About a year ago I was called for jury duty.
I was nerdily excited to perform my civic duty, but I was also a little overwhelmed – it seemed somewhat absurd to think that real people could be looking to me to make real decisions about real cases.
As it turns out, they didn’t need any jurors that day, which is probably for the best – my best advice would have been to find someone with more expertise to ask for judgement.
I suspect my reaction was common, but it’s also one of the side effects of the professionalization of civic work.
In some ways this professionalization is good – after all, its generally better to have someone who knows what they’re doing in charge.
But professionalization can also be dangerous – convincing people that there is no expertise in the average citizen, that all civic duties are best left to those with specialized degrees.
There’s a certain danger to that. Surely, there is much value in professional opinions, but – communities better when all their members are involved, when everyone plays a role a society’s continued improvement.
If the work of improving communities always seems like it ought to be someone else’s job or is better left to professionals, then we risk missing out – on the real expertise of community members, and on the genuine benefits that community engagement can bring.