21 December, 2022

Universities using sortition

The year 2022 has seen a slew of jobs coming our way via UK universities. There appears to be an increasing recognition at university level that the use of sortition and deliberation can allow researchers to accurately understand and analyse people's points of view on a variety of issues.

Below we give brief details of some of the collaborations between Sortition Foundation and UK universities in 2022.

Citizens' Panel on getting to net zero in the home

This panel was part of a research study being conducted by Lancaster University and the Climate Change Committee (the UK Government’s statutory advisor on carbon emission targets). The panel was convened to find out people’s priorities and concern around home energy and climate change.

The panel met in April and May 2022 and we have written a full report on our work for the panel elsewhere.

Street Voice: A Citizens' Jury on transport, health and climate change in Oxford

This Citizens' Jury was a collaboration between Kellogg College, Oxford, the Global Centre on Healthcare and Urbanisation and  the Nuffield Department of Primary Care. The Citizens' Jury consisted of 16 people who were tasked with answering the question

“How can we travel where we need to in Oxford in a way that’s good for health and the climate?”

The organisers recruited a pool of 62 potential candidates for the jury and Sortition Foundation took the anonymised data and performed a stratified selection using our software. This resulted in the final 16 people who made up the jury.

Full details of the jury, including videos of all the expert witness can be found on the dedicated Street Voice website. You can also read the interim report of the jury.

Citizens' Panel on Fake News / Panel y Werin ar Newyddion Ffug

This panel was a collaboration between the Open University in Wales and the Institute of Welsh Affairs. They worked together with Welsh citizens to explore how
access to, and understanding of, the media, news and information in Wales can be 
improved, especially in an era of ‘fake news’.

The specific question that the panel was tasked with considering was 

How well does the news help you understand politics?

Sortition Foundation recruited 15 people from across Wales to make up the Citizens' Panel. The meetings of the Panel were facilitated by Susan Ritchie from Mutual Gain. The report from the panel was released in November at a launch event including participation from members of the Welsh Senedd. It is available for all to read.

Citizens' Panel on Inclusion in Schools

Finally, we mention an ongoing recruitment process for a Citizens' Panel being organised, using UKRI funding, by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Portsmouth. The panel is a pilot project focusing on the inclusive engagement of young people with Special Education Needs (SEN) and/or disabilities in a deliberative process on the topic of a more inclusive school system. The question the panel is tasked with addressing is:

How to design the English school education system to be more inclusive for children and young people with SEN and disabilities by 2050? 

The 30-strong panel will be made up of 8 young people with SEN and/or disabilities, together with a parent or guardian; 4 young people without SEN and/or disabilities, together with a parent or guardian; and 6 teachers or education professionals.

The panel is taking place in Portsmouth in March 2023 and, as we write, Sortition Foundation is helping to run a recruitment process in that area to obtain a pool of potential candidates. In January 2023 we will perform a stratified selection that will yield the final 30 participants.

Update, October 2023: The final report from this panel can now be accessed online. A summary of the report in PDF format is also available. We will not comment on the content of the recommendations regarding the education system, but we do want to highlight two particular aspects of this panel that are likely to be useful for people organising future processes of this kind. The first regards the importance of carefully onboarding participants:

"Following the selection of participants, the project entered the onboarding phase. This involved providing participants with information about the Citizens’ Panel. Onboarding participants for public dialogue events typically follows a standardised approach, where all participants receive the same information in the same way. All participants, except the young people with SEND, received information outlining the purpose and agenda for the Citizens’ Panel events, including logistical details (venue, times, etc).

"The young people with SEND and their parents/carers received the same instructions; however, the nature of the young people’s needs meant that they required additional information, and so a more detailed approach to on-boarding these families was required.&nbsp

"The onboarding process for young people with SEND was more incremental and informal than is usually the case in a public dialogue event. It was also more personalised, interactive, and highly responsive, involving a greater number of contacts. Acting as the single point of contact, a member of the team with extensive experience of working with young people with SEND and their families scheduled introductory video calls to meet with and get to know these participants. Onboarding incorporated ongoing communications by text, which meant that parents/carers of the young people with SEND could ask and receive answers to questions about the Citizens’ Panel. 

"The process of onboarding the young people with SEND had a dual function in terms of enabling the team to begin building a picture of their capabilities and preferences. This information was critical to informing the strengths-based approach to designing the Citizens’ Panel events and activities."

The second is a more general principle that is worth bearing in mind for people designing public panels, especially panels involving people with particular needs: Too often, it is easy to conceive of a panel's design and function and, once this is established, to look at ways to promote inclusivity for participants. This panel chose an alternative approach, where the function was design and function of the panel was considered after the needs of the chosen panellists had been established. So inclusivity was not an "add-on" but an integral part of the way the panel operated.

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