Does Jury Duty = Citizen Engagement?

Yesterday, I spent all day in jury duty. In the end, I didn’t get picked for the week-long trial but I found the whole process pretty fascinating. It’s great to see a truly diverse, cross-section group of individuals across the city come together to serve in government.

Particularly I think there is a lot of lessons we can learn from jury duty to leverage for citizen engagement.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the whole operation – huge show-up rate from citizens and most mentioned it was their civic duty and happy to serve. The county also did a great job of recognizing the inconvenience, speaking to the civic duty, and keeping things running on time.

So here are my 3 lessons that any citizen engagement project can learn from jury duty:

1) It’s your civic duty – I was impressed how many people in the room mentioned that they didn’t mind jury duty as it was their civic duty. I heard quotes from my peers from the movie Lincoln and The Constitution (first time I’ve heard more Constitution quotes than celebrity gossip in awhile). The judges mentioned multiple times that it was what made America great and the importance of juries to the process.

I thought this was awesome – it made me feel like I mattered and what we were doing was important. Most people are willing to make a sacrifice and help-out if you make it clear

2) Make it concrete – What I like about jury duty is it is very clear. Show up on this date at this location. Often citizen engagement and volunteer projects are vague in timing and vague in what they need. There’s something great about simplicity – you are asked once on a specific day – most people know what to do.

Also it is concrete on what is done with your input. If you are on a jury, you come together and decide on a trial. Too often with citizen engagement programs, it’s unclear how much of the feedback will be utilized.

3) It’s about execution – The little things make a big difference. The city had obviously thought through the jurors

perspective and it was pretty smooth (free parking garage, quick security, friendly check-in, flat panel TVs, free wi-fi, cafe next to the room, and magazines). Throughout the day, the city executed well and it felt that they respected your time and was doing the best you can. In the end, it all comes down to execution and these items have a huge impact on whether

P.S. Why don’t we use jury duty waiting time better? This would be the “perfect” place to encourage citizens to sign up for city alerts, ask for input on a city project, reminders about important deadlines and notices. You have a captive audience that is thinking about government and are bored in the waiting room

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Daniel Bevarly

Steve – I was about in your shoes in Lee County a few weeks back and was notified that I did not have to come to the courthouse dodging jury duty once again. I was looking forward to it for the same points you raise. Jury duty is but one of the many civic responsibilities citizens have including voting, sitting on a board or commission, block watch, newspaper editorial boards, or volunteering with a non profit. None of these are requirements like licenses, fees and taxes that help government provide services and help the community run smoother, but they are just as important to making communities strong, liveable and viable for all.

Dale M. Posthumus

I know many see jury duty as a pain. Nor are all employers good at making it easy for employees to serve. But, our jury system is one of the most unique and most powerful aspects of US democracy. My wife – born, raised, and educated in the Soviet Union – served on a US District Court armed robery and murder case that lasted 10 days. She was fascinated and very impressed. I served on a small, half-day county court workers’ comp case. I was impressed with the process and the serious approach of everyone in the jury. Makes one really appreciate what we have.

Carmencita Tan

I think it was really good experience to be part of jury. I been summons twice in two different court. Went to the Federal court instead. I did’nt get a chance to be part of the jury duty because of the personal problems. The judge excuse me send me out. Because of case was sensitive. I try to be part of it.

David B. Grinberg

Steve, as you know, they don’t call it “civic duty” for nothing. Moreover, any time a citizen engages with a government official at any level then it is by it nature “citizen engagement” — at least in the technical sense. Thus the answer to your question is an unequivocal YES.

Citizen jurors also contribute to our democratic form of government and “equal justice for all”.