I am the American creator of the Citizens Jury process, which I invented in April of 1971, three months after Peter Dienel, a professor of sociology in Wuppertal, Germany, invented virtually the same process. We didn’t learn of each other until 1985. Here are a few relevant things about me.
- I received a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota in 1973, after spending 12 years in graduate school. Two of those years focused on the foundations of psychological measurement, while the last five years focused on meta-ethics and how to create a social ethics. Those interested in the details of how my academic wanderings finally led to the Citizens Jury process can take a look at Appendix A, section 6 of Healthy Democracy, published in 2003.
- In 1974 I set up the Jefferson Center to work on basic ways to improve the workings of democracy. It was originally called the Center for New Democratic Processes and focused on testing out the Citizens Jury process and something called an “Extended Policy Discussion”, a method for clarifying disagreements between experts for legislators.
- My main interest in public policy outside the Jefferson Center has been foreign and military policy. I served on the board of the African American Institute from 1969 to 1975 and became involved in the lobbying effort to stop the importation of chrome from Rhodesia. In the 1983 I played a leading role setting up the Latin American Working Group in Washington, D.C., the main group that coordinated lobbying efforts to protect democracy and human rights in Central America.
- I have worked on inner city issues, helping to set up a pre-trial diversion project in Hennepin County in the early 1970s and serving on the board of the Minneapolis Legal Aid Society, acting as president of the board for two years. I also led an effort in the middle 1990s to get legislation passed in Minnesota to improve services for at-risk children.
- I have spent only a small amount of time teaching: one year at Augsburg College in 1969-70, one semester at Yale in 1994 and one semester at the University of Minnesota in 2008.
- Starting in 1999 my wife, Pat Benn, and I became involved in a way to improve the ballot initiative process in Washington state. When that failed in early 2007, we supported an effort to do it in Oregon. In 2011 the Oregon state legislature adopted into law the Citizen’ Initiative Review which uses the Citizens Jury process to evaluate initiatives and publish the results in the official voters guide.
- Currently I am exploring how it might be possible to create an informed political will that could be strong enough to convince legislatures to act in our long-term interests. I hope to add something to the website about this before the end of 2015.