What can we learn from jury service about engagement with public services?

April 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm 5 comments

by Claire McEneaney

Last week I fulfilled my civic duty by undertaking jury service at my local Crown Court. Despite comments from friends and family about it being onerous, dull, and something to get out of (!), I was actually really excited to have the opportunity to see inside the criminal justice system and understand how it worked. I wasn’t disappointed.

Despite a fair bit of sitting around on the first day waiting to be selected for a jury, the whole experience was fantastic. The case I sat on was complex but interesting. The judge, prosecution, and defence were all very clear communicators and presented the evidence well. The judge in particular was brilliant at engaging the jurors in the whole process, clarifying points for us, giving us directions in law to think about, and doing a very objective summation of the evidence at the end, which really helped us jurors pick out the salient points and details from 4 days worth of evidence to ultimately reach our verdict. Before anyone starts making 12 Angry Men assumptions, I’d like to say at this point that my fellow jurors were a very diverse mixture of people, who all took their job very seriously, and brought much balance and common sense to the process of justice.

Before I went on jury service, John Craig told me that jury service consistently has the highest satisfaction rating of any public service interaction. Reflecting back on my experience, I feel very satisfied with my experience, privileged even, and it got me thinking about what it is about jury service that means that interacting with it is so much more a rewarding experience than so many of our other public service encounters?

The first thing is perhaps an obligation to participate. Contrary to popular belief, it is much harder to get out of jury service than many people hope! You can of course defer but you can actually only postpone for 12 months per summons. So there is a definite ‘carrot’ element attached! It is also an intrinsic characteristic of our justice system that you are tried by a jury of your peers. These people are unconnected to both defendants and complainants, and bring with them a wealth of understanding of life – human nature, motivations, weaknesses, and common sense. I think this characteristic is one which all jurors I spoke to seemed to recognise and value. They were reassured that if they were ever in the dock, the people trying them would be average, impartial, rational fellow citizens. As a juror you feel you are engaging with people, rather than a system.

For me, however, I think the single most important factor in the high satisfaction ratings is the level of power and responsibility that you are given once you are sworn into a jury. Very few people in their day-to-day lives really have the power to change someone’s life, whether that be the defendant or the complainant. Jurors play an absolutely critical role in the justice process – they are the ones who decide if a defendant is guilty or not guilty. Nobody else in that entire process makes that decision. That makes the amount of power and control you hold as a juror huge. Given that most cases require a unanimous verdict, it means that you also have that power as an individual, not just as a collective. The views of a 19-year-old student are just as valid as those of a 63-year-old professional. As individuals, you all have the power of influence. This is typically unheard of in public services.

Finally, it is perhaps clichéd but appropriate to also say that with great power comes great responsibility. This has never been more true than as a juror. As your influence is so great, I certainly felt a huge responsibility not just to make a decision, but to make the right decision. Regardless of which decision I made, someone’s life would change. I felt a real weight of responsibility on my shoulders which made me engage with the in a very sincere, deep way, which ultimately make it hugely satisfying.

This has all got me thinking about our work, and how we can apply these twin principles of influence and responsibility to our work in public services. If we could get these elements incorporated into more aspects of service interaction could we achieve greater satisfaction with our public services?

Clearly, much has been done already – the drive to improve patient choice, for example, to give patients power and control about where they receive their treatment or give birth. By changing governance structures through co-operatives and mutuals we are seeing citizens given greater involvement and influence over how their services are commissioned and run. We are seeing this in our work on Transforming Early Years and also through our research in the Engagement Ethic.

Crucially, we need to ensure that both influence and power are given to users and citizens in a way that is real and meaningful. We need to ensure that we keep these interactions and roles genuine to ensure that they do not become trivial or tokenistic, but instead change the dynamic between the citizen and the state in a powerful and positive way.


Entry filed under: Innovation Policy, Public Services.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Raj  |  April 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I read this blog and it made me think about the social workers who have to make a decision as to whether an elderly person is in a ‘critical’ state to be eligible for state funded care’. It would be interesting to see if the public was involved in these kind of decisions whether their view of what is considered ‘critical’ would differ from the state. I suspect so and I wonder whether this would be a wake up call to the state to radically change the way they do things. Just a thought 🙂

  • 2. David J  |  April 24, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Great blog post , Claire.. You are absolutely right that this is both an exemplar and a metaphor for what we could achieve by co-constructing socially just and desirable outcomes with users, citizens, community members – people.

    One of the barriers is the mental ‘set’ we create around categories of ‘people’. The jury service tradition breaks through this. As you know, my world is education and schools, where we view ‘parents’ as a category rather than as a partner resource who would bring their multiple talents and to the table if we enabled it. After all, they care more than we do about the success of ‘students’ (another category!).

    The question should be: ‘How can we enrich people’s lives by finding ways to involve them in civic responsibility at their highest level of utility?’ That’s what jury service does.

  • 3. Dave Appleby  |  April 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Fantastic post! I did jury service two years ago. You are certainly right about the massive responsibility and how seriously this utterly random bunch of people took it.

    Which made me think that perhaps we should recruit other public servants by lottery. Perhaps we could disband the present House of Lords and have an Upper Chamber ‘elected’ by random lottery. That would certainly be a check on the career politicians!

  • 4. alecpatton  |  April 26, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Great post. I wanted to add one other characteristic of jury duty, as compared to other public services: it is the only public service that ordinary citizens engage with as ‘providers’ rather than as ‘clients’. I suspect this is one of the key reasons that satisfaction is so high.

    This sounds counter-intuitive: surely any interaction with public services that ended with you getting something would be preferable to one in which you gave up your time and got nothing in return! But I think when you go to a hospital, or a local council one-stop shop, you go expecting to be ‘served’ and rate your experience based on the quality of service. Go in with that mentality, and you’re likely to be disappointed.

    But with jury duty, you go expecting to serve – and expecting that the service will be dull and onerous. So if it turns out not to be, your likely to be really pleased.

    To a certain extent, I don’t think this aspect of the experience can apply to, say, a hospital, because there’s no getting around the fact that you are there to use a service. But, as has been said before, there’s a lot of scope to harness this using co-production.

    I’m now curious about is how people rate their experience of the courts when they do engage it as clients – for example, defendants with state-funded attorneys, people in family courts, etc.

  • 5. Weekly update 10.05.11 | greatleadersgreatplaces  |  May 10, 2011 at 11:35 am

    […] Read Claire’s full analysis. […]


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