For me, the mock citizens' trial wasn't the centerpiece of this exercise. It was merely a device -- or gimmick -- to get people thinking and talking with each other about the region's future. It worked. The deliberation it provoked was the real centerpiece.
I guess what impressed me most about the citizens' deliberations was the depth of the despair many people expressed. As journalists, we sometimes tend to
report on growth or transportation policy as if it were a bloodless sport. The jurors helped remind me how deeply people feel these concerns.
| The "jurors" split into four groups and returned for a second day of "deliberations." They came up with a list of possible solutions to the regions's problems and reported back to the "judge." |
The exercise also challenged one of my assumptions, an assumption that is reflected in public policy. Growth is inevitable, according to conventional wisdom; all we can hope for is to manage it gracefully.
Many jurors rejected that assumption. They said they didn't want managed growth -- they wanted no growth, or limited growth.
I'm doing some poking around in this area now. Maybe I'll find out the jurors were naive, that we can't limit growth, or that limiting growth has all sorts of negative consequences. Or perhaps I'll find out we have more control over our collective fate than we thought.
I guess my point is that I'm working on a story now that I wouldn't be doing if I hadn't listened to the jurors. The paper, and our readers, will be the better for it.