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 (financial records, performance measures, and open records,... etc.) 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.
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.
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 Kong's 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.
|1925, Los Angeles, California||Committee on Constitutional Rights||Los Angeles Bar Association created a Committee on Constitutional Rights to receive complaints about police misconduct.|
|1931, Nationwide||National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement||U.S. President Herbert Hoover established the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, better known as the Wickersham Commission report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement recommended creating “some disinterested agency” in each city to help people who had complaints about the police.|
|1935, New York City, New York||Harlem citizens task force||New York City, a mayor’s task force recommended a committee of from five to seven Harlem citizens of both races to whom people may make complaint if mistreated by the police.|
|1948, Washington, D.C.||Complaint Review Board (CRB)||The first official civilian review board the historically significant innovation, the Complaint Review Board (CRB) was extremely weak and ineffectual.|
|1958, Philadelphia||Police Advisory Board (PAB)||The Police Advisory Board (PAB) consisted of a board of citizens who would receive citizen complaints, refer them to the police department for investigation, and then make a recommendation to the police commissioner for action after reviewing the police investigative file.|
|1960, Nationwide||various organizations||the movement for citizen oversight expanded significantly civil rights movement challenged police misconduct nationwide.|
|1966, New York City||expanded Civilian Complaint Review Board(CCRB)||Mayor John Lindsay expanded the existing Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB); created in 1953 as a purely internal procedure)to include four non-police members, giving it a 4–3 civilian majority.|
|1970s, Kansas City, Missouri||Office of Citizen Complaints||Monitored and responded to Citizen Complaints about government misconduct.|
|1973, Berkeley, California||Police Review Commission (PRC)||The first oversight agency with independent authority to investigate complaints and Detroit voters created the Board of Police Commissioners (BPC) to govern the police department, and the board established a complaint review process staffed by non-sworn investigators.|
|1995, Nationwide||National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement||National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) was established.|