Give a Minute is no less than an ambitious attempt to reinvent public participation in America. Starting in Chicago over the past few weeks and then moving on to San Jose, Memphis, New York and other cities next year, the project asks the public a simple and direct question about city services and public life, through ads in the paper and the public spaces of the city. It then invites everyone to respond with their ideas by text, tweet or direct post on

While Give a Minute certainly shares its approach with a variety of crowdsourcing platforms out there these days, it differs in that there are no contests, games or voting systems for the most popular idea. It’s more about building momentum and a movement around urban change than it is about mining the wisdom of the crowds for the next great urban innovation.  

And building a movement is exactly what Carol Coletta, president of urban advocacy non-profit CEOs for Cities, and Jake Barton, principle of the media design firm Local Projects, set out to do when they came up with this idea. This week in Chicago, CEOs for Cities is convening what it calls a “Challenge Event” where it will be discussing its ambition for everyone in the city to get where he or she needs to go without owning a car. To that end, for the past few weeks Chicagoans have been asked, through ads in subways, buses and newspapers, “What would encourage you to walk, bike and take CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) more often?”  

The Give a Minute interface. The Give a Minute interface. Click image to launch is Give a Minute? 

Jake Barton: Give a Minute is a new way to create public participation and conversation at a citywide scale. It allows for the asking of a question (or questions) to an entire city simultaneously. Instead of looking at the way cities work as a sort of zero-sum game of limited and finite resources, Give a Minute seeks to identify and then deploy questions around shared priorities; questions that tap into the interests of the general population as well as those of different city leaders and organizations that might be able to put changes into practice. 

Carol Coletta: Nobody thinks that public engagement works very well in America. You can certainly see from trends in voting and other indicators that we have opted out from public life in many ways. Public life in a democracy shouldn’t be so painful and depressing that you would rather watch Dancing with the Stars than make your voice heard. And a lot of elected officials would rather slit their wrists than attend a community meeting.

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So we started to ask ourselves, can we do it differently? Can we imagine community engagement in which people are not just checking a box, but really engaging? When I became familiar with the work of Local Projects, I approached Jake and said, “Hey, I have a project for you. How would like to help reinvent public life in America?” And he said, “Okay.”