Frequently Asked Questions

What is a citizens’ jury?

The purpose of a citizens’ jury is to bring the considered judgment of everyday people to bear on complex issues. A jury is particularly useful where debates are complex or have become polarised and can help to improve trust in public decision-making.

Members of the Jury were randomly and independently selected to represent the South Australian community’s voice. The jurors came together to consider how to reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the state and were specifically asked to consider the matter of mandatory desexing.  

The Jury was provided with information from experts to enable them to gain a deep understanding of the complexities around the topic. The recommendations from the Jury will be tabled in Parliament together with the Government’s Response to the recommendations.

Want to know more? Read this article written by Emily Jenke and Emma Lawson, Citizens' Jury facilitators: Let’s ask more of Australian democracy - INDAILY, 21 October 2016.

Why was a citizens’ jury created to focus on this topic?

How to reduce unwanted dogs and cats is an issue that often attracts emotional responses and polarised views. As a community we care about our pets and understand the important role they play in our lives. Despite this, last year 10,000 dogs and cats were euthanised in South Australian animal shelters.

The Jury was convened to deliberate upon the facts and make recommendations to Government about how to reduce the number of animals euthanised each year and improve animal management and welfare outcomes state-wide.

How were Jurors chosen?

Random selection is a key tool used to identify participants as a means of securing a descriptively representative sample of the community. Stratification was used to ensure a mix (matched to Census data) by age and gender. Representation by income and ethnic identity is achieved naturally by the randomisation element. Pet ownership was also considered for this Jury with half the final members owning pets, the other half not owning pets.

Invitations to participate in the Citizens’ Jury were extended to a randomly selected sample of over 4,000 citizens, using the Vote Compass email database. Citizens were invited to register electronically to indicate that they were available for the final selection. Use of an email database allows an iterative recruitment process, with initial 4,000 invitations supplemented if needed by additional bursts of 750 invitations to a maximum of 7,000 invitations. This is particularly useful due to the recruitment issues associated with this Citizens’ Jury i.e. two of the four meetings were being held in school holidays.

From the positive responses, a sample was drawn electronically based on the pre-agreed stratification goals referred to above. The aim is to achieve a group descriptively representative of the community even if one subset of the community responds disproportionately to the initial invitation.

Personal information about the jury is not provided to the South Australian Government prior to the first meeting of the jury.

Recruitment was undertaken by the newDemocracy Foundation and the contact details provided to DemocracyCo for ongoing management of the Jury.

Were jury members identified? 

The list of jury members was not published, and personal information about the jury was not provided to the South Australian Government prior to the first meeting of the jury.

Information on the jurors was only provided to the government after the event with agreement from the jurors.

How did people get involved?

To involve the entire South Australian community in the process, and to better inform the Jury deliberations there was the opportunity for the general public to contribute both through online discussions and through a submission process on this website. The Jury considered all submissions and comments which were received from the general public, subject experts and interested groups and organisations. 

How were stakeholders involved?

Wrapped around the Jury process was a Core Reference Group which consisted of all key stakeholders (government and non-government) being part of the entire process. The Core Reference Group was made up of government officials, the Australian Vets Association, the RSPCA, AWL, Local Government Association and the Dog and Cat Management Board.  

The Core Reference Group is an important part of the Dog & Cat Citizens’ Jury process.  It assists the Jury to access the widest range of information and experts about the topic. The time and effort from members and their organisations is appreciated. Their expertise in assisting to communicate the Jury process and recommendations is welcomed.

The Core Reference Group members also provided their organisation’s perspective on the topic and process, and shared information about past, current and emerging issues. Where practicable, they assisted the Dog and Cat Management Board (DCMB) to keep key stakeholders and interest groups informed about the Citizens’ Jury process by disseminating information via industry, professional and community networks.

Meetings were held fortnightly during the 2 months of the process and all members were invited to the Open sessions of the Jury.

What evidence did the Jury consider?

Central to a Citizens Jury process is the consideration of evidence from experts. Of the 12 experts chosen, four of them were pre-determined by the core reference (key stakeholder) group. At their first meeting, the Jury were supported through a process to identify the remaining evidence they felt they needed to hear to acquit their role. On the final day, the Jury presented their draft findings to a panel of experts who gave them considered advice and feedback on their proposals in order to refine them. Experts and panellists were chosen from various organisations (for example Animal Welfare, Universities, Dog and Feline Associations, Local Government) across Australia to help them to take the deep dive into the issue.

What did the Jury actually do?

South Australian based company, DemocracyCo, supported the entire Jury process. Through empowering facilitation techniques, individual members of the Jury were able to understand the breadth and depth of the problem, render down complex information and shape what they discovered into workable recommendations. As everyday citizens they brought perspective, common sense and a cross-section of opinions to help find solutions to the challenge.

Over four full day sessions (across three weekends), the Jury had access to experts and information about the topic. These sessions allowed the Jury time to explore the issues in group discussions and carefully consider the impacts and consequences of solutions. The Jury worked as a whole group, and from time to time broke into smaller groups to unpack lots of information in an efficient way. As recommendations were forming, the Jury had the opportunity to voice their support for an idea, and these results are clearly outlined for each recommendation in the Jurors Report. Between sessions, the jury were encouraged to do their own additional research, reflect on discussions, talk to people in their community and think creativity to develop practical and innovative ideas. Jurors took their role seriously, and invested an enormous amount of time, thought and consideration for the complex issues that they were presented with.

Jury proceedings are available for viewing by the public via video at democracyCo’s YouTube Channel:

Why should we trust Citizens’ Jury processes?

Decision-making about complex problems is often dominated by experts and special interest groups, with processes that don’t encourage the participation of the general public.

Citizen Juries are one way to address this by incorporating the views of the community into decision-making. They provide an opportunity to learn how the community think about an issue when presented with detailed information about the matter.

Citizen Juries have been so named because of their apparent similarity to a legal jury, where a group of citizens reflecting a cross section of the public comes to a decision. However in many ways they are distinctly different to a legal jury. They do not pitch different sides against one another, do not rely on a consensus among jury members and rather than a guilty or not guilty finding, the jury proposes a series of recommendations, considering how different points of view might best be combined.

In another difference to a jury in a court of law, citizen juries have the ability to incorporate into their deliberations values, ethics, societal norms and trade-offs. This helps to enrich their decision making, and arrive at sensible, logical outcomes.

One interesting feature of Citizens’ Juries is that they have typically resulted in considered and moderate recommendations that successfully blend competing claims and help reconcile antagonistic groups.

A Citizens’ Jury:

  • brings together a representative sample of randomly chosen citizens that matches a profile of the community at large using selected criteria;
  • provides a forum in which the Jury can consider how best to deal with an issue of public importance;
  • takes place over a number of days during which the Jury is given detailed balanced information about the issue, hears a wide range of views from expert presenters (or ‘witnesses’), and is able to question the presenters as well as seek out any additional information they might want;
  • is organised in consultation with an advisory committee (and sometimes an additional stakeholder reference group), which is responsible for ensuring the integrity and credibility of the project and the high quality of witnesses, as well as the ‘take-up’ of jury recommendations;
  • has a specialist facilitator who supports the Jury by managing group dynamics to ensure that everyone has a fair say, the Jury gets the information it needs and that it fulfils its terms of reference;
  • deliberates in a variety of formats such as small group discussion, brainstorming, consensus building and full Jury deliberation; and
  • concludes with the Jury preparing a report which records its recommendations and any dissenting points of view.

What was the Jury’s schedule?

Jury deliberations were over four meetings between June and August 2015. The Jury delivered its final report to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, the Hon Ian Hunter MLC, on Wednesday 12 August 2015.

What were the key outcomes?

The Jury made 7 high level recommendations including providing a verdict on mandatory de-sexing as per the Minister’s request. They achieved 100% support for 3 recommendations and more than 85% for remainder.

The Jury’s report is available here

What commitment has government given to the Jury and their recommendations?

Minister Hunter committed to the Jury their final report would be tabled, unedited, in State Parliament and that the Government would respond to each of the Jury’s recommendations publicly and in writing. 

Is this an effective use of public money?

Yes. Greater involvement of everyday people in decisions that affect their lives can help government to make better decisions about what people need. This can save both time and effort when developing policies and delivering services. 

Why doesn’t government just make the decisions? 

The point of the citizens’ jury is to trial new ways for people to get involved in decision-making that affects them and others in their community. Citizen juries’ have been shown to be capable of generating consensus on issues previously seen as intractable and can also help to find new ways to solve problems.

Is there a danger that despite random selection, members of the jury could still have individual bias towards some issues? 

It’s normal that some people will have a strong opinion on a given topic. However, by randomly selecting jurors and providing the jury with an independent facilitator, the potential for a single person to influence the position of the rest of the jury was minimized. Each Juror was also given the information they needed to make informed judgements, including advice from experts, members of the public and any other interested parties