Citizens Jury on alcohol related violence in South Australia

news.com.au reports:

A “CITIZENS’ jury” will deliberate on Adelaide’s future and deliver their verdict to the State Government.

Forty randomly selected South Australians will consider how to make the city both vibrant and safe and their recommendations will go to Parliament.

Premier Jay Weatherill will outsource this latest incarnation of “debate and decide” to a not-for-profit organisation, the newDemocracy Foundation. It boasts the support of a range of luminaries and former politicians and is dedicated to finding a “better system” of government.

It will invite about 20,000 randomly selected people to apply, then use an algorithm to find 40 people who are broadly representative of the community.

The final group will spend about 50 hours being briefed on the issues – such as crime statistics, drug and alcohol abuse and cultural and behavioural factors – and discussing how to make Adelaide a top entertainment destination that is also safe.

They will report within six months. Mr Weatherill said this method will replace a debate where vested interests and powerful lobby groups have the loudest voices.

newDemocracy puts it this way:

In April 2013, the Foundation was appointed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to conduct a Citizens Jury to complement other measures and policy responses linked to alcohol related violence.

In all spheres of government, it can occur that good decisions don’t get made for fear of the political cost through a vox pop response. The Citizens Jury, comprised of randomly selected citizens not affiliated to a party, not up for re-election, and not linked to lobbyists nor interest groups thus has the power to act as a final filter to ensure worthwhile policy options have the chance to be publicly considered. Their judgment has fewer perceived impairments and has been shown to earn greater public trust.

A great deal of traditional community engagement involves draft reports written by departments, with feedback from town hall sessions going back within those departments and often leaving participants unsatisfied that they have been substantively heard. The promise to the community in this project is unambiguous: you can start from a blank sheet, solicit expert advice of your choosing, and be confident that your views are provided unaltered to the parliament for your representatives to consider and respond to.

Key to the design is framing an open question that does not prescribe solutions or a narrowed outlook from the outset, so the randomly selected jury of citizens will be asked to look at how they can ensure they have a vibrant and safe city. This frees the citizens to look at the question as broadly as possible. Equally important, the group is given considerable time and control over the provision of information.

The jury will meet in-person five times between July and October for full day meetings, and be complemented by an ongoing private discussion area and online library. As with other projects listed here, the Jury’s self-written recommendations will be published here at the conclusion of the process. Critically, the level of authority agreed to by the Premier will see the recommendations go directly to Cabinet as well as being tabled, verbatim, in Parliament. This is an unprecedented level of direct citizen connection to the considerations of government.

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13 Responses

  1. That the question is so open, and that they’re not simply presented with pre-digested data, but encouraged to seek out information on their own, is very exciting.

    But it’s also a particularly challenging issue for a citizen jury, since alcohol use is a touchy subject. Said simply, people tend to believe that whatever their alcohol habits are, that’s reasonable, but no more!

    It will be a real test of the approach, and maybe give us one data point in the eternal Keith/Yoram debate on whether allotted groups are qualified to do more than give thumbs up/thumbs down.

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  2. Of course, as usual, this CJ has advisory, not mandatory powers. At best, the politicos will use it as a smokescreen to implement slightly unpopular policies.

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  3. “the eternal Keith/Yoram debate”. Nicely put. My concern though is not the qualifications of the allotted group, its the representativity of their decisions (Conall is right to suspect that it will become a smokescreen for unpopular policies). I also think the use of the term “jury” for a self-selected advisory forum is misleading and the word “citizen” is redundant. Who else would be selected — aliens from outer space? It’s also worth pointing out that self-selection is the same criterion as for electoral candidates, but the latter have the benefit of being subject to peer review.

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  4. I agree with the reservations expressed by Conall and Keith. I also think that the one-off nature of the process is problematic. Maybe, as Harald wrote, we will at least learn something from the experience. Learning something meaningful would require thorough documentation of the process, including of the way the report produced by the jury is used by the media and the government.

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  5. Well, they have to volunteer yes, but I think the two-step method they use for selection won’t be all that awful in practice, since it’s not open for anyone (only people from those 20000 asked). From earlier Citizen’s assemblies, we know that the non-participation rate is already quite bad. You can’t hope for much better than this until the public at large is somewhat sold on the idea.

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  6. I am guessing if the compensation and working conditions were similar to those of MPs there would be very few who would decline.

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  7. I know the organiser at newDemocracy, but am not involved in the project at this time.

    I’m not too worried about the initial self-selection off the randomised mass invitation. If they include a good survey with it, then they can stratify well and be assured of good representativeness. I believe that is what they will do.

    I am also not troubled by the government not giving unconditional buy-in. The jury won’t be writing final policy wording, just making clear the preferred intent of policy. If the CJ is celebrated well in the media, Cabinet will be made to look the fool if they don’t take up the recommendations substantially.

    The questions should be these: How should the use of a CJ be promoted better to the public? How do we shift public deliberation (especially with random selection) into the mainstream?

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  8. > The jury won’t be writing final policy wording, just making clear the preferred intent of policy.

    The standard procedure with advisory committees is for the decision makers is to do whatever they want and then claim to be following the recommendations. Why would it be different in this case?

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  9. Because your cynicism has the better of you. You don’t know the good political work that has been done over the last two years to get newDemocracy to this stage. Now try addressing my questions.

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  10. Hmmm… “trust us, this one is different” doesn’t inspire much confidence. I sure hope this is not part of the promotion strategy of sortition in SA.

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  11. Yoram, we have to start from where we are — an allotted group with advisory powers is better than no allotted group at all. I agree with Ron that it would be harder for government to ignore the recommendations of a representative citizen body than an elite group.

    But I’m still concerned that those who choose to accept the invitation are not typical citizens (although would agree that stratified sampling can correct for the grosser forms of misrepresentation). Would it be unfair to say that the failure of the BC citizen jury was partly on account of the mismatch between the volunteer participants and the rest of the electorate? It strikes me that DP-style sampling is better in that great efforts are made to ensure that as many of those chosen actually attend (as opposed to inviting a large number of citizens to apply).

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  12. Starting where we are is one thing. Dismissing valid criticism is another.

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  13. […] Iain Walker of newDemocracy collected some TV reports about the citizens jury on alcohol related violence in South Australia: […]

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