Complex Engagement – 7 lessons from our virtual Citizens’ Jury

Context

During March 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak across Australia, the RACQ Citizens’ Jury was moved from an in-person to online mode of deliberation. The Jury was 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.

This report summarises some of the main reflections of democracyCo facilitators.

Overarching Reflections

In general, going online was as good as being face to face for this stage in the Jury process.

This Jury went into their final weekend and the online environment, having spent a lot of time together – they knew each other, they had built relationships and they had built a strong group rapport.

Being online allowed the Jury to be focussed, targeted and productive. The powerful combination of video conferencing and collaborative writing ensured that the online process, as much as possible, replicated the process which normally occurs in the room.

We remain curious about doing a whole deliberative process online (where the participants didn’t already know each other) because of the importance of relationships in reaching consensus.

Our 7 Key Learnings / Insights

  1. It is frantic! It was busier in the ‘back end’ than expected and much busier than a face to face process, so it needs to be ‘staffed’ appropriately.
  2. Improves Transparency. The processes can be recorded from start to finish and record/note keeping is simpler and more robust.
  3. Collaborative writing is easier than in face to face meetings (subject to people’s microphones) because:
    1. Everyone can easily see what is being written
    2. No noise transfer between groups
  4. Being prepared is critical – sounds obvious but we would recommend trialing the IT of all involved beforehand. This helps to ensure that people have:
    1. sufficient WiFi
    2. audio and video work as required and
    3. that everyone is comfortable in using the technology

Not everyone will have appropriate technology, and in these circumstances, we needed to find a way to enable them to get access. For some jurors they spent the weekend in a hotel room – enabling them to have consistent wifi access. 

  1. IT support – having an IT support person who can support participants to sort out individual tech problems as they happen (in addition to the facilitators) is invaluable – as it allows the process to continue while also responding swiftly; allowing Jurors to get back to deliberating.
  2. Easier to control – you can mute, use breakout rooms and schedule events such as polls and check-ins to ensure time is used appropriately and key daily milestones are met.
  3. It isn’t social – Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t offer the same human connections, but ultimately it was useful in getting the job done.

We are currently undertaking an in-depth evaluation process involving Jurors and their experience which we will share later, but our initial feedback is that the Jurors thought it worked really well and, in some ways, loved the experience.

“I think that you did an amazing job moving the final weekend to an online process at such short notice. I feel it worked really well. I loved the break outs into the small groups and it felt like it was a ‘beam me up, Scotty’ moment when we re-joined the main group again.”

Keen to learn more? 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 –  [email protected]
Emma Fletcher – [email protected]

2 Responses

  1. Amelia
    | Reply

    Nice work Emma and Emily! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Emily Jenke
      | Reply

      Thanks Amelia – it was heaps of fun!

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