A Winning Knight Cities Challenge Idea From Charlotte Is Remarkably Simple

Charlotte, North Carolina

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The Take Ten public engagement initiative is one of the 32 projects that made the cut. Check out the full list of winners.

These days, a lot of public engagement innovation at the local government level involves leveraging new tech applications, social media tactics and targeted marketing campaigns.

But effective government engagement with members of the public doesn’t necessarily need to be overly complex or use special technology.

It could be as simple as taking 10 minutes to chat with a resident and ask them about what they think could make their community better.

That’s the basic concept behind the Take Ten Initiative, a public engagement idea submitted by Alyssa Dodd, a public information specialist with the city government of Charlotte, North Carolina, for the first-ever Knight Cities Challenge.

It is one of 32 winning entries announced Tuesday that will share $5 million in funding.

The challenge, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, asked for ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests in more vibrant places to live and work. Submitted ideas needed to also focus “on one or more of three drivers of city success: talent, opportunity or engagement.”

In an interview, Dodd said that Charlotte’s city manager, Ron Carlee, had encouraged city employees to submit entries for the Knight Cities Challenge. And the city government would work to implement any winning idea submitted by Charlotte city employees.

“It was just an idea that popped into my head,” she said, noting that she submitted it on the last day of the competition.

There were more than 7,000 entries submitted. (See the complete list of winning Knight Cities Challenge proposals.)

“It’s a simple idea but it’s really powerful,” Dodd said of Take Ten. “We’ll be having those conversations and making those connections.”

Taking 10 minutes to talk to someone is seemingly a simple idea. But naturally, it’s not that simple.

For Dodd, there’s a lot of leg work to be done in the coming months, including recruiting 150 Charlotte municipal employees to do a 10-minute one-on-one interview once a week over the course of nine months. In the end, that should result in roughly 5,500 conversations.

Before those happen, it will take a few months to figure out what type of information to capture and the framework for data collection and analysis. And that’s where the $74,000 in challenge funding will come in handy.

Dodd sent us key excerpts from her proposal:


The Take Ten Initiative (Take Ten) pilot project will empower 150 city employees to take 10 minutes per week to meet and engage one new person in our community in conversation about how we can make our city better. Over nine months, those participating in the initiative will collectively engage in over 5,500 one-on-one conversations. (Note: “New” doesn’t mean a new resident; it means someone a city employee hasn’t interacted with before…a new connection!).

Our place – our Charlotte – is the one thing all Take Ten participants have in common and that is our powerful catalyst for engagement. Take Ten is a place-based project built upon the fundamental idea that our community is a learning resource. It’s a simple idea with immense potential.


(1) I hope city employees will personally grow, feel a stronger connection to people who live, work and play in Charlotte, gain new perspectives, gather fresh ideas, and feel invigorated by their experiences.  (2) I hope the 5,500 constituents who participate will believe the city truly values their ideas and experience and will ultimately feel a stronger connection to the city and its employees, and feel invigorated by their involvement.

What will we learn?

(1) we hope to learn whether this informal and conversational approach is an effective tool to engage our diverse constituents. Take Ten will test the assumption that engaging constituents in one-on-one interaction is too time consuming and expensive while assessing whether the resources expended are worth the benefits associated with collective learning;

(2) we believe we will be able to create a framework that effectively supports collective learning and captures the ideas shared during more than 5,000 conversations;

(3) we hope to identify resources typically available within city governments to support Take Ten projects while highlighting barriers to success;

(4) finally, we trust that we will be able to identify what city employees and our constituents gained from participating in Take Ten so that other communities/cities can learn from our experiences.

Where will the $74,000 go?

About 1/3 of the resources will be used to partner with an entity (possibly a University, but not determined yet) to develop the framework for qualitative data collection, analysis and project evaluation.