Citizens’ Initiative Review (Featured D&D Story)

D&D stories logoIf you haven’t heard of the Citizens’ Initiative Review before, you should have! We’ve featured it at two of our conferences, and spent a day introducing NCDDers to Healthy Democracy Oregon’s work back in August 2010. Healthy Democracy just won TWO of the core values awards presented at the IAP2 conference in Salt Lake, so their success is certainly no secret.

This mini case study was submitted by Lucy Palmersheim via NCDD’s new Dialogue Storytelling Tool, which we recently launched to collect stories about innovations in D&D. Add your story today to help spread the word about your great work!

Title of Project:

Citizens’ Initiative Review


The Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) is Healthy Democracy’s flagship program. It is an innovative method of public engagement, passed into law in Oregon in 2011, that directly empowers citizens to deliberate and provide information to their fellow voters.

During the CIR, a randomly selected and demographically balanced panel — a microcosm of the public — is brought together and given the time and resources to fairly evaluate a ballot measure. The panel hears directly from campaigns for and against the measure in question and calls on policy experts during the multi-day public review.

At the conclusion of each review, panelists deliberate and then draft a “Citizens’ Statement” highlighting the most important fact-based findings about the measure and the most relevant arguments for and against the measure. In Oregon, the CIR is overseen by an independent commission, and each statement is published in the voters’ pamphlet as a new and easily accessible resource for voters to use at election time.

The Citizens’ Initiative Review is a major innovation in democracy, and in Oregon, one of the first states in the nation to enact the initiative and referendum, we’ve successfully developed the model, passed it into law, and tested it rigorously over three iterations. Major studies of the CIR in 2010 and 2012 (funded in part by the National Science Foundation and Kettering Foundation) have conclusively demonstrated that the CIR process provides voters with a fundamentally sound and easy-to-use source of trustworthy information to make better choices.

Studies found that a majority of voters read a CIR statement in 2012, and that roughly two-thirds – over 627,000 Oregonians – found it helpful when making voting decisions (statistically significant). Additionally, voters who read a CIR statement demonstrated greater knowledge leading to greater confidence about how to cast their ballot and learned more about the ballot measures than those who read official explanatory and fiscal statements or saw equivalent doses of paid pro and con arguments.

These results are incredibly exciting, and show us that the CIR is having a major impact on improving voters’ understanding of ballot measures.

Which dialogue and deliberation approaches did you use or borrow heavily from?

  • Citizens’ Juries

What was your role in the project?

Healthy Democracy provides project management and fundraising.

What issues did the project primarily address?

  • Economic issues
  • Education
  • Partisan divide
  • Planning and development

Lessons Learned

Healthy Democracy is extremely satisfied with the 2012 Citizens’ Initiative Reviews. A few factors that contributed:

Building on past success: We ran the CIR as a pilot program in 2010 and used our learnings to enhance the 2012 project. Some changes included providing feedback from campaigns to panelists on final statements and asking panelists on one side of a measure to provide feedback to those writing the statement for the opposite side. These changes ultimately improved the Citizens’ Statements produced and distributed to voters.

Assembling an effective team: We brought together a team of full-time and project-specific staff with deep experience in deliberation and project management. Our team was able to foresee potential obstacles and plan an effective program.

Planning for potential setbacks: We built contingency plans to ensure the CIR would be viable even if our original plan could not be carried out.

Maintaining objectivity: The CIR can be a very effective tool for public deliberation, but its credibility is dependent on maintaining a process that is free from bias. We built staff training, panelist selection, and expert testimony around objectivity. As a result, 96% of participants reported being satisfied with staff neutrality during the CIR process, with 76% of those reporting they were “very satisfied.” Furthermore, 89% of voters who read the voters’ pamphlet reported that they placed at least some trust in the CIR statements, which was higher than trust in paid pro and con arguments or the measures’ official fiscal statements.

Achieving media endorsements and publicity: We were pleased to receive several new newspaper endorsements in 2012, and independent research funded in part by the Kettering Foundation found that over 51% of Oregon voters knew about the CIR, an increase from 42% in 2010.

Measuring our work: We brought in researchers early in the process so that they were able to follow the 2012 CIRs from start to finish. They surveyed participants each day and followed up with broad polls of the Oregon electorate. This depth of research allows us to understand our impact, search for ways to improve our process, and will help us plan future expansion.

Where to learn more about the project:

You can find more information at You can also read the 2012 report by clicking here.

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