonder what you think?’ at the recent Engage2Act unconference, the objectives were to:

• highlight voices of children in community engagement, drawing out rationale behind an organisation’s reasons for engaging with children
• share stories, examples and case studies
• learn from Child Friendly Cities and Communities Network member

Are children citizens?

I suggested that we find out something about how we think on children’s participation to start off with.

We looked at the range of views in the room on a spectrum from:
Children are citizens  to   Children are citizens in certain circumstances

Most people were surprised how much debate ensued. Many in the room were parents, and they could think of situations with their own children. They believed strongly in children’s rights. They also knew that it was not appropriate in every situation to give them freedom to decide.

Engaging children through purpose designed forum

It was great to learn how City of Greater Dandenong goes about hearing kids’ voices. They go out to 20 schools seeking 4 children from each. Ahead of the forum Caroline Meier from the Children’s Services area and her team invite different areas of council to propose strategies which would benefit from children’s advice. At the half-day forum tables are set up with activities relating to each strategy. Children also take part in site visits when they’re relevant.

Questions to Caroline ranged from how they go with getting schools interested to how Council supports and resources the activity. Caroline described a school which had persistently declined, but then took an interest when the event coincided with their students’ civics education curriculum. She noted that the event connects kids to their community in a highly meaningful way. Council now understands children to be the most appropriate stakeholders in having a say on certain issues and decisions that affect them. There is a very clear statement to children about what they can expect, and how their input will influence Council.


We brought forward a range of resources:
Victorian Child Friendly Cities and Communities Network charter and toolkit
NSW Advocate for Children and Young People resources
Tasmanian Government Involving Children in Decision-Making


In evaluating children’s engagement you might ask questions such as ‘Was it fun?’ ‘Did you get a go at everything?’ ‘Should we do this again?

We did ‘instant feedback’, asking two questions provided by Lyn Carson and Desley Renton: What surprised you? and What gave you hope?

The feedback revealed that this was a novel exploration for participants, and there is much more to be done in the area of engaging with children.

Open State. Democracy & all of us. 2016 Adelaide Ideas Fest

Deliberative democracy enthusiasts in my world are in an exciting collaborative space this month. Open State. The 2016 Adelaide Festival of Ideas giving energy and focus to a future democracy and society. ‘Exploring citizen voice and the notion that government cannot have all the answers is, in essence, what the Adelaide Festival of Ideas celebrates’, states the blog.

There’s Exploring Citizen Juries (17 Oct) and a showcase of South Australian democratic reform and innovation (25 Oct) and Beyond the vote, a showcase of democratic innovation in Australia (25 Oct). And the IAP2 conference.

Premier Jay Weatherill’s vision for South Australia is future oriented, values rich, and aspires to step around ‘rust belt’ towards a different economy and society. Cool! Especially when today many Australians are anxious that there is way too little exploration of new possibilities by those who occupy our democratic institutions.

Check out Open State! Future democracy.
Check out Open State & future democracy.

Here is Jay Weatherill’s welcome to Open State, to provide an alternative vision.

Welcome to Open State.

We’re hosting this program because there’s never been a more important time than now to be open and outward-looking in our orientation to the world. South Australia is today facing challenges that are unprecedented in their scale and complexity. We’re transforming ourselves from an old to a new economy, while at the same time seeking to protect the way of life we value.

And we’re doing this in an environment in which entire industries are withering and blossoming right before our eyes. The imminent end of our car industry and the remarkable growth in the renewable-energy sector are just the most obvious examples of this trend. Saving our planet, educating our children for an unpredictable future, being able to fund the services we need and expect – these are some of the other issues demanding attention.

With so many of the old certainties of economic life gone or going, we in South Australia must be bolder – we must be more innovative – if we are to create the jobs of the future.

Attract and openly share intellectual property

My determination to follow this path was only reinforced during my trip the United States a few weeks ago. While I was there, I visited places that have risen from the ashes of redundancy and transformed themselves from “rust belt” to “brain belt” economies.

Pittsburgh, for example, had an unemployment rate in excess of 20 per cent following the collapse of its steel industry. Today that figure is just 4.6 per cent and the city is renowned for its high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs.

The single most important thing I learned in the US is that the places most successful at transforming themselves are the ones that attract and openly share intellectual property.

There’s a lot we can learn from places like Pittsburgh.

A collective mentality with open decision-making

And we don’t have a moment to lose when it comes to developing an ethos – a collective mentality – attuned to open innovation, open engagement and open decision-making.

The good news is that we are by no means starting from scratch. Let’s not forget that South Australia’s very founding rested on principles of freedom and governance that, at the time, were radical.

And let’s not forget, too, that over the past 180 years we’ve been national and international leaders in democratic reform and progressive social policy.

We South Australians have a tendency to run ourselves down and be a bit gloomy about the future.

But we do need to remind ourselves that we are leaders.

Our achievements in renewable energy and climate change, our expertise in defence industries, our early involvement in driverless cars – these are all examples of our being good innovators and collaborators. The more important impact of Open State – the creation of new jobs and industries through collaboration – will not be immediately tangible, but it will be extremely valuable in the long term.

We need to explore and share ideas

I know that Open State will have its detractors and that some people will ask whether we can afford to spend time talking.

My response to that is this: In light of our rapidly changing industrial base and deep involvement in the global economy, I believe we can’t afford not to be exploring and sharing ideas.

I hope to see you at Open State in October.


But if you can’t get there,  check out Pia Mancini, democracy activist who is a drawcard at the Festival on this TED talk.