A Tribute to Ned Crosby

Healthy Democracy is grieving the loss of Ned Crosby. Ned was not only a leading innovator in the field of citizen deliberation and public engagement, he was also a beloved mentor to many who have passed through HD’s offices. Ned passed peacefully on the evening of Sunday, May 29, 2022 surrounded by family in Minneapolis, MN. He and his wife and colleague, Pat Benn, developed and promoted the idea of the Citizens’ Juries and have been invaluable in the creation and sustaining of Healthy Democracy. Ned’s passing has truly shaken our world. We extend our deepest condolences to his family. Please see tributes below by former HD Executive Director, Robin Teater, former HD board member Marge Easley, and HD Co-Founder, Elliot Shuford.

When I saw the email from Pat Benn, Ned’s beloved partner in life and in democracy reform work, I didn’t want to open it because I knew I was about to read notice of the end of an era.

To those in the democracy reform world – a legion of visionary folks that I would submit includes this country’s very Founders – people like Ned Crosby are why our strivings toward “a more perfect union” endure. The abiding faith Ned put in the wisdom of the American people as citizens and critical partners in self-governance fueled his passion for perfecting the tools of their participation. His vision was profound in its simplicity: give real decision-making power to a representative cross-section of America’s diverse electorate, give them the information and time they need to sort through the complexities of any given issue, and create opportunities for them to deliberate together, as “co-owners” of their democracy, and in so doing release the full potential of their collective wisdom in maintaining a legitimate and responsive republic (“if we can keep it”, as Franklin presciently warned).

No one who ever met Ned would forget it. And while he would be the first to admit that not all his ideas were good ones, he would nevertheless carry on his ceaseless production of ways to improve and make more accessible ways of doing democracy – sometimes, let’s be honest, to the point of exhaustion – in spite of those very institutions of democracy’s often maddening refusal to hear it.

In this way, Ned was perhaps a man ahead of his time. But I am thrilled that he was at least able to see the implementation of some of his most foundational ideas, not so much here in the U.S., but in many parts of western Europe and Australia. The U.S. is sadly behind on the democracy curve, and is in fact in real danger of actually losing ground in some dangerous and irreparable ways. One of the most meaningful tributes to Ned I could imagine is for everyone reading this newsletter to commit themselves to actively advocating for the adoption of citizens assemblies, Citizens’ Initiative Reviews, or any kind of randomly selected citizen review panel at the city, state or federal level here in the U.S. This much is surely owed to someone who literally spent a lifetime developing these tools and processes – and had the confidence in our ability to use them well and wisely – in service to the collective project of democratic self-governance.

There will never be another Ned Crosby, but there will be infinite opportunities to honor his amazing legacy. And, as I’m certain Ned would agree, there is no time to waste.

Robin Teater
Former Healthy Democracy Executive Director

As a long-time board member of Healthy Democracy, I join in paying tribute to our dear colleague and friend, Ned Crosby. With his passing we have lost not only a visionary leader in the field of participatory democracy but a truly special human being. His enthusiasm, curiosity, and tenacity inspired me and countless others to hop on the Healthy Democracy bandwagon and to sing its praises throughout Oregon and the entire country. I know from firsthand experience that Ned never wavered in his devotion to perfecting democracy, and his remarkable blueprint for citizen engagement remains a thing of beauty. As we face seemingly intractable problems in today’s world, I am so thankful that his work lives on to provide a pathway for bridging divides and empowering ordinary citizens to find solutions. We will miss him dearly.

Marge Easley,
Past President, League of Women Voters of Oregon
Former Healthy Democracy Board Member

Among other things, Ned Crosby should be remembered as someone with an outsized influence on the people he worked with and on society as a whole. As cofounders of Healthy Democracy (along with Pat Benn and Tyrone Reitman) I had the wonderful opportunity to work with him for the better part of a decade as we designed, implemented and finally institutionalized the Citizens’ Initiative Review in Oregon. That work eventually spread throughout the US and abroad, providing an effective and sorely needed model of how democracy could function. What a legacy!

Ned’s vision, values and tenacity had a profound impact in countless ways. He was someone who could ‘see the big picture,’ while at the same time maintaining kindness and compassion for those around him. I remember a time when I made a mistake in our work. I was really angry with myself and he and his wife Pat Benn counseled me with a discussion about ‘fair self talk.’ It was the perfect intervention, and the concept has stuck with me since. Compassion was one of Ned’s primary motivations. 

This is not to say he couldn’t be a bit single-minded and very determined at times, but that comes with the territory of being a visionary, which he truly was. His tenacious commitment to improving democracy was inspirational. I expect that inspiration has had a profound impact on so many people and the spreading of his and others’ work with the Citizens’ Jury will continue to have an impact on the evolution of democracy. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue. 

Elliot Shuford
Former Co-Director and board member, Healthy Democracy

You can view his obituary in the Minnesota Star Tribune here and in the Port Townsend Leader here.

Shared tributes and memories of Ned

Ned and I argued. A lot. That sounds like a negative claim but it’s not. I think we had the best arguments: disagreeing about deliberative designs and how democratic innovation was best achieved, oh, and how big were the global changes that had been wrought because of what he and Pat had contributed to the field. He never thought the achievements were as monumental as I did. We also laughed together. A lot.. Ned was one of the finest people I have known. He’s had a huge influence on my work over many decades. My heart hurts when I think of him gone. — Carson

The people of Oregon owe tons of gratitude to the recently deceased Ned Crosby and his wife and colleague Pat Benn. They were instrumental in building and putting in place Oregon’ s first-in-the-nation Citizen Initiative Review. Oregon’s effort has inspired several states and many countries to use Oregon’s model to elevate everyday people in public decision-making. This strengthens democracy by building trust and understanding among people from all walks of life. — Mick Mortlock, former President of the board and member, Healthy Democracy.

Ned had such an impact on the field of deliberative democracy that its flagship journal asked me to write a memorial essay of him there. https://www.publicdeliberation.net/ned-crosby-1936-2022/
The closing lines are these: “If Ned Crosby’s life teaches nothing else, let it be this. However unlikely something may be, if it is possible, it can be achieved. May it ever be so for those things our world needs most.” — John Gastil, Penn State