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Monday, March 22, 2004

What is a Citizens Jury?
What is the best way to reflect public opinion?

An election, an opinion poll, a referendum...

Much depends on the question being asked + who is asking it, but one interesting, new approach is the citizens jury.

A citizens jury exposes a jury, made up of members of the public, to a range of factual evidence, and allows them to interrogate witnesses possessing a variety of different perspectives.

It then asks the jury to reach an informed opinion on the matter at hand, and to make recommendations for action... which can then be fed into a wider public debate.

In the case of a recent GM Jury, oversight was provided by four funders with different vested-interests (Unilever, Greenpeace, The Co-op + The Consumers Association) and input received from an Oversight Panel that included both conventional stakeholders + grassroots community group members.

The agenda for discussions, choice of extra witnesses, and scope of recommendations were partly set by the members of the jury - rather than simply dictated to them by a particular stakeholder. The jury hearings were also open to observers, a summary of proceedings was published on the web, and all jury hearings were recorded so that they could be made available on a publicly - accessible video archive.

Given the hyperbole that tends to surround the discussion of GM technology, the verdict seems very reasonable, worthy of thought + a positive contribution to the debate...

You can follow this link to read about GM Jury verdicts from other countries.

Even in open, representative democracies, Earth-Info.Net feels that the debate of many other complex issues, which do not determine the results of national elections, would benefit from the input of well-organised + representative citizen juries...