Citizens' Initiative Review

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= A direct democracy technique born in Oregon United States and now adopted in Switzerland and Finland.



"The Citizens' Initiative Review is a citizen-based review process for statewide ballot measures. During a Citizens' Initiative Review a panel of randomly selected voters from across the state, hears arguments from the campaigns for and against a ballot measure, and is given the opportunity to call upon policy experts and affected parties to provide additional background information and testimony. Throughout this professionally facilitated multi-day review, the panel deliberates based upon what they have learned about the measure in order to:

  • determine the key facts and main arguments surrounding the measure, and
  • evaluate the ballot measure based upon their independent findings.

The panel concludes the review by drafting a "Citizens Statement" for inclusion in the statewide Voters' Pamphlet. The "Citizens' Statement" summarizes the findings and positions of the panel into an easily accessible and direct report to voters statewide. These findings would be highlighted next to the explantory information about the ballot measure in the statewide Voters' Pamphlet -- providing a trustworthy, balanced, and citizen-based source of information in the hands of every voter across Oregon. By establishing and fair and transparent process for publicly evaluating ballot measures, the Citizens Initiative Review has the potential to restore trust an accountability to our initiative process."


Patrick Chalmers: “Smith is a long-time fan of Ned Crosby, the octogenarian US political scientist and philanthropist who in 1971 invented the process for Citizens’ Juries.

Think criminal juries but for political issues. Crosby wanted to encourage quality thinking by a small group of citizens on a chosen public policy issue, or to evaluate political candidates.

His design gathers representative microcosms of the voting population, helps them to learn about an issue, and then to brainstorm solutions.

The Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) was one concrete result. The first, held in the northwestern US state of Oregon in 2008, concluded with 23 registered Oregon voters reaching a considered view on Ballot Measure 58, a ban on bilingual education which proposed limits to foreign-language teaching in state schools.

CIRs mostly recruit panelists who are trained in dialogue and deliberation techniques, before hearing from advocates on both sides of an issue. They can turn to independent experts for help, and rely on voting or consensus-building techniques to reach conclusions. Panels typically summarise their reasoning for or against any measure – that first Oregon CIR split nine people in favour and 14 against.

Their statement is made available to all voters in any constituency to help citizens reflect more deeply on a topic before casting a ballot.

In Oregon, CIRs are now part of official process in state elections, although struggles persist to secure consistent funding. In 2008, Ballot Measure 58 fell flat as Oregon voters chose the same line as the CIR majority. The technique survived and has spread since, notably to Switzerland where a centuries-old tradition of direct democracy exists in citizen-initiated votes.

In common with every place that holds elections or referendums, Swiss voters suffer time pressures and information overload. CIRs can ease those problems while countering establishment bias on topics which politicians often have failed to tackle. “When people launch an initiative, it is very often because the politicians haven’t been able to respond to an issue, to give an acceptable answer,” says Charly Pache, a political science researcher at Geneva University.

Switzerland’s first CIR was held in 2019 in Sion, a commune in the southwestern Valais canton. Twenty panelists examined a proposal to double the minimum amount of social housing provided nationally to 10%. Their report in January 2020 shared arguments for and against, prior to a national vote in February which rejected the idea.

CIRs need funding and, ideally, institutional buy-in.

In Oregon, for example, no further citizens’ juries have been held since 2016 due to a lack of state funding. That lack of money is telling. While CIRs can make issues clearer to voters, they do little to reduce the conflict inherent in campaigning and elections – and still less to tilt the balance of power. For reformists seeking game-changing democratic innovations, they’re hardly electrifying.”