CASE

Informed Citizen Akron: Ohio Citizens' Jury on Issue-Based Media Coverage in the 2016 Presidential Election

First Submitted By Makeila Jamison

Most Recent Changes By Annie Pottorff

General Issues
Media, Telecommunications & Information
Governance & Political Institutions
Specific Topics
Administration of Campaigns and Elections
Citizenship & Role of Citizens
Freedom of Information
Location
Akron
Ohio
United States
Scope of Influence
City/Town
Files
https://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.participedia.xyz/fb036a2b-a795-448d-8540-9bc3353cf43f_Informed-Citizen-Akron-Event-1-Final-Report.pdf
https://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.participedia.xyz/da607acb-be95-4bf8-abbf-e2c82206e7c1_Informed-Citizen-Akron-Event-2-Final-Report.pdf
https://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.participedia.xyz/0e52ef67-02ed-4538-b16c-faf328d42abb_Informed-Citizen-Akron-Event-3-Final.pdf
Links
https://jefferson-center.org/ic-akron/
https://yourvoteohio.org/
https://yourvoiceohio.org/
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
Repeated over time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of private organizations
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Spectrum of Public Participation
Collaborate
Total Number of Participants
54
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
stratified
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Facilitator Training
Professional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Information & Learning Resources
Expert Presentations
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
Non-Governmental Organization
Funder
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Type of Funder
Non-Governmental Organization
Staff
No
Volunteers
No
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Implementers of Change
Corporations
Stakeholder Organizations
Formal Evaluation
No

This initiative in Ohio uses Citizens Juries and poll data to better adapt the media coverage of presidential elections to cover the issues most important to citizens.

Problems and Purpose

Informed Citizen Akron, and its statewide corollary Your Vote Ohio (which informed the current Your Voice Ohio project), are initiatives designed to reorient media coverage of political elections. The primary goal of these initiatives is to facilitate a shift from focusing on political campaigning and bickering to informative discussion of important issues.[1] The initiatives were conceived as a response to widespread worries that the tone of news reporting in the United States is becoming increasingly partisan and polarized. By partnering with media outlets throughout Ohio, the initiative hopes to restore faith in the media by directly engaging such outlets with voters. Residents, by way of polls and citizens juries, have the power to state the issues the deem most relevant to the presidential election of 2016.[2] The media outlets have committed to using such recommendations when covering the election to facilitate citizens’ understandings of the candidates and their preferences on critical issues. 

Background History and Context

In swing states such as Ohio, voting is not always a pleasant experience for residents. Candidates are often engaged in bitter fights that obscure the real issues most pertinent to a voter’s decision.[3] With increasing polarization throughout government and partisan biases frequently on display in media coverage of politics, there is widespread mistrust of the media. Such media also, at times, plays a large role in allowing key issues to be neglected by covering the political quarreling of the candidates. It is therefore no surprise that many eligible voters simply do not show up to vote, indicative of their frustration with political actors and the lack of attention to important issues. It is in the best interest of democracy for each citizen to make the most informed decision possible in election. Considering average citizens rely on the media heavily for information about politics and current events, it is also in the best interest for the media to be the most helpful and efficient in its role. 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The Jefferson Center is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose focus is on strengthening democracy through citizen-developed solutions.[4] The primary method used to advance this goal are citizens juries wherein a panel of randomly selected citizens meet for a few days to discuss an important democratic issue and inform the Center of their opinions and recommendations. The Jefferson Center organized Informed Citizen Akron and conducted three different citizens juries.[5] The organization also partnered with the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, a bipartisan research and teaching institute at the University of Akron focused on increasing understanding of the political process. 

A consortium of media outlets throughout Ohio led by Akron Media Journal received the recommendations and opinions from the citizens juries and polls to better understand how the public would prefer the media to cover the 2016 election.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

A random sampling of 1,678 adults throughout Ohio were surveyed by the Bliss Institute to gain an understanding of their perspective on how media coverage of presidential elections should operate.[6] The Jefferson Center also selected and stratified, with a focus on racial, sexual and socioeconomic diversity, three groups from a random sampling of Akron citizens to serve as jurors. [7]

Methods and Tools Used

Citizens juries are a method used by the Jefferson Center to facilitate discussions of specific issues. A diverse set of community members are selected and stratified from a random sampling as a microcosm of the larger community and exposed to unbiased background information and expert speakers to introduce said issue.[8] This panel of citizens are paid $400 along with any childcare expenses for their participation in the initiative. The members gather to discuss and deliberate over the span of three days to generate recommendations or a course of action that the Jefferson Center may pass on to the relevant institutions. [9]

The Bliss Center conducted three statewide polls to gauge Ohioans’ opinions about media coverage and the election. The poll asked subjects to answer questions concerning what they believed to be the biggest problem in the United States, the reason and solution, whether they believed the country was on track, along with some personal information (political party, ideology, race, highest level of education, income, religion, church affiliation, marital status, employment, generation, and region).

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The citizens juries and polls were centered around answering these three questions:

  1. “What are the issues that really matter to voters, and what do they want to know about those issues?
  2. What are the candidate’s substantive stances on those issues, and what does the electorate want to know about candidates?
  3. How can local and state media help drive a more productive public conversation about issues and candidates that informs and encourages voters?”[10]

For the polls conducted by the Bliss Institute the goal was merely to collect unfiltered information from citizens of Ohio and therefore there wasn’t any discussion about the merits of respondents’ answers. The information was collected and categorized by the general issue that people considered most important and by personal information such as party affiliation, religion, etc. [11]

The three citizens juries conducted by the Jefferson Center followed similar processes. Each time, a panel of 18 Akron residents were selected from a random sampling to mirror the gender, racial and socioeconomic demographics of the city of Akron. These citizens were gathered at the University of Akron Student Center where they spent the next three days participating in the Informed Citizen Akron project.[12] On the first day the members discuss goals/expectations, conduct simulation exercises to familiarize themselves with the process of reviewing and discussing information and listen to presentations to introduce them to background information about media coverage of elections and politics.[13] Each subsequent jury after the first one also spends the day discussing the issues and conclusions reached by the previous citizens jury. On the second day members of the panel discuss possible strategies to address some of the concerns brought up by the first presentation and hear more presentations from experts. The jurors also determine a set of criteria to judge each strategy and determine its strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of both the media and the public.[14] Day three is meant to finalize the process by documenting the agreed upon recommendations. All participants are given the opportunity to have their voices heard during the discussions. In addition, votes are conducted once a list of recommendations have been generated to rank the top six by importance and expected effectiveness. [15]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The Jefferson Center is still finalizing their formal evaluation of the results of Informed Citizen Akron so such information could not yet be attained. However, the final reports written about each of the three citizens juries indicate some possible outcomes of the initiative. For one, each jury yielded a set of recommendations that were given to the consortium of media outlets that are participating.[16] Additionally, some preliminary responses by jurors indicate that the initiative has greatly increased community engagement and understanding of the media. The initiative appears to have also fostered greater trust between citizens of Ohio and the media.

Due to the success of Informed Citizen Akron/Your Voice Ohio, the initiative was extending and has continued to operate despite the conclusion of the 2016 presidential election. The Jefferson Center and its partner organizations hope to continue gathering statewide polls and holding events to reorient the Ohio media and shift focus towards the issues that matter most to Ohioans.[17]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The Jefferson Center documented some quotations from participants in the process who expressed their admiration of and gratitude for their experience. Participants highlight their enhanced appreciation for the hard work done by the media, for the importance of diversity that may unfortunately be overlooked in communities, the feelings of closeness with and trust in the media as well as the open-mindedness provoked by the initiative. 

There exists some general criticisms of the citizen jury process. For one, often recommendations from the jurors are documented without sufficient information concerning the way in which such decisions were reached. Additionally, often many initiatives open to the public only include those most willing to have the time and resources to participate which limits participants by socioeconomic status. However, the Jefferson Center took clear action to combat both of these weaknesses. For instance, the Jefferson Center chronicled the citizen jury process extensively in their individual reports of each jury. Among such documents are lists of the experts who delivered presentations to the jurors, a description of each recommendation--its goals, strengths and weaknesses for one of the juries--and why it was chosen. Perhaps a description of some of the ideas discarded by the jurors would help to illuminate the process more. Similarly, the Jefferson Center also addressed the socioeconomic bias by basing the makeup of each citizens jury on the demographics of Akron and paying members $400 + childcare expenses to ensure that everyone in the community had access to participate.  

See Also

Jefferson Center

Jefferson Action

Citizens' Jury

References

[1]"Informed Citizen Akron & Your Vote Ohio." Jefferson Center.https://jefferson-center.org/ic-akron/.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Ibid.

[4]“Citizens Juries.” Jefferson Center, jefferson-center.org/citizens-jury/.

[5]"Informed Citizen Akron & Your Vote Ohio." Jefferson Center.

[6]"Polling Data from Ohio Citizens" Your Vote Ohio. https://yourvoteohio.org/ohio-poll-results/

[7]"Informed Citizen Akron & Your Vote Ohio." Jefferson Center.

[8]“Citizens Juries.” Jefferson Center.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Polling Data from Ohio Citizens" Your Vote Ohio

[12]"Informed Citizen Akron & Your Vote Ohio." Jefferson Center.

[13]"Informed Citizen Akron Event #1" Jefferson Center. https://jefferson-center.org/ic-akron/ica-event-1/

[14]"Informed Citizen Akron Event #2" Jefferson Center.https://jefferson-center.org/ic-akron/ica-event-2/

[15]"Informed Citizen Akron Event #3" Jefferson Center.https://jefferson-center.org/ic-akron/informed-citizen-akron-event-3/

[16]"Informed Citizen Akron & Your Vote Ohio." Jefferson Center.

[17]"Our Focus." Your Voice Ohio. https://yourvoiceohio.org/.

External Links 

https://jefferson-center.org/ic-akron/

Notes

Lead image: Jefferson Center https://goo.gl/zaxZp6

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