July 2, 2014
Positive verdict on citizens’ jury
Perhaps stirred by the prospect of community empowerment legislation, a plethora of new approaches for involving local people are being tested out around the country. One technique that has been the subject of quite intense academic study over the past nine months has been the citizen jury. In three different parts of the country, juries were randomly selected to explore the contentious issue of wind farms. An interim report of the findings has just been published.
How do people feel about wind farms when they are given an opportunity to learn more about the topic and consider and discuss it as part of a group?
Between October 2013 and February 2014 three groups of 15-20 people have spent two Saturdays together listening to speakers before being asked to discuss, as a group, the question:
“There are strong views on wind farms in Scotland, with some people being strongly opposed, others being strongly in favour and a range of opinions in between. What should be the key principles for deciding about wind farm development, and why?”
The conversations have been run using an approach known as a ‘citizens’ jury’. This lets a diverse group of people discuss an issue with the help of experts presenting a range of evidence and arguments in a calm atmosphere and with time to reflect on the issues raised.
The jurors have been randomly selected by an independent research recruitment company, and include a cross-section of society in terms of demographics. They did not know the specific topic for the conversations before gathering for the first jury day.
The juries were held in three locations; Aberfeldy, close to an existing wind farm, Helensburgh, close to a proposed wind farm, and Coldstream which has no existing or proposed major wind farms nearby.
We now have an interim report describing how we recruited the jurors and ran the juries, and the kind of information that we collected in the project.
Key points from the interim report:
· The project successfully recruited a group of citizens for the juries that were diverse in both demographics and attitudes.
· Each jury had 15 – 18 jurors. Juror attendance was excellent, with only 2 jurors not completing the jury process.
· Each jury agreed a set of 10 – 15 principles about wind farm development in Scotland. These statements were prioritised to reflect what matters most to them.
· The jurors found the process an enjoyable and stimulating experience. 88% chose to use the two weeks between the jury days to learn more about the topic. Almost all the jurors said they would take part in a similar process again.
· Jurors said that the process had given them a broader view on the issue and provided them with ideas on how to conduct difficult discussions in other settings, e.g. at work.
· The majority of the jurors thought the citizens’ jury format is ‘a good way to find out how citizens feel about issues that affect them’ and agreed that it should be used to guide decisions ‘about issues that affect communities’.
· The project generated a vast amount of rich, qualitative and quantitative information. The research team are currently analysing this data to answer overarching research questions about how deliberative processes like citizens’ juries affect knowledge, opinion and understanding of a complex subject.
A final research report will be published later this year.
This juries were funded by ClimateXChange and the project involves researchers from four universities across Scotland; University of Edinburgh, University of West of Scotland, Queen Margaret University and University of Strathclyde.