A citizens' jury of 100 were convened to consider the future representative structure of Geelong City Council, after the existing council was dismissed by the state government.
Problems and Purpose
In April 2016, Greater Geelong City Council was dismissed by the Victorian Minister for Local Government. This was the result of an inquiry into the council's governance and culture which found "it was dysfunctional, unable to provide long-term vision for the city and riddled with internal conflict and a culture of bullying" (Vic.gov.au). Following the council's dismissal, administrators were put in charge of the council until the next elections in October 2017.
A citizens' jury of 100 were convened to consider the future representative structure of the council. Specifically, the jury was asked to deliberate on the question:
How do we want to be democratically represented by a future council? (Local Government Victoria 2016)
Under this remit, jurors needed to make decisions on
- How the Mayor is elected
- Where or not a Deputy Mayor is needed and how they are elected
- The number of councillors
- Representative structures (e.g. whether the municipality is unsubdivided or divided into wards and if they are multi-member wards) (Vic.gov.au 2016)
There are two specific types of recommendation that the state government was keen to see come out of the jury:
- Practical recommendations. We define practical as “complies with Victoria’s local government legislative framework”.
- Aspirational recommendations which may be non-compliant but reflects the community’s wishes after exploring a wide range of representation innovations being considered around the world (newDemocracy Foundation 2016, p3)
Background History and Context
Victoria is no stranger to deliberative approaches to public consultation. A number of mini-publics have been conducted on local levels on a range of issues, from child care to waste management. For the most part these processes - which have included citizens' juries, participatory budgeting and 21st century town meetings - have taken place at the local rather than state level.
This case is notable due to the circumstances and topic. The majority of deliberative process in Australia have concerned infrastructure, planning and site-specific issues. It is rare that the opportunity arises for deliberation on matters of democracy and governance. One exception is Australia's First Citizens' Parliament that took place in 2009. Unfortunately, the influence of the Citizens' Parliament on governance was minimal and the government of the time was not receptive to its suggestions. In Geelong's case, the Citizens' Jury "is the primary method the government has selected to consult the community" (City of Greater Geelong 2016).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
This process was initiated by the Victorian Minister for Local Government, The Hon. Natalie Hutchins. It is funded by state government. The jury is being overseen and was recruited by newDemocracy Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation.
MosaicLab organised and facilitated the Jury.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The juror selection process was carried out by the newDemocracy Foundation. 15,000 invitations were sent by mail to residents in Greater Geelong. A random, stratified sample of 100 was drawn from those who responded positively to the initial invite. The jury was drawn to be broadly representative of the area based on gender, age and location across the municipality.
Methods and Tools Used
This event used the Citizens' Jury method which involves various tools of engagement including surveys, information and question and answer periods, small group deliberation (such as thematic dialogue tables or future workshops) and plenary discussion.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The jury met four times from 29 Oct - 26 Nov with a final session in late January 2017. An important aspect was including the broader community, beyond the jury, to be involved in the engagement process. This included stakeholders as well as under-represented groups. MosaicLab note that over 1200 participated in these additional engagement activities, which included:
- targeted discussion groups for specific groups including 'youth, people with a disability, inter-faith groups and culturally and linguistically diverse communities'. These discussion groups were held in four different regional locations for greater reach.
- the 'vote democracy geelong survey' was made available online and in hard copy over a period of six weeks before the jury took place. The aim of the survey was to help point the jury in the right direction by indicating how the broader public felt on the issue.
- stakeholder briefing sessions.
- other public discussion events.
- opportunity for community to make submissions to the jury.
Regarding the jury process itself, the following 'tools for success' are given by MosaicLab, who independently facilitated the jury:
- sufficient time given for jurors to deliberate on the issues, weigh up relevant issues and make decisions.
- access to information and experts.
- the opportunity to provide aspirational recommendations, which did not have any constraints on them - whilst it remaining clear that they would be aspirational.
- prior commitment from the State Minister for Local Government that all aspirational recommendations would be considered and that all the jury's recommendations would be presented to the Cabinet.
- a unique opportunity to actually shape the system and structure of local politics, rather than single policy issues.
The jury's interim report was released in December and includes final recommendations on the practical matters. The jury finalized their aspirational recommendations in late Jan 2017.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
This is an interesting case for two reasons: firstly, because governance is not usually a topic of deliberation in Australia and in this case, the state government is actually listening. Secondly, the focus on both practical and aspirational recommendations from the jury means that they are "free to draw on all new ideas in representation and public decision-making emerging around the world" (The Fifth Estate 2016).
The jury and the jury's interim report received a lot of attention in local media.
The Victorian government released its response to the Jury's recommendations in March 2017. The government supported both of the jury's practical recommendations for a mayor elected by local councillors, and for a total of 11 councillors from across four regions in Geelong and the immediate surroundings. Out of the Jury's 11 aspirational recommendations, the government supported four, rejected one and listed six as 'support-in-principle'. The latter level of support is defined in the response as reflecting 'recommendations that the Government partially supports and /or that could be implemented beyond 2017'.
The project received a highly commended award from the International Association for Public Participation in Australasia in 2017.
David Davis, the opposition (Liberal Party) Minister for Local Government has been vocal in criticising the process, in particular attacking the integrity of the process and its organisers and claiming that the entire process was set up to elicit the response that the state government wanted. Beyond obtaining documents listing the cost of the process, Davis did not appear to provide further evidence for these claims, which were later criticised as baseless in the same local newspaper.
A bill was introduced to implement the jury's practical recommendations which was passed in June 2017.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
MosaicLab, in their case study of the Geelong process, consider some of the lessons gained from the process. These including adding an extra day for the jury's deliberations to avoid pressuring the jury into reaching a consensus quickly on the question of a directly or council-elected mayor. Evaluations of previous juries have suggested that time is often an issue with jurors feeling rushed to consolidate their recommendations towards the end of the process, so the move to add initial time when needed shows the importance of having an agile approach during the jury process. The importance of time is even more significant when dealing with a particularly political and/or polarising issue such as the jury's remit.
In a smaller place like Geelong, the role of local media was also cited as being particularly important, given the relatively few media outlets that people rely on for information. MosaicLab mention the substantial impact that local media and public comments can have on jurors, but don't go into detail about the specific way in which this affected the Geelong process.
MosaicLab also mention the importance of closure following the jury process. For the first time, an optional debrief session was offered to jurors after the process. This was an opportunity for reflection and for jurors to make recommendations for future processes. This kind of follow-up can be crucial for participants in deliberative processes, where people often finish the process on a high, feeling empowered and politically engaged. The danger is that this feeling can drop off when there is no follow-up to the process, or no further opportunities for jurors to engage in other similar processes. Providing this kind of opportunity is another recommendation given in two independent evaluations of South Australian juries.
The logistics of a deliberative process are extremely important and learning from logistical challenges can help improve each iteration. In this case, the additional day added to the deliberations had to take place in January, with the Christmas break in between the previous sessions and this final one. Ensuring attendance remained high at the final session meant careful planning and giving plenty of notice to jurors and organisers.
City of Greater Geelong (2016) Geelong Citizens' Jury [online], available at: https://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/council/article/item/8d3cbfe003ed634...
The Fifth Estate (2016) Victoria engages citizens' jury to design new Geelong council [online], available at: http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/business/government/victoria-engages-ci...
newDemocracy Foundation (2016) Process design for local government Victoria [online], available at: http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/docs/activeprojects/geelong2016/Geelong%2...
Vic.gov.au (2016) Citizens' Jury to decide on future council for Geelong [online], available at: http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/citizens-jury-to-decide-on-future-council-...
MosaicLab case study "Jury Shapes Democracy in Geelong" https://www.mosaiclab.com.au/news-all-posts/2016/12/7/case-study-geelong-citizen-jury