Guiding principles at work and in court

Posted on December 11, 2019 by

This month Marden Paul, Director, Policy, Governance and Assessment, ITS, is holding the pen on my blog. He has an engaging and relatable tale to tell.




I’ve just returned to the University from a rather long stint on a jury. Notwithstanding the acute shock of being chosen, this was a tremendous experience and I wanted to share some thoughts about the experience and some connections to our ITS Strategic Plan.

In mid-September, 300 potential jurors crowded into a courtroom. The judge’s invocation emphasized that jury duty – the right of an accused to be heard by a jury of their peers – is one essential elements of our democracy and something not to be dismissed lightly.

After four days and 220 people the 12-person jury formed. I looked out into the courtroom, at the accused and their counsel, and was sworn in as a juror with the responsibility to judge the case on the facts and nothing else.

The case lasted for weeks. It was a fraud case and you can read more about the case here.

The jury must reach a unanimous decision. Twelve people must agree or there is a mistrial. As noted by the judge – no other jury has more information than we. It is our duty to reach a verdict. “The court asks no more of us, nor does it expect any less.” That responsibility sits heavily on a jury. During the case we quietly listened, deliberated ourselves and with each other, yet were fairly passive members of the process. Ultimately, a verdict was our responsibility.

One of our IT guiding principles (#4) it to trust and value peoples’ unique talents. Another, #1, is to embrace commonalities and strengths while respecting…diverse needs. Our core values include creative and critical thinking, teamwork, shared leadership and a culture of learning. I found all these characteristics present in our jury. We started as twelve strangers from diverse backgrounds, and no commonality except that we were selected. Very quickly we developed a trust for each other and also began to recognise the diverse talents and perspectives in the room. Among the early ground rules that we established were:

  • Encourage speaking and let one person speak at a time.
  • Don’t jump to judgement – listen, wait until all the evidence is in.
  • Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Respect each other.
  • Help each other through complex ideas – we are all new to this process.
  • Speak openly. Juries are required to deliberate together, not in clusters.

We didn’t elect a foreperson until we started final deliberations. We maintained shared leadership throughout the trial – everyone stepping up to lead a complex problem analysis when required. So much of the evidence required interpretation and assessment and all jury members contributed with critical insights throughout the testimony. We were frequently surprised at how often a seemingly irrefutable piece of evidence could have an “oh yes, you could see it that way” alternative. Critical and deliberative thinking shone through very regularly as we assembled our collective viewpoint. Open minds and willingness to listen were important and very apparent.

On November 27, our foreperson read the decision. Many in the court broke into tears. The form of the trial was a process. The verdict broke the barrier between process and real-life.

Over the trial I reflected on how this case happened. Governance, transparency in decision-making, communications, were often lacking, and their absence compounded the issues. Their importance to implementing successful, mission-supporting information technologies at the University was reinforced in my mind.

I was privileged to work with my fellow jurors, much as I rely on my colleagues here. We learned to rely on the different skills and perspectives brought by each, respecting varied opinions, arguing viewpoints, but ultimately reaching a unanimous decision. Twelve strangers became a high-performance team with a clear mission in a few short weeks. It was an inspiring experience.