Online deliberation, the Jury’s verdict is in!

Online engagement given

In our last blog, we reflected on our 7 lessons from our virtual citizens jury (click here to read), and indicated that we were surveying our jurors to understand their experiences. We’re sharing those here…. 

During March 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak across Australia, we were running a Citizens’ Jury in Queensland which we had to quickly reorientate from being face to face to an online mode of deliberation. The Jury members were based in Queensland, Australia and the democracyCo facilitators based in Victoria and South Australia. Due to state border closures, the Citizens’ Jury was conducted across 3 time zones over one full weekend.

The Jury had previously met for 3 days in person. The Group was at the stage of deliberating, discussing and writing their report. They had received all their evidence, they had got to know each other, and they had spent a lot of time thinking, researching and discussing the issues. democracyCo had less than 2 weeks to prepare for moving the process online.

A combination of Zoom, Poll Everywhere and Google docs was used, and it was amazingly effective – but what is more the use of these tools was an incredibly positive experience for the participants.

92% of participants said that they found using the online technology ‘easy’ or ‘very efficient’.

This level of positive experience may have been assisted by the supports that we put in place prior to the weekend of deliberation. We implemented the following:

  • Assessment of individuals IT resources – where their IT and or Wi-Fi was not sufficient or appropriate, we put in place arrangements to ensure they could access appropriate IT or Wi-Fi.
  • A trial event – where participants could join in to ensure they were familiar with the technology we were using.
  • One on one support prior to the event in working through individual support needs – this was mainly accessing, installing and using the tools where needed.
  • An IT expert to assist jurors throughout the weekend with resolving individual IT issues.

Whatever the reason, the overall experience of our participants was very positive.

85% of jurors said conducting the last weekend on line exceeded their expectations or that they ‘loved it’ and see it as the ‘way of the future’.

75% said they would participate in an ‘online jury’ again.

What did they

We asked jurors what they saw as they strengths of the online process – and we received the following feedback:

  • Made engagement possible – “Enabled engagement to occur, when it wouldn’t have been possible otherwise”
  • Fair “It was structured to ensure that everyone was given a chance to give their opinion.”
  • Easy to follow, as only one person at a time was speaking.”
  • Accessibility was viewed as a big strength by a number of participants
    • “Most members and facilitators could work either out of a home or office.”
    • “Access to people in very remote locations that previously may have been prevented from taking part.”
    • “Travel reduced It was great that no-one had to travel far. Nice to drop back to my home environment at the end of the day.”
  • Discouraged grandstanding“did not encourage grandstanding or pressure from outliers”.
  • Provided personal space – “More comfortable” and “More business-like”
  • Easy to navigate between sub group meetings
  • Easy to collectively write the report
  • Less time was wasted – several participants noted that often time is lost moving between sessions when working face to face. This was minimised in an online environment with people being able to quickly and easily move between sub groups.

What were the

We also asked jurors what they felt the drawbacks of being online were. They identified the following:

  • Ability to ‘jump in’
    • “Only one person could really only talk at a time, but this was also a strength. Couldn’t interrupt readily but could enter comment in Chat box”
    • “some people tended to jump in prior to the person finishing their statement”
  • “Too much screen time – spread over four days with shorter sessions would be good”
  • Inability to talk to everyone at anytime”
  • Affects ability to ‘read’ people
  • “Social interaction was slightly reduced”
  • “No Free Food!”

We think a few of these are easily resolved in future processes – such as spreading the engagement over more sessions, creating opportunities for online ‘social interaction’, injecting some specific ‘breaks’ and physicality into the process and perhaps even utilising Uber eats!!!

We are continuing to learn, design and frame energetic and positive online experiences for our participants and for our clients. This Citizens’ Jury experience gives us such a strong base to start from.

We have certainly evolved from wondering whether online engagement on complex policy issues using complex processes like citizens juries could ever be possible… to knowing it is! We are excited about what the future of online engagement holds.

If you are keen to talk to us about our experience, please don’t hesitate to contact either of the CoCEO’s of democracyCo we are more than happy to share our experiences and assist you in any way we can.

Emily Jenke –  emily@democracyco.com.au
Emma Fletcher – emma@democracyco.com.au

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