Citizens Election Forums
Citizens Election Forums are modeled on the Citizens Jury process developed in the 1970s by Ned Crosby, founder of Jefferson Action. Crosby’s original organization, the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, ran its first Citizens Jury in 1974. Together and separately, Jefferson Action and the Jefferson Center have organized more than 30 Citizens Juries and Citizens Election Forums, on topics ranging from global climate change to election recounts.
The Citizens Jury and Citizens Election Forum model offers two important advantages. First, education is a key part of the process. The citizen participants receive a thorough grounding in the issues they’re discussing, hearing from experts representing a wide range of viewpoints. Thus, their conclusions represent input from a group that is fully informed about an issue. Second, because of the recruiting process, they are representative of the public.
Details on the Citizens Jury/Citizens Forum process:
Microcosm of the community: We select participants at random to resemble the community in terms of age, education, gender, geography, race and political attitudes. To reduce barriers to participation, we typically pay participants a daily stipend.
The right sized group: Typically, 24 people comprise a Citizens Jury or Citizens Election Forum. This size ensures that one or two people cannot dominate or derail the process and allows for good discussions. But intensive small-group discussions within the larger group are also an integral part of the process.
High quality information and deliberation: Participants receive information from experts and advocates who present different points of view. We allow ample time for participants to question the experts directly. Carefully trained moderators ensure a good dialogue — open enough for the participants to express themselves freely, yet controlled enough so that participants focus on the question at hand. The moderators are there only to facilitate productive discussion – not to steer the group toward any particular point of view.
Minimize staff biases and avoid outside manipulations: We give considerable effort to minimizing staff biases, even to the point of monitoring the body language of the moderators. We ask participants to rate the fairness of the process (the evaluations — available at www.jefferson-center.org — go back to 1981). Importantly, participants express their final recommendations in their own words and review the final report before it is made public. The group typically chooses representatives to speak at press conferences or to provide public testimony before policymakers.
Sufficient time to study a matter: The length of a Citizens Jury or Citizens Election Forum depends on the scope of the issue being evaluated by participants. Most last at least three to five days.
The Citizens Jury process has been applauded for its success as a comprehensive tool that allows decision-makers and the public to hear thoughtful citizen input. The method has inspired imitations used in Finland, Germany, Spain, Australia and elsewhere, including more than 300 Citizens Juries in Britain.