This citizens' jury in Western Australia was convened in order to help the state government decide whether and how to extend a local highway. Given that local residents did not wish to have a highway exit near their homes, the topic had become a contentious one.
Problems and Purpose
The Reid Highway is a freeway and highway in Northern Perth, WA. For over a decade proposed extensions to the road had been a controversial topic in the local community. There was particular concern over an intersection at Everingam Street. Previous surveys showed that the community was divided over whether or not to close the intersection. Despite concerns over safety for school children and traffic overspill into local smaller roads, a trial closure of the Everingham Street intersection was unsuccessful. When the Labor government came into power in 2001 they also suggested a partial closure of the intersection but again, this was met with local opposition. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that neither of the two surrounding suburbs wanted to have a highway exit into their community.
Given the lack of consensus on the intersection closure, the department of planning and infrastructure decided to hold a Citizens' Jury to establish the preferred option for the road.
Background History and Context
When Labor came to power in WA in 2001, one of their key pledges was to enhance community and participatory decision-making. In particular, 'the new Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, was determined to champion community engagement as a way of encouraging joint decision making and democratic renewal' (Gregory 2008). In order to achieve this, the Minister employed Janette Hartz-Karp, an deliberative democracy scholar and practitioner, to undertake the task. Between 2001 and 2005, Hartz-Karp - founder of 21st Century Dialogue - delivered nearly 40 deliberative processes in WA. At the time this was pretty much unique - where a politician had so whole-heartedly embraced deliberative and participatory decision-making.
Since then, Jay Weatherill (South Australian Premier) has done something similar, embracing deliberative democratic methods in South Australia through YourSAy. None the less, WA's range of initiatives remain for now, perhaps the most impressive.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Citizens' Jury was instigated by the WA government department of planning and infrastructure (DPI). It was organised and implemented by 21st Century Dialogue.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
A steering team made up of stakeholder groups and community members was established to oversee the juror selection and process. Jury members were chosen through a process of random stratified selection. First, invitations were sent to a random sample of 250 residents from the surrounding area. Addresses were provided by the WA electoral commission. Out of the 40 people that responded, a sample of 12 jurors1 was stratified to ensure that that suburbs were equally represented, that there was a 50/50 mix of male and female and a mix of ages (Hartz-Karp 2007, p10).
In addition, the steering team requested that jurors could not be a member of the Reid Highway lobbying group. Other experiences in WA may have informed this decision. Cases like the Scarborough High School Redevelopment showed that at times, highly committed and motivated lobby groups can compromise community engagement.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The jury facilitation was overseen by an independent company. Unlike the typical Citizens' Jury, which meets several times over a period of several weeks, the Reid Highway Jury met for around 1.5 days. First, jurors met for a half day, a week before the formal deliberation. This time was dedicated to learning about the jury process and receiving briefing and background information. Background papers were developed by the steering group. The half day also provided an opportunity for jurors to ask for extra information. During the half day, the jury also received synopses of public submissions on the topic. Following an advertisement in the local paper, a total of 152 community submissions were received.
A week later, the jury met for a full day of deliberations. A number of expert witness - including engineers, community lobbies and government officials - presented to the jury. This was followed by a panel Q&A session. Following this, jurors began deliberation over the possible options for the road. Many jurors had dedicated their time outside of the jury to researching different options and put a lot of thought and effort into the process (Hartz-Karp 2007, p11).
The jurors themselves developed criteria for decision-making and decided the process by which they would make the decision. They decided that they would aim for a unanimous decision, but would not use a voting procedure to arrive at this. The jury considered 10 possible options and put them against six key criteria that included safety, ease of access and traffic displacement.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The jury reached a unanimous decision to fully open the intersection at Everingham Street, with accompanying safety measures. A final report was developed with the jury having input and approving it before it was sent to the Minister. Alannah McTiernan accepted the report and agreed on additional fund required for the safety measures.
Prior to the jury, the Minister Alannah McTiernan had committed to piloting whatever option the jury selected provided the cost was not over $100,000 (AUD). This is a considerable committment; most similar processes only succeed in the government's promise to 'fully consider' the jury's decision. The trial was successful and the jury's road option was built.
The issue ceased to be controversial in the community and complaints from adjoining suburbs ceased. Notably, the option chosen by the jury was the same as that originally proposed by the DPI, who expressed frustration over this point. However, as Hartz-Karp points out, the jury making the decision 'lends the process credibility and strengthens the legitimacy of outcomes with the broader community' (2007, p13).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Reid Highway Extension Jury is an excellent example of a good Citizens' Jury. 21st Century Dialogue attribute its success to a range of factors. Firstly, the process itself was perceived as fair and transparent:
"After such an extensive controversy, the community received the outcome with remarkable acceptance. They reported that they thought the process was fair, and since the community had made the determination, they were prepared to accept it - even though it may not have been in their personal interests" (21st Century Dialogue 2011)
Several jury members stated that the process had changed their opinion. Most notably, one of the jurors 'confessed' during the day that she was actually a member of a lobbying group, and admitted that her prior preferred road option was misguided. This juror then took on the responsibility of explaining to her community why she had changed her view (Hartz-Karp 2007, p12). Experiences like this can help reinforce wider community trust in the process.
Another success factor was the prior commitment of the Minister to implement a pilot of the jury's solution, with the money at the ready. This gave the jurors a sense of responsibility to ensure they made the right decision - because there were real, tangible consequences for their decision. They felt responsible for 'spending' that $100,000 dollars in the best interests of the whole community.
Finally, although the outcome was the same as that suggested by the government department, the jury process reframed the issue, making the chosen option more acceptable to the wider community. As Hartz-Karp (2007, p12) notes, the government
"misinterpreted the communities’ concerns as a NIMBY (‘not in my backyard’) response to increased traffic flow. However, the jury’s reframing of the issue from a traffic flow problem (which they believed was easily solved) to a safety problem that jurors proceeded to address thoroughly enabled the community to feel heard"
This reframing enabled the community's (safety) concerns and the government's (traffic flow) concerns to converge in a way that would not have been possible had the government just gone ahead without consultation (The Australian Collaboration 2013, p2).
The Reid Highway Citizens' Jury has received a lot of praise in the past 15 years a particularly successful example of a deliberative mini-public. This is impressive given the prior controversy surrounding the issue, and concerns that having jurors who were directly affected by the decision would mean they were unable to consider beyond their own self-interests. However, this proved to not be the case and not only did the jury successfully consider their community's needs, the process was also accepted by the community.
Gregory, J, Hartz-Karp J and Watson, R. (2008) Using deliberative techniques to engage the community in policy development, Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 5(16), available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2500036/
Hartz-Karp, J. (2007) Understanding deliberativeness: bridging theory and practice [pdf], International Association for Public Participation Journal, available at: http://www.australiancollaboration.com.au/pdf/Democracy/Citizen-engageme...
The Australian Collaboration (2013) Democracy in Australia - Citizen Participation in Democracy [pdf], available at: http://www.australiancollaboration.com.au/pdf/Democracy/Citizen-engageme...
1. 21st Century Dialogue's website records the number of jurors as 12, whereas Hartz-Karp (2007) has it as 18.
The article was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website.