What is fashionable with community engagement?
A blog about Citizens’ Juries, Co-design and Collective Impact
With the more frequent use of citizens’ juries, and deliberation in general, it can be tempting to think such processes as the pinnacle of community engagement. I really, really enjoy designing and facilitating citizens’ juries, and have been promoting them since 1998. They not only demonstrate the wisdom of everyday citizens; they invariably strengthen democracy and build trust between the community and sponsoring organisations.
However, when someone asked me, ‘When are citizens’ juries NOT a good idea?’ I pondered for awhile. In responding to that question I found myself considering two other trends, co-design and collective impact, and thought it would also be worth considering the merit of all three approaches and frameworks in this blog.
But first, when are citizens’ juries NOT a good idea. I would say ‘doing a citizens’ jury’ is not such a good idea when:
- …there is little commitment of decision-makers to the process. To be worth the investment decision-makers need to be willing to at least seriously consider the recommendations of the jury, and to respond publicly to those recommendations.
- …decision-makers or sponsors believe they will have a better chance of gaining public support for a controversial measure through a citizens’ jury, or worse, a deliberate attempt to socially engineer support for their preferred solution.
- …sponsors regard the citizens’ jury as being the entire engagement process, as opposed to being an element of a broader engagement process.
- …there are insufficient funds to resource the process adequately.
- … the issue is not sufficiently complex to require such a rigorous process.
- … the issue is very polarising in a reasonably small community; making it challenging for everyday citizens to agree to participate without fear of recriminations, or adversely affecting relationships.
- … the issue is essentially a technical matter, rather than being socially or politically complex.
- … there are no ideas or options to assess, or deliberate over, at this point.
- … the issue to be addressed is system-wide, so broad and multi-faceted it will require commitment and involvement of a range of organisations to implement any solutions.
I’m sure this is not a comprehensive list, and some points could be debated. But what I believe is more interesting is considering what other approaches and frameworks have to offer, and thinking about how they can potentially interrelate. So, let’s consider co-design- and collective impact, and when they might be useful.
Co-design is well described by John Chisholm, Senior Research Associate, Design Management, Lancaster University,
Co-design is a well-established approach to creative practice, particularly within the public sector. It has its roots in the participatory design techniques developed in Scandinavia in the 1970s. Co-design is often used as an umbrella term for participatory, co-creation and open design processes. This approach goes beyond consultation by building and deepening equal collaboration between citizens affected by, or attempting to resolve, a particular challenge. A key tenet of co-design is that users, as ‘experts’ of their own experience, become central to the design process.
The practice of co-design in community engagement is varied, though becoming more popular. Charrettes, which have been used for over 25 years, is a type of co-design process. Enquiry by Design workshops have also been used. Now co-design is being used for developing public policy, urban development, designing public spaces and reconfiguring human services.
In the latter part of 2016 I have the pleasure of the working with the EPA; co-designing a solution to an environmental issue in the Latrobe Valley. Scientists mingled with everyday citizens for three days, spread over 6 weeks, to arrive at a consensus. It was inspiring and extremely productive, leading to participants insisting on a group photo with public servants and scientists at the conclusion.
However, had several options been developed, with participants evenly divided, then presenting options to a citizens’ jury may well have been helpful to arrive at an agreed solution. Now, to consider collective impact.
Collective Impact is a framework and approach to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems. It is an innovative and structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organisations and citizens to achieve significant and lasting social change. It could easily include co-design and deliberative decision-making as part of a long term collaborative commitment to address a complex social problem. Citizens Juries are great for tough decisions; co-design is perfect where no known solution exists; collective impact is useful, probably necessary, to achieve systemic change.
The following illustration depicts how the three frameworks could work together. Co-design could precede a deliberative process such as a citizens’ jury. Both codesign and a citizens’ jury could be part of, and inform, a collective impact process, but would only do so if system-wide change was required.
I’m certain there are other ways these trends in collaboration could intersect. But being clearer about their purpose, and the kinds of issues/opportunities they are useful for, will be a good start for organisations and leaders who are drawn to what is becoming fashionable.
What do you think?