What is fashionable with community engagement?

A blog about Citizens’ Juries, Co-design and Collective Impact

community engagement

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.


consider co-design and collective impact

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?

For more information about Collective Impact, Collaboration and complex issues, check out Collaboration for Impact, and the Tamarack Institute.


  1. Moira Deslandes on April 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Thanks Max for bringing some of these fashions together – not sure they are fashions though – citizen juries have been going for decades and other kinds deliberative practices even longer; no real change has ever happened without co-design or systems shifts without all parts of the system(s) aligning or least adapting to change. Some of the and less fashionable hard bits in this space are working to support emerging governance structures required to get the traction required for acceleration; embedding innovation into everyday practice and decision-making for failure and for scale and inventing and/or using technologies to support the humans in the system. If we don’t hurry up and fix some of these social, economic and environmental problems at scale it won’t matter what’s in fashion.Love read thoughts of others about the dynamics of speed and scale.

    • Max Hardy on April 19, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Thanks for your comments Moira. I think the title was a cheesy way of inviting people to read the article, as I wasn’t sure something like ‘How deliberative processes, codesign and collective impact might interrelate’ would be all that inviting. Yes, CJs have been around for decades but they are definitely more trendy now than they were even 5 years ago. I did 6 last year, and prior to that had facilitated about 12 in the previous 18 years! Yes, agree that we certainly need to embed innovation and scale up for impact. So much at stake. I’d be interested to gain your feedback on whether you believe CJs (delib processes), and codesign can contribute to greater collective impact – and what you think about my assessment as to that each these process are good at doing, and not so good doing. x

  2. Majella Ballard on April 24, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Hi Max, Hands Up Mallee is a collective impact in the Mildura region, northern Victoria. We have just established a community leaders table and I’m wondering your thoughts how that is similar or not to a citizens jury? Thanks in advance.

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