Everything you wanted to know about Citizens’ Juries but were afraid to ask!

Everything you wanted to know about Citizens’ Juries but were afraid to ask!
Dr Rachel Iredale, Reader in Public Engagement, University of South Wales.

On the 24th September we will see the culmination of more than a year’s work when the Measuring the Mountain team hold a Citizens’ Jury on Social Care in Swansea.

What exactly is a Citizens’ Jury?
Citizens’ Juries are a well-established method of engaging with people about a policy issue or on a topic of public importance. The concept originated almost 50 years ago and Citizens’ Juries are very popular in the U.S and in Germany. The first Welsh Citizens’ Jury was held in 1997 but as far as we are aware this Citizens’ Jury is the first to examine legislation on social care in Wales.

How do they work?
They involve ordinary members of the public, not in their capacity as service users or consumers, but in their role as citizens. During the process a group of people are brought together for a number of days, they examine a question, listen to information about that question from different perspectives, discuss the issues and arrive at a set of recommendations

Are all Citizens’ Juries the same?
No. They can vary between countries but the main characteristics are usually similar:
• Time: Jurors take between 2 and 5 days to properly consider all aspects of the question
• Information: As much evidence as is possible is presented in the time available
• Scrutiny: Jurors are given the opportunity to really explore the evidence
• Deliberation: Lots of time is allowed for the jurors to discuss the issues themselves
• Independence: The Jury is independent of the organising body and has no vested interest in any particular outcome
• Authority: The Jury’s recommendations carry a weight of authority derived from their independence and because the entire process is conducted as transparently as possible.

What sort of information is presented?
Witnesses who give information can be selected because of their position in an organisation, for example, a Director of Social Services or because they can give factual information about an issue, e.g. the Social Services and Wellbeing Act (Wales) Act of 2014. Witnesses may also be selected as they have personal experience about an issue. A variety of witnesses is necessary in a Citizens’ Jury, each of whom needs to be briefed thoroughly. Typically each witness does a short presentation and can be questioned by jurors, with or without the aid of a moderator. 

What’s the question for this Citizens’ Jury?
What really matters in social care to individuals in Wales?

What happens after the Jury have heard all the information?
Usually a short report containing all of the Jury’s recommendations is produced at the end of the process. Although these recommendations are not legally binding in any way they are disseminated publically and some organisations are asked to formally respond to them. In some cases the Citizens’ Jury will have been commissioned and if the commissioning organisation chooses to reject the Citizens’ Jury recommendations then it must make public its reasons for doing so.

Do Jurors get paid?
No, though we do cover travel expenses and provide everything needed for the days the Jury takes place. We also provide participants with Time Credits.

What’s the theory behind all this?
This sort of public engagement initiative sits within the theory of deliberative democracy. Citizens’ Juries contain at least three of the main aspects of deliberative democracy – inclusivity, deliberation and citizenship. Citizens’ Juries offer a tried and tested method of engaging the public in important debates in a way which is open and transparent and ensures all possible voices are included.