Citizen oversight, sometimes referred to as Civilian oversight, is the act of an assembly of citizens, a form of citizen participation, who review government activities. Activities may be deemed as government misconduct. Members of the group are civilians and are external to the government entity. These groups are tasked with direct involvement in the citizen complaints process and develop solutions to improve government accountability. Responsibilities of citizen oversight groups can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and their ability to become influential. Oversight should not criticize but improve government through citizen support for government responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and overall efficiency.
Proactive citizen oversight improves transparency and demands accountability at all levels of government. Reporting and monitoring are now regarded as fundamental governance responsibilities. Citizen Advisory Boards are a way for citizens to be involved in government oversight. Other forms of government oversight include citizen committees, citizen panels, citizen juries, citizen initiatives, negotiated rulemaking, and mediation Citizen oversight shares similar aspects with Demarchy and the Jury system.
An effective citizen oversight committee is structured to take on the following responsibilities: create processes for risk governance, monitoring and reporting; create clear defined duties to improve effectiveness and avoid overlapping work; recruit/retain members that are knowledgeable and engaged about policy; develop critiques that result in improved service outcomes; assign oversight responsibilities to designated individuals or groups for specific government functions; and reviews rolls regularly.
Citizen oversight committees brainstorm ideas to improve transparency and create policy proposals. Most proposals regarding citizen oversight have been with respects to police activities, healthcare, non-profit and private sector. Proposals since the 1970s about police misconduct or government corruption have universally been met with resistance from authorities and did not gained much traction.
1. Change in political attitude
Citizen oversight is the result of a profound change in public attitudes toward government particularly related to trust. There is a lack of trust between citizens and government/business because of historical misconduct. Misconduct included racial discrimination during the civil rights era, illegal activities during the Watergate scandal, and more recently citizen disagreement with government bailouts and financial fraud like Enron scandal. All these actions have caused an increased demand in accountability. Trust is a measured by gauging how effective citizens feel local policies and authorities are in their duties as official. A series of laws have been created indicating the growing public concern about the need for oversight of government agencies.
2. Benefits and weaknesses
Benefit Increased focus on monitoring, reporting, strategic advising, value creation, accountability, and the creation of professional standards.
Weakness or setbacks Accountability, transparency, and reporting are important to citizen oversight. Acts like Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have caused an increase in oversight responsibilities requiring increased reporting, extensive examination of performance, and increased accountability of internal citizen oversight. Oversight can be excessive and ultimately detrimental to desirable outcomes, and administrators spend a significant amount of time on monitoring and less on strategies. Difficulty forming citizen groups, failing to function effectively, agency role is not visible enough or influential, group is abolished altogether.
Citizen participation and accountability initiatives have become a common practice in democratic nations. Reporting and monitoring results are now regarded as fundamental governance responsibilities The growth of citizen oversight is not confined to the United States. Citizen oversight particularly for the police is universal and has expanded across the English-speaking world and is spreading in Latin America, Asia, and continental Europe International Asian countries do not look at service-oriented policing like western countries. Asian democracies focus on defense and maintenance of established rules, reviewing and monitoring government actions and policing human rights violations, police corruption, and corporate management. Research in the United Kingdom has noted the importance of oversight of state functions such as prisons to ensure the fair and humane detention of vulnerable persons such as prisoners.
Hong Kongs citizen oversight is considered to be far more transparent, independent, sufficient at holding government accountable. Possibly a result of being largely more democratic, than countries like China. Nearly, all Asian democracies have some form of oversight, but only 3 have citizen oversight.
The assembly of citizens to review government activities and misconduct first started with civilian oversight of police in the 1920s. The table below is predominantly related to police oversight between 1920 and 1980. By 1980 there were about 13 agencies, and by 2000 more than 100 such as the Independent Police Auditor IPA in San Jose, California and Seattle, Washington and the Office of Independent Review OIR in New York City, New York.