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.

Participation – new ways, new people

Participation is a term that means a lot to me as a community engagement professional. Here’s a fresh way of looking at it.

New ways, new people

Today many water companies and local governments are grappling with sharing their business planning:
•    in new ways
•    with new people
as Victoria’s Independent Economic Regulator, the Essential Services Commission increasingly directs them towards understanding the community’s views.

A conference presentation posted online by Justine Hyde of the Victorian State Library has got me thinking. She describes participation as shaping, creating and learning to share spaces and resources in new ways, with new people.

Room waiting for participation

Ideas about participation in my field are often shaped by terms like Inform, Consult, Collaborate (IAP2 spectrum).

What does it feel like?

Thinking in categories can lead to blind spots. This is a real issue if it’s something important to participants.  “What does participation feel like?” Hyde asks.

Here’s her great list:

•    participation feels involving and engaging
•    it is the act of sharing, taking part, and it implies being an equal, and being respected
•    participation feels like being invited to be part of something bigger than yourself
•    it feels like a supportive and nurturing environment
•    it feels active, which by deduction means it can’t be passive
•    it feels positive, which means there is a benefit or value to it and it is enjoyable
•    to participate in something you have to be present – in body and mind!

Hyde asks: if it feels like that, then what does it look like in the organisation in question.

Social, cultural, staff & personal participation

I’ve seen many great organisational approaches to participation in recent work, and I’ve put them into Hyde’s frame.

•    Social participation: the water companies with which I’ve recently worked through Insync, Gippsland and East Gippsland Water, have given customers an opportunity to have a voice in the economics of water supply. The discussions focus on value. What do customers value about their water supply? How much do they value do they put on service? It was clear, say at a pop up outside the Coles in Morwell, that people felt included in something bigger than themselves. We certainly hope that this contributed in a small way to building a more civil society.

•    Cultural participation: having seen the thorough work East Gippsland Water has done engaging with place and people, I would think that there will be East Gippsland Water people at NAIDOC week celebrations in Gippsland. City of Darebin’s 2016 flag-raising event for NAIDOC really highlighted partnerships across the municipality, with National Disability Insurance, Police, Fire Brigade, local employment providers, and a major hotel group all involved.

•    Staff participation: hearing the voice of staff makes all the difference to quality services and engagement. Like the State Library where Hyde works, Sydney Water has used design thinking to ensure that staff insights to the customer journey are well understood.

•    Personal participation: Hyde highlights what you as an individual bring to your organisation, your team, your profession and yourself. Being present, attentive, positive, active, supportive, generous and respectful. I see this professionalism and personal interest in my clients all the time. As Hyde suggests, it builds a valuable collective confidence for organisations setting out to create participation experiences that feel good.

Wonderful change through stakeholder alliances

alliance stakeholders

What kind of change do you see when good stakeholder alliances are at work? A recent Food Alliance gathering heard from Kindling Trust Manchester’s Chris Walsh. He said their alliance has enabled:

  • Generation of detailed technical knowledge and evidence
  • Development of strategic skills
  • Successful negotiations between unlikely parties (buyers and growers) to share risk on the project ‘Manchester Veg People’
  • Successful collaborative projects – ‘Feeding Manchester’, ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’
  • Relationships that open up opportunities, not necessarily immediately, but in time
  • Generous exchange


alliance stakeholders
Good food at Food Alliance gathering!

Our local Food Alliance’s  success in building relationships over three years was there for all to see. Their vision and mission are alive and relevant, the alliance reaches across the food system, they have a productive steering group, a fabulous champion, restauranteur Dur-e Dara, and an accessible project relevant to supporters and a broader constituency, ‘Know your Foodbowl.’

These things take time! A key success factor for the Alliance has been the patient support of the funding body VicHealth. Alongside, the Australian Food Hubs Network has focused on distribution, City of Melbourne has developed a food policy, Food City … and so wonderful change goes on.


Community support through arts & sustainability

sustainability Melbourne

Councils in Melbourne build community support through engagements across many areas of council business. Arts and sustainability for example. The opening of ‘Small Worlds’ exhibition at Footscray Library last week demonstrated Maribyrnong City Council’s great work in this area. I submitted a piece titled ‘Road Trips’ and really appreciated the opportunity!

And the treasure hunt, or the ‘Recycled Art Trail” If you could answer question 1. Find something that helps you find your way when you are travelling you’d see my piece, which includes a Melways picked up on the street.

sustainability Melbourne
Janet Rice senator elect Greens, Grant Miles, Mayor, and the judges

Janet Rice, once a Maribyrnong councillor, spoke about  the value of constraints in creativity. She’s seen this using recycled materials in garden design and gift making. A neat segue led to a modestly optimistic conclusion. When we embrace climate mitigation and adaptation, this creativity will kick in.

I felt like a winner hearing her carefully considered speech. Makers of some of my favourites, ‘Herbs for the Burbs’ and ‘Helibot’ got to shake the Mayor’s hand and collect $200. A really exciting  range of creative work exploring re-used materials. What was great for me was that ‘Road Trips’ evoked the response I’d hoped for.

To me, being able to hit the mark without being pushy, pedantic or plain boring, makes creativity, purposefully directed, important in all plans and their implementation.

## If  you want to push your Facebook buttons for me – here’s a link to the People’s Choice voting!

Squashed flat on a road trip.

Stakeholder engagement on public transport

As a community and stakeholder engagement professional I’m attracted to notices advertising stakeholder engagement activities and inviting feedback. I’m a public transport user and was waiting 35 minutes for a bus one weekend in September when visiting  Canberra. On the pole nearby was a poster.

Stakeholders have a say
Have your say on our service

Accessible stakeholder engagement activities

As a conference visitor I would have loved to use the time to fill out the advertised survey in my phone. But the only option was to drop in to a centre somewhere.

A successful transport system would seem to me to cater for commuters in a hurry, students, tourists, and people who can’t afford to be part of car culture.

Students are stakeholders in buses
Students at the bus stop.


Why not an online survey? Why not discussion at bus stops with those who, like the tattooed guy who helped me select the right service, who knows the timetable by heart because he has to? Why not a map to the nominated centre?

For evidence rich and inclusive CE, defining the stakeholders and putting ourselves in their shoes builds confidence that the right people will join in because they have reason to.

# Please note that I made a number of attempts to contact ACTION for comment before publishing this post. However, the contact number listed on their site 13 17 10 stated ‘Not available’.