There are many examples of citizens’ assemblies or juries, and only a few can be described here. At present the limited examples from New Zealand are described, followed by some examples from Australia with links to more detailed sources of information. These will be added to as time permits.
First it should be noted that there have been no trials of full-on citizens’ assemblies in Aotearoa New Zealand that I have found. Three citizens’ juries have been all organised by the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago. Without going into the specifics of the topics being considered, the main organisational features of the three juries were:
1. In connection with policy decisions about screening for breast cancer the jury comprised
a group of 12 women aged 40-49 years selected from the general and maori rolls. 80
written invitations were sent out. 34 of the invitees could not be contacted, and of the
46 who remained 17 agreed to take part. The first 12 to respond were invited to attend. The
meetings took place on a Wednesday evening (introduction and familiarisation), all day Friday
(presentations by experts and their interrogation by the jury) and Saturday morning
(deliberation by the jury alone except for an observer).
2. In connection with the use of personal medical information for medical research the jury comprised a group of initially 13 citizens, from 96 taken at random from local electoral rolls to whom letters of invitation were sent out. In addition there was an independent chair and a facilitator. The juiry met over three days. On the first day the chair explained the process and indicated that the jurors should consider themselves as representing the community at large, and that unanimity was not necessary. Legal and ethical issues were also explained. During the second day, the jury heard from other experts who had been selected by the steering group, and could ask questions. The third day was for the jury to deliberate, with just the facilitator present, and for reporting back.
3. The most recent citizens’ jury was held earlier this year, and the report is still in preparation. It considered the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted dying, and was a http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ourchangingworld/audio/ 2018646022/a-citizens-jury-on-euthanasia subject in the Radio New Zealand programme Our Changing World on 24 May 2018. This jury comprised 15 people from South Dunedin.
These give a flavour of how such assemblies are organised.
Claudia Chwalisz, in her publication The People’s Verdict: Adding Citizen Voices to Public Decision-Making, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, available as a paperback or e-book), examines five Australian case studies, summarised as:
|Level of governance||Topic||Duration||No. of invitations||No. of participants||Cost (AUD)|
Melbourne People’s Panel 2014
|State||Infrastructure Victoria 2016: 30-year plan||6 days||12,000||43 (x2)||$325,450|
|State||VicHealth 2015:We have a problem with obesity. How can we make it easier to eat better?||4 days||15,000||100||$221,750|
|State||Citizens’ Jury on a Vibrant and Safe Nightlife for Adelaide 2013||5 days||24,000||43||$152,200|
|State||Citizens’ Juries on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle 2016||4 days||25,000||50/350||$183,000|
The table above reproduces Table 7 on p.41 of the book, which also gives a detailed breakdown of how the various assemblies were organised. It should be noted that the duration indicated was in all cases spread over several weeks, and a lot of organising took place before and outside the actual assemblies.
The Melbourne People’s Panel gave recommendations on the city’s 10-year financial plan ($5bn AUD), and 10 out of its 11 recommendations were adopted by the city. A council video introduced the idea https://participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/10yearplan/10-year-financial-plan-peoples-panel-video and another short video showed something of what happened https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCR_acSxefs.
The panel, or two panels, one for the city of Melbourne and one for the more rural areas of the state, which were organised by the newDemocracy Foundation for Infrastructure Victoria, is introduced in a short video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-gmBlBarzw, and two separate videos give a flavour of the city jury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTepsEeckms and the regional jury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNjwWo57jvI.
Many folk will have heard of the citizens’ assemblies that have been held in Ireland in the run up to their referendum on the eighth amendment to their constitution, changing their constitutional position on reproductive issues. However, they have added other topics, including their response to climate change. You can read more about it here https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/., where there are links to the assembly’s Youtube channel where all the sessions were recorded, having originally been live streamed.
A recent article in the Irish Times describes firstly the shock, to politicians, of the assembly’s findings on the eighth amendment, and follows by saying that the recommendations on that country’s response to climate change must also be implemented forthwith. See https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/ireland-must-listen-to-citizens-assembly-on-climate-change-1.3515211
A couple of years ago in the UK two local assemblies were organised by the Electoral Reform Society in the context of local government devolution, and a short video was prepared in which participants described their experiences. The video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTBx15P7iA4
More recently, two UK parliamentary select committees jointly commissioned a citizens’ assembly on social care, which took place over two weekends in April and May 2018. The Involve Foundation, who facilitated the assembly, has put up a short (3 mins) video, which includes what some of the 47 participants thought of the process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-E5tjVWUmE. Involve have also put up a report dated 25 May 2018 on how the assembly worked, which can be found here: https://www.involve.org.uk/resources/blog/project-update/citizens-assembly-social-care-how-it-worked.
A well organised mini-public took place in Manchester over two weekends in September 2017. It was hosted as a research project by the Constitution Unit at University College London. It was on the subject of what kind of Brexit the public preferred, whilst not re-litigating the original Brexit referendum. The assembly was highly successful internally, which is to say it worked well and the participants were highly satisfied and produced clear preferences for the way ahead. Externally, the recommendations seem to have sunk without trace in the shameless mess of the current UK Parliament and Government.
The reports on the assembly, both summary and full, can be found here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/deliberative-democracy/citizens-assembly-brexit. They provide a good description of all stages of the process.