Informal User Testing of the Early Childhood Portal

Over the last few months I’ve presented the Early Childhood portal to community groups and parent groups focused on Early Childhood. It was always a great experience, and it has really informed how we run the CUTGroup. Tonight in Englewood we’re doing our first user test, so I thought I’d post about these early, formative sessions.

Here’s a look at some of the sessions:

I presented to 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts’ regular meeting Block Club leaders on Saturday, Decemeber 2, 2012 (8:30 AM!).  People loved the text feature. Out of the 30 people in the room, I had 15 who tested the system at the same time. I learned that people would rather get more information and less results rather than lots of results with limited info.

Presenting the Early Childhood Portal as 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts Looks On

I made a series of presentations at Zenos Colman Elementary School at 4655 S. Dearborn.

Zenos Colman Elementary School

Members of the CPS Head Start Policy Committee gave me great feedback about Spanish language translations, which we then added to the site. I was there for three separate presentations in February 2013.

CPS Head Start Policy Committee Meeting


We also conducted some formal testing of the site. This provided great feedback and real-world experiences, including having your child afoot as you’re searching education options!

User Testing of ChicagoEarlyLearning

State of Illinois Eliminate the Digital Divide Grants

Here is a handy spreadsheet of all Eliminate the Digital Divide grants going back to the inception of the program, showing all grants, grants by year (2007 – 2012), all Chicago grants, and all Chicago grants by year. All of this data is  pulled from You can also knock around with the data in this custom view on the State’s data portal.

Here’s a breakdown:


Year | # of grants | Avg. amount of grants

2007 | 16 | $756,156 $47,260

2008 | 103 | $5,060,661 $49,133

2009 | 91 | $5,079,129 $55,815

2010 | 101  | $4,944,877 $48,959

2011 | 124 | $5,065,137 $40,848

2012 | 88 | $4,102,117 $46,615

TOTALS” 523 grants for a total of $25,008,077 with an average grant of $48,105.


Year | # of grants | Avg. amount of grants

2007 | 11 | $460,505 $41,864

2008 | 60 | $3,327,602 $55,460

2009 | 59 | $3,303,522 $55,992

2010 | 60 | $2,519,574 $41,993

2011 | 66 | $2,728,243 $41,337

2012 | 50 | $2,228,595 $44,572

TOTALS:  306 grants for a total of $14,568,041 with an average grant of $46,870.


Register Now for the MobileCitizen Giveaway!

Connect Chicago and the Smart Chicago Collaborative are excited to announce a new partnership with MobileCitizen, an innovative organization that provides low-cost internet service to schools and nonprofits around the country.

Organizations and schools can take advantage of MobileCitizen’s super fast mobile internet for only $120/year per account, plus the cost of the equipment that works best for them: a mobile hotspot, USB modem or desk modem. Organizations can empower staff out in the field, help students do homework during long commutes or extend low-cost 4G access to clients at home.

Though available at a low price to all nonprofits, Connect Chicago partner locations have the chance to win a year of free MobileCitizen service. The Smart Chicago Collaborative and MobileCitizen are giving away a mobile hotspot device and year of high-speed internet service to three public computing centers that are part of the Connect Chicago network.

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National Civic Day of Hacking at 1871

Chicago will be hosting three different events during National Day of Civic Hacking.

Here are a couple of the projects that will be going on during the Hack for Chicago event.

Civic Needs App: (9:30 IMSA Room)

Safer Communities Hackathon at Google Chicago

One of the challenges of civic innovation is matching the resources provided by open government data, and talent of the civic hacking community with the needs of the community. This app is led by a team of Ryan Briones, Scott Robin, and Chris Gansen. The idea behind this app is to help provide an easy interface for community members to recruit web developers for civic projects.


A branch of the civic needs app will be focused on creating a database of all civic app projects in Chicago using a new template. This will enable people to search for civic projects already in existence in order to either find a solution to a problem or to help improve an existing app.

App Design Workshop with Knight Lab: (9:30am Auditorium)

.@jmm teaching app design at Chicago #OpenGov Hack Night

Miranda Mulligan will be giving an app design workshop at 9:30. This design process doesn’t start with the latest data set, but instead focuses on user needs.

Everyone partners up for the workshop and takes turns interviewing their partners about a particular problem they face. The workshop encourages participants to dig deeper by determining the user’s needs, insights on how they feel about the issue, and then designing an app that fits those needs.

Chicago-Area Red Cross Tech Recruitment: (11:30 Auditorium)

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered by Dell

Red Cross Digital Operations Center, Dell/Creative Commons

Jim McGowan from the Chicago Area Red Cross will be at the event to recruit tech volunteers for the Red Cross. Jim is the manager of the Red Cross Operations Analysis and Disaster Dispatch for the region.

He’ll also be on hand to talk about the Urban Disaster Planning hackathon with Geeks without Bounds occurring June 21st – June 23rd.

Edit-a-thon with OpenStreetMap

12 bike and ped crashes at the highway

Steven Vance/Creative Commons

Ian Dees will be leading an Edit-a-thon for Chicago’s OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is an open source map that anyone can edit. Users can add data to the map including information about their favorite restaurants, cultural venues, and more. We’ll be adding more data to the map as part of the OpenStreetMap Meetup Group. You can register for the event at the Chicago OpenStreetMap Meetup Page here.


Chicago Councilmatic Launch: (12:00pm Auditorium)

OpenCity Apps will be launching the Chicago Councilmatic for National Day of Civic Hacking. Councilmatic was originally a Code for America project built for the City of Philadelphia that makes it easy to track city legislation.


Whatever you want:

Hacking on Edifice

Steven Vance, Creative Commons

The Hack for Chicago event as 1871 is not limited to any specific project and so people are more than welcome to come in and work on any civic app they like. Civic problems are tough and there is plenty of work to be done on a variety of issues.

To register for the Hack for Chicago event, simply RSVP on the OpenGov Chicago Meetup page and tell us what you’re interested in working on.

Breakfast will be provided by Azavea at 8:45am. Lunch will be provided by the Smart Chicago Collaborative and will be served at 11:30am.

This Thursday at 6 PM: LiveStream of OpenGovChicago Meetup

This Thursday, we’ll be live streaming the next OpenGov Chicago meetup (“Methods for Resident Engagement in the Civic Innovation Process“) right here via Google Go-Live Hangout. The video will begin at 6:00pm on Thursday May 23rd and be posted here prior to the event.

Over the last year or so, there’s been a growing consensus and practice in the Chicago OpenGov community that inclusion of residents is an important (and often missing) element of successful civic innovation.

Join us for a night of discussion of three methods for engaging with residents in the design / build process.

George Aye of Greater Good Studio will discuss their unique asset-based approach to design for solving social issues and talk about some current projects, with a focus on inclusive methods for public engagement.

Patrick C. Cunningham will discuss work with Design Cloud Chicagofocused on collaborative approaches to development and use adoption. As a hybrid design firm + art gallery + business incubator + community hub, he will also cover the overall D:CL business and creative structure. Additional inclusive design projects such as AirLaband an Archeworks Research Fellowship will be presented as well.

Daniel X. O’Neil will review work to date on the Civic User Testing Group, a set of regular Chicago residents who get paid to test out civic apps. He’ll review the process of setting up the CUTGroup platform, the methods used to engage with residents, and talk about how Smart Chicago has signed up nearly 400 people from all over the city to test out the work we all make.

The teams school us on how to build a civic app (even after launch)

Since first launched two months ago, the team has been working around the clock to add new features and information to the site.

One of the weakness of the civic hacking movement is a tendency to launch a new civic app based on some newly released data set and then never touch the app or the issue again.

It is a rare instance when a civic problem can be solved by one simple app release – particularly when the civic problem is something large and complicated like crime, sustainability, or education.

So while the schoolcuts team launched their app two months ago, they have continued to add more information and features to the site as questions continued around the issue of school closings in Chicago. (Most recently, they’ve translated the site into Spanish.)

The team presented how they went about building the app in three separate acts.

Act One: The Problem

The team started with the problem. (Not the data set) In this case, the team was hearing from Chicago Public School parents who wanted more information about the impending school closing. CPS had released data about each school on the closing list, but the information was scattered across different websites and PDF documents.

The problem was compounded when Chicago Public School announced the list. Not only were certain schools closing, but some schools were having their locations changed. For parents, this meant that even if their school wasn’t closing – their routes to school would still change.

Additionally, the school attendance boundaries were not matching what Chicago Public Schools had designated to be the receiving schools. In effect, your oldest child may be going to a different elementary school that your youngest when they reach school age.

Further, the criteria used to closed schools used an additional value added system that further confused parents and community members.

Act Two: Opportunity

The team saw an oppurtunity to use build a site that clearly displayed the data around the school closing issue in a way that was easy for parents to understand.

Because team members already had connections to concerned parent groups, the team was able to understand the needs of the community and build the site around their needs.

Act Three: Solutions and Challenges

To help parents, they decides to try and ensure that the user experience was very localized to their school.

The site not only displays the data around school closings, but also does a good job of explaining what the terms mean.

Since their launch, the team has continued to add features such as a simple way to compare closing schools with receiving schools and has translated the site into Spanish.


The schoolcuts team shows the right way to approach civic apps. They address a community concern using open data and educate the public about the issue.

The schoolcuts team will continue to work on this project even after the final school closing list is announced by creating a website that displays data for all schools called schoolcircle.

The site was also just nominated for a Moxie Award for best civic app.