Consequences Blog #58 – Citizen Jury

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Essence of the Citizen Jury …….

“we are collectively making decisions to be in the business of being great ancestors!”

My role at the Citizen Jury was that of an observer. As a result of this wonderful experience I feel quite privileged to have two opportunities, the first to share the good practice and the second to explore some missing links or gaps. The gaps I have identified are not a critique of the process of those facilitating more a next stage in an emerging learning experience. To assist with the emergent learning process, I expand on the three Balance Point algorithms; balance; foundation; navigation

I describe the philosophy of both my practice and contribution to knowledge through the Balance Point set within a strong desire to help humans and organisations make decisions that make a real difference and do no harm. I have also created a methodology and frame of how to STRADDLE decision making during times of uncertainty – the E.A.S.Y Way (more information on STRADDLE and E.A.S.Y Way can be found at (https://dr-jmt.com)

The Balance Point and its three algorithms provide a pathway to assist with uncertainty and most importantly make decisions that do no harm. Yes, the use of the word algorithm is a play taken from the world of computer science and fusion with the literature of social science. The word uncertainty is a common experience for anyone like me who was born in the 20th century and now living and working in the 21st century. It is most noticeable how the pace of change is faster and this in itself brings much uncertainty. For those born within the 21st century uncertainty such as no jobs for life or more difficult to become a homeowner not to mention the uncertainty around emerging technologies and climate changes bring similar challenges – how do we collectively make better decisions and be great ancestors at the same time.

I am very careful to write about the 21st century with enthusiasm as that is exactly the positioning of the Balance Point. The point of difference or point to be noted is that due to the uncertainty any transformative experiences need to ensure they are 21st century ready or another coined phrase be ‘fit for purpose’. Being 21st century ready and/or fit for purpose means that you have transformed your Balance Point and able to STRADDLE uncertainty leading to better decisions that do no harm. In this Blog I use the three algorithms of the Balance Point philosophy to summarise an amazing observation experience I recently had of a Citizen Jury and their decision making process. 

Balance

Balance as the first algorithm of the Balance Point is not so much to find a middle or point of equality but more an exploration of opposites recognising that there are many points along a continuum where balance can be found. Similarly, in a Citizen Jury the discussions may not always lead to total agreement or disagreement, but the end aim is to arrive at a consensus. One of the best places to start is to identify or understand the opposites or opposing tensions.

Understanding the principles of opposites offers clarification of the importance of differing views. The language of how differing tensions are understood is an incredibly important part of finding any form of balance. I observed the group speaking about the balance of their shared language but more importantly recognising the tensions where their shared understanding of the shared language was still at a discourse. 

In fact, understanding opposite tensions provides a pathway to shared understandings. The resulting action from such a pathway is the ability to make better decisions or ones that come from a point of shared understanding. Therefore, there is a strong relationship between understanding opposites, making better decisions and finding a shared understanding. This link is embedded in complex adaptive systems theory and is at the forefront of systems change and an important frame for making decisions during times of uncertainty.

It was the concept of ‘system discussions’ or more to the point its absence that was one of the gaps that I noted during my observation experience. There were references to system change throughout all of the language  such as this is hard; complex; feels a bit chaotic but at no point were the group taken through something as simple as the stages of change (or Goldstein’s criticalization pathway) where it is okay for something to feel out of sync and in fact this must be the forward moving experience as how else can the unknown become a new norm.

The first algorithm of the Balance Point decision making philosophy presents balance as a tool to not only refer to systems but systemic change. In return this will provide the Citizen Jury members with enough understanding of complex adaptive systems theory language to enable them to find their shared language and understanding along a balance continuum.

Foundation

Foundation is the second algorithm of the Balance Point and is all about alignment. Alignment in this case is about galvanising and can mean between similarities or opposites particularly during times of uncertainty. More often than not the foundation to be galvanised is between extremes such as individual and group; macro and micro; local and global etc. In the case of the Citizen Jury the topic of foundations was fundamental throughout all the conversations of the day. Beginning with the expert panel (naming concerns of panel to be deal with later) where climate change was identified as missing in action and needing to be further escalated to the reflection discussions at the end where involvement with the City of Sydney Executive management team was also being debated. 

The session I observed of the Citizen Jury was number four in a series of six. The group are now at a point in time where the mass ideas they have produced need to begin to answer the question of – what Sydney will look like to live in 2050. They have been requested to summarise from their deliberations some high-level digestible points/concepts. Throughout the day there were constant expressions around the decisions that needed to be made recognising how the ambiguity made it all feel quite hard.

I was fortunate to observe the Citizen Jury at a time where not only were decisions needing to be made but ones that were based on a shared understanding surrounded by ambiguity and uncertainty. Although the topic of uncertainty was mentioned it appeared to be referred to as something to overcome rather than embrace. The embracing of a foundation was definitely a key gap that I identified during my observation period. 

Although the time period being referred to is 2050 it is 20 years post the timeline of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and there was little reference to the SDGs. With all aspects of a thriving society identified within the SDGs I found the lack of reference not only ill informed but lacking in alignment. The City of Sydney documentation had been provided for the Citizen Jury to refer to so why were the SDGs not included? This lack of foresight prevents what the second algorithm of the Balance Point does best which is galvanise through a foundation between – in this case – local and global to find a pathway for decisions to not only be based on a shared understanding but have resonance both in the now and in the long term. Too often (and not just in the Citizen Jury scenario) I hear groups choosing not to venture close to the SDGs but rather focus on measures of the now – which brings short term limited results.

The second algorithm of the Balance Point philosophy presents the importance of foundations by way of aligning shared understandings with the decisions to be made. The action I would like to try with a Citizen Jury is to extract the themes that have been identified and align them with the SDGs. By providing such a foundation the group would find making decisions about things that are both known and unknown more palatable. In a time when this is exactly what is being asked of people to do the lack of framing causes people to revert to habits of old. In Balance Point Philosophy I refer to this as ADWAG – always doing what always got – something to be avoided and prevented when being asked to make future decisions especially those based upon uncertainty. 

Navigation

Navigation as the third algorithm of the Balance Point reflects the moving parts of any decision making especially during times of uncertainty. The task of the Citizen Jury reminded me of navigation in action as the jury holds a collective responsibility to make decisions around not only difficult decisions but often around topics that are future based and therefore unknown. 

I observed the interrelations with the panel of ‘Experts’ who covered such a great range of topics indigenous wisdom; behaviour – nudge theory; traditional and contemporary architecture; theatre and arts; culture; trees; sustainability; housing; governance; night life entertainment; power generation – the group were introduced as ‘rock stars’ that could be used as points of reference for the Citizen Jury to learn more from.

The structure for the discussions between the Citizen Jury and ‘expert panel’ was extremely fruitful and varied and resulted with the Citizen Jury reviewing not only their original concepts thus providing some revised thoughts. These thoughts incorporated seven themes that over the next two sessions are planned to be shaped into the high-level points to be agreed and put forward:

1. Attitudes

2. Health and Wellbeing

3. Community

4. Governance

5. Green

6. Affordability

7. Transport

Navigation works best by being inclusive of shared understanding and alignment. In the case of my observation experience navigation appeared to be thwarted. The lack was actually in the limited navigation opportunity and at times I observed the opportunity to navigate being reduced because the opportunity to embrace ambiguity was reduced. This void created a fear of the chaos rather than encouragement to embrace its uncertainty. Being told the process is hard without the framework for understanding the experience along the criticalization pathway (or any systemic change model) simply creates more blocks than opportunities thus thwarting the navigation experience.  

The way the structure of the Citizen Jury is embraced can impact opportunities to navigate a broader range of decision making. In fact, what happens is the individual will retreat to their own way of thinking (ADWAG) in a more siloed position and from a system change perspective this becomes a block to any form of innovation.

I often refer to the silo scenario as being ‘set up’ meaning the actual task in hand becomes impossible to achieve because what is being requested is not matched by the framing of the environment. A very small example of this is even the naming of the ‘expert panel’ rock stars’ either way sets a scene that one has more knowledge than another – when in fact all are learning from each other. A name change may seem quite irrelevant, but it is just a small example of the importance of the framing required to navigate and support uncertainty not control with adverse effects.

Final thoughts…..

The points raised in this blog have been based around an exploration of how a Citizen Jury could further advance its decision making process. In this Blog the three algorithms of the Balance Point philosophy have been utilized to describe three gaps namely limitations in system change language framing; limited alignment with SDGs and scene setting language required to prevent silos. All suggestions have been made as being additional beneficial decision making processes to an already progressive consultative framework. I felt most honoured to witness this group of interested citizens as they endeavoured to make collective decisions that result in being great ancestors. 

Consequences –Dr Jayne Meyer Tucker, Activist and Author helps humans and organisations make better decisions during uncertainty. Drawing on her global experiences in social transformation and her PhD research exploring the systemic tension between structure (governance) and spontaneity (leadership), Jayne works to forge connections between investments and social impact and to promote a paradigm shift from output-focused responses to outcome-focused responses that transform decision making. Jayne has worked in Executive Board/CEO and consultancy roles with a number of NGO’s, corporates’ and government agencies in Australia and internationally. 

References 

Goldstein, J, Hazy, JK, and Lichtenstein, BB 2010, Complexity and the nexus of leadership: Leveraging nonlinear science to create ecologies of innovation, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

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