Listen to our podcast on Citizens' Juries

Listen to the first in a series of podcasts, 'in conversation with' Nick C Jones, Director of PwC's Public Sector Research Centre. For our first recording, Nick C Jones is joined by Viki Cooke, co-founder of BritainThinks.  They discuss Citizens' Juries and their role in policy making.

 

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Nick Jones

Hello, I’m Nick Jones and I’m the Director of PwC’s Public Sector Research Centre. I’m joined today by Viki Cooke, Co-founder of Britain Thinks and on the agenda today, Citizens’ Juries and their role in policy making.

Over the last four years PwC has worked with Britain Thinks to bring people from across the UK together in a series of Jury events and these consider the public’s points of view on a whole range of policy issues.

Our first Citizens’ Jury was inspired by a desire to contribute to the 2010 spending review and focused on dealing with the deficit and the challenges of public service reform. We’ve also brought the public together on other occasions too, for their perspectives on good growth, open public services and improving the quality of care. We’ve also worked with our tax team very recently on a Citizen’s Jury on the future of the UK tax system.

One of the driving forces behind our Juries is to bring the public’s point of view to government and to politicians and we did this most recently during the party conference season. And thinking I guess, probably the place to start, as we always should, is really understanding what exactly a Jury is and how it’s different from other ways of gathering public opinion and views, for instance through polling and focus groups.

Viki Cooke

So the first clue is in the name, so what we want to do is to help people go on a journey from being a consumer to being a citizen. So instead of just looking at the world in terms of their own needs, and maybe their family’s needs, thinking about actually what do we all need as a society and I think you do get to a very different place. The other thing that makes a Jury very different from other types of research is giving people time and information and access to experts. So we literally do take them on a journey over two or three days where they arrive knowing little or nothing about the subject we are going to talk about and over the next two or three days using a whole host of methods including pub quizzes, sadly without beer, we actually give people information and then we give them chance to hear from experts and question experts before the end of the Jury which then arrives at a series of recommendations and the quality of those recommendations is astounding.

Nick Jones

I think that’s where we’ve become particularly keen on using these Juries in many ways because you really do get some great reflections, you get some good informed debate, influenced by the experts, as you mentioned, coming in but you really get that opportunity which people don’t normally have to hear different opinions and for that to influence their opinions too.

Viki Cooke

Yeah, and I think one more thing is that actually often quite moving is the fact that people bring their very personal stories to it. So what you get to is a series of recommendations that are evidenced by what people have seen and experienced and what they hope for - and I think that’s one of the things that’s very powerful because it really brings it to life for policy makers, and they can, you can see the policy maker do a shift from talking about people in an abstract sense, to starting talking about people’s stories and actually really taking on board the impact of some of the decisions that they’re making.

Nick Jones

It becomes very real and very personal and not just to the Juries but to the people who are also in the room and I think that’s a really important aspect of Jury process, if you like, much like a legal Jury, where you’ve got evidence, people need to take a view on evidence and they need to be willing to shift their opinion and their views as a result of that evidence.

Viki Cooke

And we see some extraordinary shifts of opinion from when people arrive - there is one example I can think of, where at the start of the Jury nine out of ten of them absolutely believe the public services should only ever be delivered by government - by the end of the Jury once they had considered alternative models and the pro’s and con’s and the implications, only half of them agreed that. So you can see how people went on that journey and started to think about things differently.

Nick Jones

And I think that reminds me of a particular example where we discussed, in one of the early Jury sessions, road user charging and that introduced the issue of trade-offs, when people are, they may be, for or against - but what they definitely do have to think about is the trade-off and why I might be willing to be charged on the basis of my use, and if I am, what do I get in return - in terms of, perhaps, a reduced excise duty. So interesting trade-offs seems to percolate up through the Jury process.

Viki Cooke

I think that’s right and actually I think one of the things that’s great is when politicians engage, because we quite often have politicians come at the end of the Jury to hear the recommendations, and so often, and you can see them sort of smiling and starting to love this approach because often the first comments are, we now understand how difficult it is for you, because of course that’s what politicians and their people working in government are doing all the time - looking at the trade-offs and the implications of decisions and I think once citizens start to do it, they do realise that these issues are complicated and difficult.

Nick Jones

And I think what’s also interesting is then to see the impact that that has on the debate and the views of policy makers and politicians. We were very pleased, as you know, to have Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Danny Alexander receive the feedback of our very first Jury in 2010 and the one that happened a year later. So we know that people at the highest levels are really interested in terms of the views of the public generally but specifically this sort of event which enables a more informed perspective to be fed back.

Viki Cooke

Yes, I think that’s right. I remember vividly when we brought the same Jurors back a year on to say well, how did the government do? We had a very kind of interesting debate and looked at things like charging options and then taking them into the Treasury to a meeting in Danny Alexander’s private office - and what a privilege for those Jurors, but actually I think it was a reflection of how much value he’d got out of the original Jury that he was prepared to create space in his diary and host a meeting, a private meeting, in the Treasury to talk about what they felt the issues were - and what still needed to be done.

Nick Jones

And, of course, there’s also big impact potentially in terms of the Jurors opinions and seeing them shift over the course of the one, two or three days is what the people who observe these events also get out of it, so it’s not just about static views - it’s about how those opinions shift.

Viki Cooke

Yeah, and that can I think be incredibly helpful, for example around communications, what was the kind of light bulb moment, what was the piece of information or the piece of evidence that helps citizens move from that position to a different position or a much better understanding of the issues and it’s a much better debate because if you start to understand that then you start to get some clues as to how you can scale this up, you know what kinds of things we should be saying when we’re talking about policy.

Nick Jones

And I think, in terms of your, because you do pre and post opinion views and opinion surveys if you like within the Jury. You have got some interesting stats of how opinions really can change.

Viki Cooke

Absolutely, and they do change enormously so, you know so we see as a, we see people changing in terms of how they think service should be provided, to who should provide it, to how things should be funded, to how we should balance the elements of a budget and I think what is interesting is, you know, you start off with what looks like an opinion poll response but by the end of it you get much more sophisticated and nuanced responses to our questions.

Nick Jones

So we actually get quite a lot of information from these sessions, we see how public opinion shifts, we see how policy makers and politicians react to those opinions as well. Do you see any particular barriers therefore - why use this model - because we’ve certainly found it together to be a very successful way to influence and contribute to the debate.

Viki Cooke

I think the only kind of barriers really are that this is, sort of, quite a different approach and its quite resource intensive to design it, to make sure that the whole process is framed in a way that can take people on that journey so they can give you some really high quality informed recommendations and I think in, you know, constrained times the public sector are probably playing safe and going with more tried and tested traditional methods.

Having said that, as you know, we have had an awful lot of interest from people all around government, you know we’ve been to lots of conversations with politicians and civil servants about how these kind of approaches can help them so, I remain optimistic that they will start to become more common place because actually this is about doing government with the people, not for the people and you just get to a better place.

Nick Jones

And of course we shouldn’t end this conversation without mentioning how you actually get the Jurors in the first place because they’re the people who actually make this whole thing work.

Viki Cooke

Yeah, no they are. So we usually work with about 18 or 20 people and we recruit them to be a broad cross-section of society, so when you walk into that room you need to feel confident that you’ve got people from different economic backgrounds, different working backgrounds, different housing - a whole mix of people so that you genuinely get to something that actually feels like a cross-section of society, and actually watching the journey those people go on, and the confidence that they get through the process, is quite extraordinary.

Nick Jones

Well Viki, I think we probably have to end here, but, as ever, it’s been enlightening talking about Citizen’s Juries and the impact they really can have and the insights they can give into the public’s opinion, so thank you again.

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