How can local councils get the community more actively involved in decision making?
One way of empowering the community is to set up community juries to deliberate on issues. This is not a new idea. Community juries (or citizen juries) were pioneered in the USA in the 1970s.
Using a community jury
A community or citizens jury is a way of incorporating the views of the community into decision-making. The history and use of community juries is explained in A guide to using citizens’ juries published by the NSW Government in 2003.
In 2005 a community jury considered management options for the Bloomfield Track in Far North Queensland.
The City of Melbourne established a community jury in 2014 to develop a ten year financial plan. The exercise has been hailed as a great success with virtually all of the jury’s recommendations being adopted according to a report by Rosanna Ryan for ABC Radio National.
Deliberative community engagement
Traditionally, local councils or government departments develop a proposal and then consult with the community. People are given an opportunity to “have a say” with varying degrees of encouragement, facilitation and liklihood of having suggestions being seriously considered. Oft times it appears that the consultation process only happens because it is a legal requirement.
A community jury process goes a stage further in that the selected community representatives are empowered to consider the issues and develop a proposal for final approval.This can help to ensure that decisions are made in the public interest without undue influence from vested interests, political party agendas or the preconceived notions of a bureaucracy.
According to the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries:
Citizen juries involve the wider community in the decision-making process. Participants are engaged as citizens with no formal alignments or allegiances rather than experts. Citizen juries use a representative sample of citizens (usually selected in a random or stratified manner) who are briefed in detail on the background and current thinking relating to a particular issue, and asked to discuss possible approaches, sometimes in a televised group. Citizen juries are intended to complement other forms of consultation rather than replace them. Citizens are asked to become jurors and make a judgement in the form of a report, as they would in legal juries. The issue they are asked to consider will be one that has an effect across the community and where a representative and democratic decision-making process is required.
Noosa Council trials the community jury process
In February 2015 Noosa Shire Council established a community jury to decide on the question:
What is the best option for minimising organic waste sent to landfill?
The Brisbane Times reported that the 23 person jury was selected from a list of 3,000 people with a key aim being to hear from a wide range of residents, not just the loudest.
The jury process has been conducted transparently with all meetings open to observers and all documents provided to the jury made publicly available. The Council has also made available videos about the jury process:
After six meetings the jury completed a draft report which the Noosa Shire Council will be considering at its meeting in August 2015. A report to the Noosa Shire Council’s Planning and Organisation Committee states:
Noosa’s first Community Jury process has been a success in many respects: the Jury reached a consensus on a difficult and complex topic and delivered a report with a full set of recommendations to Council that all Jury members stand by.
The Council has already decided to set up a second community jury to decide on the question:
How can we manage the Noosa River better? What role should council play and what resources should council apply?
How could Redland City use the community jury process?
The Redland City Council could do well to follow in the footsteps of Noosa Shire Council which appears to be genuinely involving the community in decision making. The Redlands is faced with many difficult issues to resolve which could usefully be considered by a community jury such as:
- Should Redland City invest in solar power generation?
- How should the City meet future requirements for hosting events and sporting requirements?
- What strategies should be adopted for improving transport to North Stradbroke Island and the southern Moreton Bay islands?
Can you think of other issues in the Redlands that might best be resolved by a community jury?