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Sunday
Aug302015

Victoria's Citizens' Jury on Obesity #1: Introduction

We have an obesity problem.
How can we make it easier to eat better?

The newDemocracy Foundation and VicHealth are running a Citizens’ Jury on obesity, and I’ve had the luck to be one of 100 people randomly selected. I intend to post about the experience along the way, both here and probably on Twitter. (It looks like the hashtag is #ObesityJury.)

A Citizens’ Jury is something I’ve heard of, but about which I don’t know much; I’m pretty excited to be involved. It’s a deliberative, participative process in which ‘regular people’ are provided with access to information and experts to provide recommendations (or ‘judgements’) to an advisory panel or steering group.

In this case, the jury is reporting to a Steering Group that includes AMA Victoria, Australian Beverages Council, Australian Food & Grocery Council, CHOICE, City of Melbourne, Coles, C-PAN Deakin University, Foodbank Victoria, Obesity Policy Coalition, Tennis Australia, VicHealth, and the Victorian Government Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The steering group aren’t actively involved in the jury: it’s facilitated by the newDemocracy Foundation, a research institute. I was approached as someone who had used the VoteCompass application for a recent election, provided more demographic information, and was then chosen randomly (AFAIK).

We (the jury) receive a bunch of information to read, and I think interested parties are able to (or have been able to) make submissions for us to consider. We have an online forum to engage with each other in smaller groups, some phone calls/webinars, and then a two-day forum in mid-October. The total process takes around eight weeks. We’re each paid $250.

The online forum is kind of cute. It has a Village Square, that we can all see, four “Streets” (North/South/East/West) and ten “Houses”. I am in Magenta House with 13 other people, of whom I think some are facilitators. This is where can discuss the topic with each other, talk about submissions, complete “tasks” assigned by the facilitators, etc.

Our tasks for Week 1 are pretty relaxed: introduce ourselves, describe what we’d like our ‘virtual house’ to look like, and set agreements or ‘house rules’ to make discussions comfortable.

I’m pretty excited about this. I don’t have any particular knowledge about obesity, but I’m curious to learn more. I’m also really interested in how well the citizens’ jury process functions, both on a personal and professional level: in my job as a consumer advocate, I’m involved with several energy and water businesses who are consulting with consumers. Some of them use deliberative forums and/or focus groups, and I’m interested to compare my experiences of those (as an observer) with the jury.

That’s it for starters – I’m going to go complete my tasks!

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