Enhancing participants' critical thinking capacity - study outcomes

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A Research and Development Note detailing the process and outcomes of a recent study we worked on with Lyn Carson of Active Democracy and the newDemocracy Foundation has been published. 

The study considers the question - How can we enhance the ability of randomly-selected citizens in mini-publics (such as citizens’’ juries) to understand and evaluate expert evidence?

The Research and Development Note , which was prepared by Carson, details the exercises trialed during three deliberative engagement processes (Hobsons Bay 2030, the Nuclear Citizens Jury in South Australia, and the Geelong Citizens’ Jury), and learnings gained during these experiences. 

These learnings included that not only was it advantageous to introduce critical thinking concepts and exercises to each group, but that there are ways to tweak these processes to ensure that the group’s use of critical thinking skills is enhanced and provides maximum benefit to the task at hand.  

Use of critical thinking skills was shown to be particularly useful when used in connection with participants’ conversations with external speakers (or ‘experts’).  The exercises enhanced their ability to gain clear, relevant, useful information from these speakers and digest and interrogate this information.

Participants rarely claim to know a great deal and that means their minds are available for critical thinking. The combination of explanation and instruction about the use of critical thinking, along with opportunities to identify questionable facts, or missing information, provided excellent preparation for a selection of further speakers. 
— Lyn Carson

The Research and Development Note also indicates what questions remain unresolved, and the next steps in this ongoing project.  We are now working with participants to promote awareness of personal biases before they discuss and use critical thinking approaches, which is already producing interesting results.

Stay tuned on biases, because we plan to talk about them more very soon.  Plus, we have now added a useful free download on brain biases in our free resource section which helps you to understand and address some of these biases so you can access more information and weigh up data more thoroughly.

More information and resources

The activity was designed to foreground the importance of interrogating expert knowledge and to enhance the critical thinking capacities of everyday citizens. For that reason, MosaicLab and newDemocracy wish to make this material available for all to use.

  • The newDemocracy Foundation has commissioned its own short critical thinking film that connects specifically with the six approaches to be used, and the use of critical thinking in collective decision making.
  • The original Critical Thinking report by Lyn Carson (documenting the first Hobsons Bay trial) can be found here.
  • MosaicLab has an Activity Kit which can be accessed here.
  • A leaflet was produced for the SA Nuclear Jury because of the presence of Indigenous expert witnesses: Being Culturally Aware – Using Critical Thinking. The jury was overseen by DemocracyCo. The leaflet was developed by Joel Levin, Aha! Consulting and was revised by a number of Indigenous community members and elders.

If you missed our other posts on this project (which we have been reporting on via this blog) you can find them here: