Choosing a Jury Question

One of the key differences between the Research Voices Citizens’ Jury and other Citizens’ Juries was the decision to allow the group to develop their own Jury question. This decision was made because it was important for people with learning disabilities to set their own agenda and pursue a discussion they felt was important for their community.

It was vital for the group to use a democratic process to find the right question, but it was also important for the Jury process that this question was fit for purpose and would allow for deliberation. The project team used a 3 phased approach to decide on a question for the Citizens’ Jury, splitting the task into smaller activities to be more engaging and less overwhelming.

Phase 1: Setting the parameters

The Research Voices project was funded to focus on learning disabilities and health research, and group members had been recruited on this foundation, which already narrowed the focus. With this in mind, conversation about the ‘right’ question was guided by facilitators who could build some parameters for the jury questions. The agreed upon parameters for the jury question were:

● It had to be about Health Research and Learning disabilities
● It had to be something that people had not asked at a Citizens’ Jury before
● It had to be something that people could use their experience to help answer
● It did not have to be something that people knew a lot about

These parameters were shared with jury members with the rationale behind them. The group then looked at previous Citizens’ Juries questions from across the world. The group were asked to critique these questions to decide what they liked or didn’t like. The aim of this was to critique question structure and focus. However, this wasn’t always the focus of feedback as some jurors were more focused on talking about the topic of the questions. It was a challenge to refocus the group on the more abstract task of what types of questions would work.

However, with some additional prompting and group work, some jurors were able to comment on what they thought a good question should look like, including:

● not too big, not too small (this was a comment on both the scope of the jury and the actual length of the question)
● not too complicated
● something we could answer in a 5 day jury

Facilitators stressed the importance of narrow focus, giving examples of questions that might be too big to answer in 5 days, drawing on evidence that;
‘Time and time again, evidence from citizens juries demonstrates that, where there is not a clearly defined, narrow and focused agenda there will be poor quality deliberation’ (Elstub 2014).

Phase 2: Narrowing our options

Before the workshop itself, facilitators had taken prompt questions from three sources: the IASSID roundtable and the National Involvement Network and sample questions the group had formed in their ‘Communication’ workshop. These questions were already focused on the topic of health research and learning disabilities but had two very different sources.

However, it was important for facilitators to have a starting point as the group responded well to prompts and ideas, and free-forming a question for the Citizens’ Jury would have been a more complex task that would have required more time.

The facilitators used a tiered approach to question forming. The Jury panel was arranged into small groups. Each group was given all of the questions, colour coded to show their origin:

Pink questions are from our group (The Research Voices Group)
Blue questions are from the IASSID conference (Research people)
Yellow questions are from the National Involvement Group (People with learning disabilities)

The first task was to eliminate any questions that were not relevant. This could be because of their subject or because they were simply not seen as important by the sub-group.

Then, the groups were given time to choose their top 3 questions. This was a much more challenging task. One facilitator used Talking Mats to visually support this debate, while others categorised questions with similar teams. There was in-depth deliberation across all groups at this stage. Some groups added notes or combined questions they felt were similar enough.

After this process, the wider group debated whether they thought it was important where their selected questions came from (for example, did a question feel more ‘valid’ if it came from a group of researchers?) However, the group didn’t feel that the origin of the question was important, particularly because the questions were being selected on merit.

Following this initial selection, each group was asked to place their top 3 questions up on the wall for consideration. Before the next phase of voting, the group were asked to decide on what the word ‘consensus’ meant for them. Would they be satisfied with a majority vote? Did everyone have to feel happy? The group decided that some level of compromise was appropriate, and as long as everyone could accept the choice (not necessarily be “happy” about it), then it would be consensus. We discussed what feelings might come from having a favourite question that wasn’t selected by the group. The group agreed that they might feel “disappointed” or “annoyed”, but that ultimately they would feel comfortable with those choices.

Over lunch, facilitators looked at the overall question choices, removed any duplicates and physically placed questions together that were similarly themed, bringing the initial 9 questions down to 5. This allowed facilitators a chance to reflect on the direction of the process, and plan for any clarification.

Phase 3: Nominal Voting

The final voting process used nominal voting. Each Juror was given 3 stickers: 1st choice, 2nd choice and 3rd choice. They were encouraged to take their time looking at all of the questions on the wall and given support to read or clarify questions by facilitators. Then, each juror placed their 3 stickers next to the questions they ranked first, second and third.

Facilitators allocated 3 points to a first choice sticker, 2 points to a 2nd choice sticker and 1 point to a 3rd choice. This allowed for the possibility for consensus to be found across questions without them having to be ‘the favourite’. The votes were tallied and a question was selected.

An interesting moment in this voting process was a question raised by facilitators “Do we get a vote?”. It was challenging for facilitators who had been involved in the planning of this project to hand over this control, but important for the process itself that they did. So facilitators did not vote and did not influence voting.

The process of question refinement was complex as it required focus on each individual word and thumbs up/thumbs down voting on sentence structure. Facilitators and group members puzzled through the best use of language. For example, the group debated the word ‘involve’; does everyone know what it means? Should it be ‘influence’? The phrase ‘be part of’ was also a challenge - did it capture what the group was curious about? Did it include the dynamic of power?

Some jurors were disengaged with the process after 25 minutes of refining words and choosing sub-questions. Others were able to present opinions throughout this process. There were moments where facilitators questioned whether the issue should be tabled and reflected on in a future workshop.

However, it was important to choose the jury question on the day because:

● The project team needed enough notice to recruit expert witnesses before the Jury itself
● There was momentum, recognition and ownership of questions built through the process of staged voting which   may have been lost before the next workshop
● The group needed to practice finding ‘good enough’ consensus in the moment, a skill necessary for the jury itself

Ultimately, the group was able to use thumbs up voting on the final wording and chose a question:

How can people with learning disabilities influence health research?
Including influencing:

● What research is done to help people with learning disabilities
● How this research is done

The ultimate question had elements from both pink, blue and yellow question banks and was shaped by the group. On reflection, more could have been done to slow this final process down and give it structure and build more universal understanding. Key words like ‘influence’ didn’t have universal meaning across the group, but easier to understand words like ‘take part’ didn’t carry enough weight for the group to feel they were right. In the future, it may be helpful to allow for Phase 1 and 2 to be explored before approaching Phase 3 in a second workshop. Ultimately, the group found consensus together and the short timeline allowed us to see some of their debate and deliberation skills in action in advance of the Citizens’ Jury.