At a glance

October 2013 and February 2014

The Citizens’ Juries on wind farms in Scotland were designed as a research project to understand how deliberative processes can be used to engage citizens in decision-making. The project was led by researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde in collaboration with colleagues at University of West of Scotland, Queen Margaret University, Robert Gordon University and Glasgow University.

What problem was it trying to solve?

Despite Scottish Planning Policy putting emphasis on public engagement, requiring that it should be “early, meaningful and proportionate”, prior to the project deliberative engagement had not been actively used to inform planning policy decisions in Scotland. The researchers wanted to find ways to encourage the use of deliberative public engagement. They did not specifically aim to inform decision-making on the issue, instead they focused on finding insights for the policy and planning community on how to organise and facilitate deliberative public engagement.

In light of this the project had two aims

  1. To understand how deliberative processes can be used to engage citizens on complex public issues and inform decision makers about how such processes may be used in policy making – including the value that deliberative processes can add and the practical challenges of this approach.
  2. To learn about citizens’ views on wind farms before and after the deliberative process, and explore what the citizens involved think about wind farm development in Scotland when given the opportunity to learn and deliberate on the topic.

To do this the groups were tasked with answering the question:

“There are strong views on wind farms in Scotland, with some people being strongly opposed, others being strongly in favour and a range of opinions in between. What should be the key principles for deciding about wind farm development, and why?"

How were the locations and participants selected?

The juries were held in three different locations across the country. Each jury was tasked with addressing the same issue, to develop criteria for decision-making on windfarms in Scotland. A total of 47 jurors met in Coldstream, Helensburgh and Aberfeldy and were representative the diversity of the Scottish population.

Ipsos MORI recruited the participants using quotas set to ensure that the participants were broadly representative of the Scottish population on key socio-demographic and attitudinal criteria 1 The jurors were recruited using a face-to-face approach, using both door to door and in street methods. The jurors were not made aware of the topic of the Citizens’ Jury prior to the event. In total 65 participants were recruited, 49 attended day 1 and 47 completed the process. In order to ensure the participants were compensated for their work and to lower potential barriers to participation they were given £70 for Day 1 and £100 for Day 2.

The locations were chosen as they were of similar size and rural but they each had different exposure to windfarm developments. One was close to an existing windfarm (Aberfeldy), another had a proposal for a nearby windfarm (Helensburgh) and the third had no existing or proposed windfarms (Coldstream).

What was the process?

The project was monitored by a Stewarding Board which including representatives from different organizations with a range of views on windfarm development in the country. The SB was responsible for overseeing the assigned task, the design, locations and the expert speakers.

Each of the three groups, made up of 15-20 people, met over two Saturdays between October 2013 and February 2014. The jurors had 8 hours in total across the two days to discuss the evidence presented to them and to agree on the principles. All three followed the same process which had three distinct phases:

Information Day 1 introduction to the process and the expert speakers

Reflection for 2-3 weeks jurors took home their information packs and could view expert’s responses to the outstanding questions from Day 1

Deliberative Jurors set the agenda for the deliberation and worked together on the task

What was the conclusion?

The project produced some key findings on deliberative public engagement in decision-making:

  • Citizens of all backgrounds can enjoy addressing complex policy issues when they are adequately supported to do so as part of a fair and engaging process.
  • Jurors learnt about the topic and related debates, engaged with others’ perspectives, and revised their opinions during the process.
  • Common themes emerged across the juries, which reflect common values and tensions on the topic.
  • Diversity of initial views on the topic was the most influential factor on the quality of the jury’s deliberation and decision-making.
  • The experience (learning and deliberation) was both enjoyable and rewarding for the jurors, and fostered civic skills.

In addition, the jurors came to conclusions about the principles they think should be prioritised for guiding decision-making on windfarms in Scotland. Across all three Juries these can be put into six broad themes

  1. the desirable energy mix for Scotland
  2. the characteristics of the evidence needed for decision-making
  3. the range of negative and positive impacts that should be taken into account for decision-making
  4. the role of public responsibility i.e. reducing energy consumption
  5. the limits to wind farm development
  6. the question of who should benefit from this energy source.

What was the impact?

In evaluating the impact on the jurors, the research showed that they gained knowledge about several aspects of the topic and they revised their views with some becoming more supportive and other more opposed to windfarms following each phase. It also showed that the experience of the deliberative process enhanced the jurors “civic skills, confidence, and sense of self-efficacy” with jurors willing to participate in similar forums in the future. They found that the jurors found the learning phase as the highlight of their experience as this phase informed the jurors and helped them to engage in self-led learning in the interim period between the two Saturdays.

Alongside the results and analysis of the three juries the final report also offers practical advice and outlines key learning for the policy and practice community on how to organise and facilitate deliberative public engagement in decision-making. The research is supportive of deliberative public engagement and states that “When citizens are given the time, resources and support to learn and deliberate together about public issues, they can grasp complex debates and collectively make considered decisions”. They conclude that involving the public in a deliberative process can be valuable for decision-making. However, they explain that the forum’s role needs to be carefully defined and clearly connected to the decision-making processes and representative institutions.

The video below shows Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment at the time Marco Biagi MSP speak at the launch


Photo credit Ian Dick: Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

  • 1. The core characteristics were gender, age and income. But they also considered others such as working status, civic engagement and level of interest in the environment.