OpenGov Chicago Meeting: The Knight News Challenge, Mayors Challenge, and WBEZ

If you missed Tuesday’s OpenGov Meeting, the recording is below. Later today, we’ll be putting together a more comprehensive recap of the meeting.

Here’s the meeting minutes.

And here’s my writeup:

On a snowy slushy night in Chicago, civic minded web developers, designers, journalists, and advocates gathered at the Chicago Community Trust to hear about the latest developments of the local civic innovation scene.

You can watch the entire presentation here.

The YouTube video description has been marked at different speakers for your convenience.

First up was Chicago’s Director of Analytics Tom Schenk Jr. who had a number of important announcements.

Chicago named a finalist in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayor’s Challenge

The Bloomberg Philanthropies Challenge is a contest where cities submit ideas to compete for a grand prize of $5 million dollars. Chicago’s application to to develop a real time predictive analysis platform.

To help Chicago win this challenge, go to and vote for Chicago.

Project Falcon
Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology is also working on Project Falcon. Project Falcon is an API that’s focused on time and place of events. Once this is online, data scientists will have a strong tool for spatial analysis.

Project Batman
Project Batman is the name for the city’s project using the University of Chicago’s 3D Cave2 system for data visualization.

What is CAVE2? This is CAVE2:

The city will be using this tool to explore data in a brand new way.

City now hiring data scientists
Tom also announced that the City of Chicago is hiring a new data scientist to help harness city data into ways that can improve the lives of citizens. (And get to work with CAVE2!)

Knight Lab: Miranda Mulligan and Joe Germuska
Next up, was Miranda Mulligan and Joe Germuska to talk about the Knight Lab at Northwestern University. (You can find their presentation slides here)

The Knight Lab helps to develop tools for journalists such as Timeline, Local Angle, and SoundCite. Joe gave us a primer on open government data and journalism, drawing on his experience at the Chicago Tribune News Apps team and at the Knight Lab.

WBEZ’s Matthew Green gave a short talk about their efforts to improve data journalism and the station featuring data stories. You can see some of their coverage in WBEZ’s new blog Day X Datum.

John Bracken: Knight News Challenge
The Knight News Challenge is a contest where innovative ideas to improve the citizen experience compete for a share of $5 million dollars in grant money.

Currently, the contest in the submission phase which ends March 18th. After the submission phase is the feedback phase. People will be able to applaud and comment on proposals. The Knight Foundation has tapped eight experts (Including our own Dan O’Neil) to give feedback on each proposal. After the feedback phase, authors will then be able to alter their proposals before the judging phase.

You can check out current submission by visiting the challenge website.

Poder Connects Work and Learning in Pilsen

Poder Learning Center, located in Pilsen, is an English learning center currently serving almost 150 students. The center opened in 1997 to meet the needs of Chicago’s growing adult immigrant population, providing first language adult basic education as well as ESL blended with computer training. Unlike at many language academies, computer skills are integrated into all Poder programming, allowing students to develop more comprehensive work skills.

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OpenGov Hack Night: VA Records, OpenStreetMap, and Chicago’s data on GitHub

Here’s a recap of OpenGov Hack Night

This week’s presentation: Gravitytank wins the White House Health Design Challenge

Gravitytank, a consultancy firm located here in Chicago, recently won the White House Health Design Challenge. The challenge was to help redesign health records from the Veterans Administration.

As part of the VA’s Blue Button program, people under VA care can download their records at any time. However, currently these records look something like this:

The records are not exactly easy to read. So, the White House issued a challenge for people to re-imagine these records in a way that makes it easier for patients to manage their health. Gravitytank took up the challenge and came up with this design.

The design places static information such as name and birthdate on the left hand side of the screen. On the right, the information is dynamic and updates with information when to take medications, doctor’s appointments and test results.

The design also makes records more understandable. When test results come in, a sliding scale displays next to that ranges between “Concerning to Doing Well” so that the patient doesn’t have to ask the obvious “Is that good or bad?” question.

You can check out Gravitytank’s full design by clicking here.

Project of the Week: OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap is an open source map that anyone can use and contribute to at no cost. In Chicago, transportation guru Steve Vance and the OpenStreetMap Chicago Meetup group are working to improve the map around Chicago. Currently, Chicago’s map lags behind other cities. This includes filling in the building footprints, adding information for bikers, and helping to fill in information on Chicago’s west side.

OpenStreetMap is different from maps like Google and Bing because it has no restrictions on how you can use the data. Google has started to charge the most active websites for the use of their maps, but this won’t be a problem for OpenStreetMap. The popular app Foursqaure already uses OpenStreetMap as part of their app.

The only problem with OpenStreetMap is that Chicago’s data portal always held the right to revoke their data. If this happened, OpenStreetMap would have to delete Chicago’s data from the map. OpenStreetMap actually stopped importing data because of this issue. Which brings us to this week’s Data Set Of the Week!

Data Sets of the Week: The City of Chicago releases datasets on GitHub under the MIT license

The City of Chicago’s Director of Analytics Tom Schenk Jr.  announced that the City is now publishing some of their data sets on the city’s GitHub account under the MIT license.

Currently the city’s data portal uses a license that says that the city can revoke access to the data at anytime. Most of the time, this only gets used when there’s a mistake in the data that needs to be corrected. Once the city corrects the data set, the city releases the data on the data portal again.

However, this license limits certain open data activities like OpenStreetMap. So, the city is now releasing datasets on GitHub under the MIT license. GitHub is a website that hosts repositories of code and data that are open to the public and free for anyone to download and copy. The MIT license would enable people to continue to use the data set even if the city revokes access on the main data portal.

Eventually, the city wants to be able to accept pull requests for it’s data. A pull request is a method used on the GitHub platform that allows users to make changes to a project. For example, the city has a data set of all the bike racks. If a business owner installs their own bike rack, the city may not be aware of it and wouldn’t know to put it in the dataset. A resident could update the data and then ask the city to “pull” the updated changes into the official data set.

Next Week:

Next Tuesday, there will be no Open Gov Hack Night. Instead, the next Chicago OpenGov Meeting will feature Knight Foundation News Innovation director John Bracken who will be discussing the challenge. Because of high interest in the event, Smart Chicago will be live streaming the talks on Google+ and will post the video to YouTube. The next OpenGov Hack Night will be March 3rd.

Last week at Chicago’s OpenGov Hack Night

People at their laptops working on different civic innovation projects

A full house at last week’s OpenGov Hack Night

This is a new weekly feature that will highlight what’s happening at the Chicago OpenGov Hack Night. The Chicago OpenGov Hack Nights are weekly events where technologists and community members come together to work with open data and build tools that improve the civic experience. The events, run by Derek Eder and Juan-Pablo Velez, are held at 6:00 pm each Tuesday at 1871. As a founding member of 1871, the Smart Chicago Collaborative is proud to be able to provide space for this each week. 

At today’s OpenGov Hack Night, we’re pleased to welcome Amy Guterman from GravityTank. Amy will be talking about their project to help resign how the Veterans Affairs administration displays health records. The design recently won the White House Health Design Challenge!  If you’d like to come check out the hack night, then you can RSVP here

Knight News Challenge: OpenGov Edition

Smart Chicago Collaborative Dan O’Neil spoke about the Knight News Challenge. The Knight Foundation News Challenge is a contest that will award $5 million dollars to different projects that help make public information more relevant and useful. Anyone can enter the challenge including governments, non-profits, and citizens.

The next Chicago OpenGov Meeting will feature Knight Foundation News Innovation director John Bracken who will be discussing the challenge. Because of high interest in the event, Smart Chicago will be live streaming the talks as well.

Project of the Week: Vagrant

The process of getting certain web development tools like PostGIS can take hours of painstaking frustrating work. Because every person’s machine is set up slightly differently, the installation of some tools is far more random than installing a normal application on your computer.

With Vagrant, you can download a virtual machine to your computer that is already pre-installed with the tools that you need. This virtual machine lives on your own computer and lets you start hacking immediately instead of spending hours installing the tool.

Here locally, Young-Jin Kim and Emily Rosengren are working on getting Vagrant to support PostGIS. Anyone interested in helping with the project is encouraged to check out the repository on GitHub or attend a Hack Night.

Dataset of the Week: Food Inspection Data

Tom Schenk talks about food inspection data

Tom Schenk talks about food inspection data

Tom Schenk, Chief of Analytics for the City of Chicago, is a regular attendee of the OpenGov Hack Night. Each week he’ll be featuring a different data set on Chicago’s data portal.

This week’s data set is all about food inspection data. The city has made the comments that food inspectors make about the restaurants they inspect parsable. This means that apps can now draw out the different comments automatically. This is also one of the steps necessary to get Chicago’s food inspection data in the LIVES standard. This standard will enable food inspection data to be imported into the popular review site Yelp.   Tom and other civic developers will be working to get Chicago’s data into the LIVES standard at next week’s hack night.

Anyone interested in civic innovation, open government, and civic web apps is encouraged to come to one of our hack nights. Each week, we conduct a Civic Hacking 101 class to help orient people into the world of civic innovation. People who are trying to solve problems in their community are particularly encouraged to come regardless of their technical skills.