Citizens' Initiative Review

Definition

The Citizens' Initative Review is a participatory democratic innovation that has been adopted and adapted by several governing bodies such as, most famously, the State of Oregon and, more recently, in the states of Colorado and Massachusetts. Generally speaking, a Citizens' Initiative Review involves the evaluation of one or more ballot measures by a panel of randomly-selected, demographically-representative sample of citizens. The conclusions of the panel are published as a "Citizens' Statement" to give voters a clear, trustworthy resource with which to inform their decisions on the ballot issue.

Problems and Purpose

The CIR has two main objectives:

  1. To give citizens a way to render a deliberative, reasoned judgement on political issues, and
  2. To ensure this judgement is heard by voters and officials, thereby amplifying the voice of citizens over the political decision-making process.

Like other deliberative, participatory innovations, the CIR improves both the quality and influence of public voice in the democratic process. 

History

The CIR is derived from the Citizens' Jury method of public deliberation which has been in use for over 30 years. Ned Crosby, known for his pioneering work on the development and dissemination of the Citizens' Jury method, began work of the CIR in the 1990s. Between 1996 and 2007, Crosby and his wife and colleague Pat Benn, advocated for the use of the CIR in Washington and Oregon. An early meeting with academics and public officials inspired a 2003 email titled “10 things you can do to improve democracy” that made its way to Elliot Shuford and Tyrone Reitman, then graduate students in public policy at the University of Oregon. In 2006, Reitman and Shuford, with the support of Crosby and Benn, became the co-founders and co-directors of Healthy Democracy Oregon - now the official body in charge of the organization and execution of Reviews in the State of Oregon. In June, 2011, the Oregon legislature approved House Bill 2634, making the Citizens’ Initiative Review a permanent part of the Oregon electoral process. While CIRs have been used in other states since then, Oregon is still the only state to formally institutionalize it.

A history of the Citizens' Initiative Review must also acknowledge the development and use of the Citizens' Initative process - one of the most common methods of direct democracy. The CIR is, technically, used in tandem with the Citizens' Initative since deliberations are on 'ballot measures': legislative petitions which gain enough signatures to be put to a public vote (a referendum or plebiscite). While the use of Citizens' Initiatives is common in modern democracies, the additional Review process is not.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Once an election has been scheduled on one or more Citizens' Initaitives (ballot measures), the CIR process begins with a random selection of a demographically-representative panel of voters. There is a new panel convened for each measure under review. The number of panelists selected is capped at 24 to ensure deliberation is inclusive and well moderated. An equal number of proponents and opponents to the measures are invited to speak to the panel alongside policy experts. Experts are selected based on their expertise and impartiality on the measure. They are often asked to assist with the drafting of informational material supplied to the panelists before hearing from the speakers.  

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

All participants - the 24 panelists and the speakers - are brought together for a multi-day review of a single initiative. The panelists undergo training in deliberative techniques and criteria for evaluating information. Following this, the panel hears testimony from the invited speakers. Panelists are encouraged to ask questions and "probe for information and understanding."[1] In between speakers, panelists meet in groups or pairs to discuss what they have heard to "examine the policy tradeoffs, costs and benefits, and underlying values." By deliberating, panelists "educate one another and distinguish campaign spin from reliable facts."[1]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The final task of the review panel is to write a Citizens’ Statement which includes

  • Key findings
  • Best reasons to vote for the measure
  • Best reasons to vote against the measure

The Citizens’ Statement is then included in the statewide Voters Pamphlet and distributed as widely as possible to inform voters prior to the election.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

 

Secondary Sources

[1] "Citizens Initiative Review," Healthy Democracy, https://healthydemocracy.org/cir/.

External Links

 

Note

Portions of this entry originally appeared in a separately entry by the user 'Victoria and Nina'.

 

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