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Democratizing Decision Making Relating to Biotechnology

Jensine Andresen - Assistant Professor, Boston University

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Purpose of Presentation

  • Presentation surveys 5 models of public consensus formation to identify what features insure collaborative and democratic process
  • Presentation assumes that decisions regarding biotechnology, especially in the areas of human reproduction and agriculture, should be the made on the basis of broad, public consensus.

Five Models of Consensus Formation

  • Minnesota: The Jefferson Center Citizen’s Jury

Process – Genetics and the Icelandic

Healthcare Database

  • Michigan: Genome Technology & Reproduction

Values & Public Policy Project

Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes

  • Non-profit; established 1974
  • Mission: To strengthen the democratic process by providing decision-makers with tools to assess more effectively and comprehensively citizen opinion on issues of public significance
  • See www.Jefferson-center.org

The Jefferson Center’s Citizen’s Jury Process

  • Format: randomly selected and demographically representative panels of citizens meet for 4 or 5 days to examine an issue of public significance
  • Jury composition: 18 individuals
  • Renumeration: jurors are paid a stipend
  • Planning time: 3-4 months

Elements of the Citizens Jury Process 

  • Advisory Committee
  • Telephone Survey
  • Jury Selection
  • Witness Selection
  • Charge
  • Hearings
  • Recommendations

Advisory Committee

  • The Advisory Committee is composed of individuals knowledgeable on the topic who represent a range of perspectives. They provide advice concerning the charge, agenda, and witness selection. The Advisory Committee also helps the project staff avoid bias throughout the project.

Telephone Survey

  • A high quality telephone survey is conducted to randomly selected individuals in the given community (city, school district, county, state, nation). All survey respondents who agree to receive additional information are entered into the jury pool. The survey can also be used to establish base-line attitudes and demographics of the community, if needed.

Jury Selection

  • The jury is carefully selected to create a microcosm of the public that reflects community demographics and attitudes regarding the topic.

Witness Selection

  • Individuals knowledgeable about the issue serve as witnesses.
  • These individuals provide background information and in-depth information about various aspects of the issue.
  • The expert witnesses are selected to represent a variety of perspectives and opinions.


  • The charge is the task facing the jury.
  • It typically takes the form of a question that the jurors address and answer during deliberations.


  • Over several days of professionally moderated hearings, the expert witnesses address key issues, respond to questions and engage in a dialogue with the jurors.
  • The jurors deliberate together and answer the charge.


  • On the final day of the moderated hearings, the jury issues its findings and recommendations in a public forum.
  • The recommendations appear in language that the jurors themselves develop and approve.


  • At the conclusion of the project, the jurors are asked to complete an evaluation.
  • This serves to assure the general public that the process was unbiased.
  • This is important if the general public and decision-makers are to trust and respect the recommendations and outcome of the jury.
  • The results of the evaluations are included in the final report.

Track Record

  • 26 Citizens Jury projects since 1974 (local, state, national levels)
  • Topics addressed include environmental issues (1996) and national health care reform (1993).
  • Similar projects conducted in Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Spain, and Australia.

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