By Samantha Michaels
There’s a problem in your community, and you want to fix it. What’s your first step? Do you head to City Hall or attend a public hearing? Do you schedule a meeting with a local politician? Or do you consider taking action, and then continue along with your day?
We know, we know: as citizens of a democracy, it’s our duty to communicate with elected officials. But public engagement, at least in its traditional forms, can be intimidating and time consuming, leaving many of us to wonder whether it’s even worth the effort.
Launched last November in Chicago, Give a Minute is an online application that aims to reinvent the process of public engagement for the 21st century. In collaboration with CEOs for Cities, Local Projects fashioned it like an online suggestion box. Ads go up on city billboards or bus shelters, encouraging people to think about ways to improve their community. For example, what would get you to walk, bike or take public transportation more often? The ads ask readers to respond via text, Twitter or on the project website, where ideas are published like Post-It notes. City leaders read the suggestions and send personal responses.
Give a Minute is an interesting idea, but it’s not novel. Earlier this year, The Huffington Post reported on a new trend called Gov 2.0. – a movement among city politicians to collect local feedback via Internet forums and social media. In New York, the deputy mayor of operations said he envisions a day when people receive Facebook notifications about civic proposals.
With all this talk about Gov 2.0, I’ve started thinking about what it means to get involved in our communities. It’s exciting to promote tech-based populism, but I wonder if we risk losing the power of traditional community activism, like the electric energy we saw in Madison’s mass protests about union rights. As intimidating or exhausting as traditional engagement might be, I wonder if traditional community activism can bring us together and excite us about politics in a way that text messaging can’t.
Maybe the real key is to combine the force of Gov 2.0 and traditional engagement, to encourage any and all forms of public participation. Ideally, tech-based communication can even help organize face-to-face discussions about community issues. In Chicago, Give a Minute collected posts for a public event about connectivity and mobility in December. Local Project’s online suggestion box is also expanding, with plans underway to launch Give a Minute in New York and San Jose. Will it head to your city next?
We want to know:
- Have you ever participated in a protest? How do you communicate with your elected officials?
- What do you think of Gov 2.0? Would you like to launch Give a Minute in your community?