Volunteer at Smart Chicago: Be a CUTGroup Test Proctor

Chicago Health Atlas Homepage, June 2013 LaunchWe need volunteers to help us with our next few CUTGroup tests. Here’s the commitment:

  • Help us out for 2 hours, 6-8pm, sometime during the week at a public computer center somewhere in Chicago
  • You will be working with CUTGroup testers to review a website about restaurant inspections
  • You’ll be completing some simple forms to gather the tester input and overall results of the UX test

We need testers from all over the city in both English and Spanish.

There is no compensation for being a CUTGroup Test Proctor, but it’s a great opportunity for developers, designers, and UX specialists to get in front of real Chicago residents using honest-to-goodness civic technology.

Interested? Complete this simple form and we’ll take a look. 

CUTGroup #1: FreedomPop Router


EveryoneOn is program of Connect2Compete that offers low-cost 4G internet connection in select Chicago zip codes. Smart Chicago Collaboration tested the signup, unboxing, and service prior to the EveryoneOn launch event in Chicago, of the Freedom Pop service offerings. Since expanding access to the internet is one of the core missions of Smart Chicago, we decided to come up with a process to use the CUTGroup to test the hardware, customer workflow, and coverage for this product.

Through this project, we were able to more deeply understand the market for at-home Internet access, to provide actual access devices for residents who need it, and  get real data on how well the Clear network (the underlying service for FreedomPop) serves Chicago. 


FreedomPop Devices, Chicago

The test was centered around the FreedomPop Hub Burst — a combination 4G modem and wireless router that for both office and home settings. It connects up to 10 wi-fi-enabled devices to the internet with a secure connection. Speeds of up to 8Mpbs download. Signal reaches up to between 100-150 feet, depending on interference. Devices were paid for by EveryoneOn.


At the end of March and beginning of April 2013, two emails were sent to CUTGroup members in the zip codes where the lowest cost EveryoneOn option is available : 60602, 60604, 60608, 60609, 60612, 60615, 60616, 60651, 60619, 60621, 60623, 60624, 60626, 60636, 60637, 60640, 60644, 60649, 60653, and 60660.


We use Mailchimp to manage outbound communication with testers. Here’s the first email: (“Participate in a 4G Internet Access Test and Get a Free Router“) and the second one.  We had a total of 94 CUTGroup members in these zip codes residing in these zip codes. Eight qualified CUTGroup members responded to our query and were a part of the test.  We then added participants gathered from other relevant sources, including partners in City government and members of our Connect Chicago Meetup group. We tested a total of 19 devices with 19 different people. Here’s a look at the distribution area for testing of the devices:

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 1.35.02 PM

All of the devices were free to the user, with the knowledge that each participant would be subject to the normal terms of being a FreedomPop customer. 13 testers then completed this form (“4G Internet Access Test Survey“) and we compiled the results. Six testers gave feedback in a less formal way (email, phone, or in-person conversation).


Receiving the device was unboxing it was a breeze.

All participants received the device, packaged and delivered as promised. No one reported difficulty in opening the device.
Setting up the device was easy.

The majority of participants reported little difficulty setting up the device. The majority of participants reported difficulty when trying to set up the actual service itself. The test was intended and advertised as a free trial, but individuals were incorrectly prompted for credit card information. When entering information, data fields did not populate correctly. Changing browsers did not fix the above issues.

As one tester from Uptown noted,

“Setting up the device was very easy. Setting up an account was difficult.”

Connecting the router to the Internet was easy.

For the majority of users, the connection to the internet was immediate.

Internet speeds were comparable to other Internet connection products.

Every participant able to connect reported equal quality of service to other devices used in the past.


All participants used a laptop as a primary device and most used a smartphone as a secondary device.

All participants used a laptop as their primary source to connect to the internet (example models: Macbook Pro and Macbook Pro Air, Toshiba Satellite C655, IBM T410, and Dell Inspiron).

The majority of participants report using their smart phones and tablet (models include: HTC Inspire, iPhone 4s, and the iPhone 5)As a back-up method of connecting to the internet.


All testers had a positive experience with the CUTGroup itself

100% of participants had complimentary feedback on the CUTGroup program and process in general. All either would participate or consider participating in the future.


This was our first CUTGroup test and our first time presenting the results in public. We’re devoted to sharing our process, methods, and results with the civic innovation community so that we can all learn how to make better tools and create better experiences on the Web.


Chicago Developers: US Department of Labor Launches Smartphone App Contest Around Fair Labor

My colleague Matt Bruce pointed me to this new app contest: US Department of Labor launches smartphone app contest. Here’s a snip:

The DOL Fair Labor Data Challenge, which can be accessed at http://fairlabor.challenge.gov, calls for creating a smartphone app that integrates the department’s publicly available enforcement data with consumer ratings websites, geo-positioning Web tools, and other relevant data sets, such as those available from state health boards.  The winning app is expected to be creative, innovative, easy to use, and will incorporate data from http://ogesdw.dol.gov/index.

“The app we would like to see developed would work with existing social media and would allow consumers to see if an establishment that they want to frequent has been in compliance with federal labor laws,” said Laura Fortman, principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. “The app could also prove a useful tool for job seekers and for companies that are deciding which firms they may want to do business with.  It could also help individuals get in touch with the Labor Department if they have any questions.  As we mark 75 years of the job protections afforded by the FLSA, we are looking forward to using new technologies to encourage compliance with the law in the 21st century.”

DOL Fair Labor Data Challenge

Matt runs the just-launched Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance (CWFA) that is housed here at the Chicago Community Trust, just like Smart Chicago. One of the issues he’s working on is the deterioration of labor standards in low-wage work.

roc-national-diners-guideA national group called Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCUnited) has the ROC National Diners Guide, which is an app that shows national data around labor practices around national food chains. It would be great if we could see all local restaurants, allow patrons and employees to report issues, and include local labor data in an app that takes this concept further. There is great leadership here at Restaurant Opportunities Center of Chicago (ROC-Chicago) as well.

I’d be happy to look into the types of data available at state, county, and city sources that could be used in such a system  I think this would be a great use of civic technology energy and I hope to find some co-collaborators on this, If you have any ideas or are working on similar issues, hit me up at doneil@cct.org.

Christopher Whitaker is a White House Champion of Change for Civic Hacking

Christopher Whitaker, a researcher, writer, and organizer for the Smart Chicago Collaborative, is being named a Champion of Change for Civic Hacking this morning at the White House.

Christopher Whitaker at the US Ignite Application Summit
The White House Champions of Change program was created as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future Initiative. Through this program, the White House highlights individuals, businesses, and organizations whose extraordinary stories and accomplishments positively impact our communities.

Here’s the note on Christopher from a White House press release:

Christopher Whitaker, Project Management Consultant at the Smart Chicago Collaborative
Chicago, IL

Christopher Whitaker is a project management consultant at the Smart Chicago Collaborative, utilizing his experience in government and community organizing to advance civic innovation in Chicago. Whitaker also serves as the Chicago Brigade Captain for Code for America, supporting civic hacking events and teaching a weekly Civic Hacking 101 class. He is a graduate of DePaul University (MPA) and Sam Houston State University (BA, Political Science). Previously, Whitaker served with the US Army in Iraq as a mechanized infantryman.

The entire program, which focuses on both Open Government and Civic Hacking, is being streamed live this morning starting at 9AM Central time.

Today marks the third time that a Smart Chicago person has been named a Champion of Change. Prior to today, the most recent was Advisory Committee member John Tolva, recognized for local innovation.

We’re super-proud of Christopher and really grateful for the work he’s done here in Chicago, both on his own and as a member of the Smart Chicago team. His signal accomplishment in this domain revolves around his work around the National Day of Civic Hacking. He lead our efforts to help pull of three huge events. Chicago was the most active city with 412 people taking part in events at Cibola1871, and the Adler Planetarium.

Forest Gregg and Derek Eder of DataMade, two of the leading lights in civic hacking anywhere, have also been invited to participate in today’s event at the White House. Their Councilmatic Chicago is without a doubt the best piece piece of finished work that was launched on the NDoCH. Arfon Smith, Director of Citizen Science for the Adler Planetarium, was also invited as a citizen hacking star. Chicago is lucky to have them represent us in the nation’s capitol.

Head on over to Twitter and congratulate Christopher for this great recognition!

#CivicSummer is in Full Swing: Recap of our Friday Session Held at 1871

PageLines- civic-summer-logo.pngCivic Innovation Summer— the experimental summer jobs program for teens focused on civics, media, and technology— has been rolling all through July.  This program, funded by Smart Chicago based on a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is largely run by the Mikva Challenge, which develops the next generation of civic leaders, activists, and policy-makers and Free Spirit Media, which provides education, access, and opportunity in media production.

But on Fridays, we pull together all of the youth into one room and teach them about technology and the concept of open. We had our first such session last Friday at 1871. Smart Chicago is a founding member of the digital startup center located in the Merchandise Mart, and days like Friday are exactly we why decided to be one of its first tenants.

Here’s the complete set of photos from our day, and a quick look at some illustrative ones:

The raw space inside one of the largest commercial buildings in the world provides a great palette for teaching youth.

Before the flood: #CivicSummer at 1871

Jacqui Cheng put this entire program together, including arranging for a tour of the space and lining up all of the speakers:

Jacqui Cheng Speaking at #CivicSummer at 1871

It was quite an experience to run 150 youth through a space where hundreds of people are running businesses. We appreciate everyone’s patience!

Tour of 1871 at #CivicSummer

That’s a lotta people.

Youth at #CivicSummer @ 1871

Mari Huertas of Mozilla talked about her path to a career in technology

Mari Huertas Talks About Her Career in Technology at #CivicSummer at 1871

Rayid Ghani showed a video about self-driving cars. Teaching computers how to do things is hard.

Rayid Ghani Talks About How to Teach Computers at #CivicSummer at 1871

Jason Kunesh talked about the importance of designing technology to meet the needs of humans.

Jason Kunesh Talks About Designing for Humans Youth at #CivicSummer @ 1871

Is there anything more important than lunch?

Marlene Ho Works the Lunch SituationYouth at #CivicSummer @ 1871

Gene Leynes spoke of his business, Yolobe

Gene Leynes Speaks About Yolobe at #CivicSummer at 1871

We went ahead and got limbered up over lunch

Lunch Activity! Youth at #CivicSummer @ 1871

Jeff McCarter of Free Spirit Media got everyone fired up about what we’re doing.

Jeff McCarter Fires Everyone Up About #CivicSummer

Dirk McCoy talked about Spendbot and his path to starting the company.

Jimmy Odom of WeDeliver talked about starting a business.

Jimmy Odom from WeDeliver Talks About His Business #CivicSummer at 1871

I talked about the importance of real Twitter accounts and having an authentic voice all day, every day.

DXO @ #CivicSummer at 1871

Lastly, here’s the curriculum we used to guide our day:

Next up: our Friday session this week will be at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy and will have lots of special guests!

The Launch of Smart Chicago Annotations

City of Chicago – RFP for Municipal Code Printing, Sales, Web Hosting, and Editing Supplementation Service

Today we’re launching our Annotations program, where we publish rich text-based annotations of dense government documents like municipal code, RFPs, contracts, and other documents of this nature.

People in the open government / open data world like to poke fun at documents. Often published in PDF format, and containing stilted language and legal provisions, these files are easy targets for those of us who are unfamiliar with what they say and what they can lead to.

But these documents are important. In many cases, they are lifeblood of cashflows in and out of government. They are the sum total of the rules— the code, so to speak— that we use to run things. They are the objects with the signatures & the stamps, the legal descriptions and the scopes of work. They matter; enormously. And we have to understand them.

At Smart Chicago, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to create sustainable infrastructure for civic innovation. Programs like the CUTGroup (resident-centered design that engages hundreds of Chicagoans), Hosted Web Space (free server space and configuration for people working in open data), and our Github account (open source code from myriad web projects that put real money into the hands of civic developers) are deliberately designed to build this infrastructure.

This annotation project is a step toward addressing another infrastructure issue— funding. We believe that government spending on technology could be used to fund civic innovation while reducing overall spending. Small civic developers— the ones we hire to do our projects— should be bidding on any enterprise software system that comes down the pike. Introducing open technologies, agile methods, and new mindsets to government contracting will lead to more efficient spending and economic expansion.

What we’re trying to do is build the civic innovation sector of the technology industry.

We use News Genius as the platform for our Annotations program. It has a number of features that make it great for our purposes:

  • Rich annotations (links, images, video embeds, etc.) that allow for deeper understanding of specific words and phrases
  • Direct, sharable hyperlinks to specific annotations to stimulate discussion
  • Open platform that allows anyone to improve the annotations
  • There’s a large and growing community of people on the platform, annotating all sorts of text

Join us!

Here are the items we’re annotating upon launch:

News Genius is a project of Rap Genius, which focuses on annotating the lyrics of rap songs. As you can imagine, the content on that side of the site can get somewhat off-color. If you stay focused on the above-reffed items, you should be able to steer clear of any of that. As we like to say here at Smart Chicago, “open means open”. 

One side effect of this project is that we’ve started the first “Artist” page for our favorite municipal government:  http://rapgenius.com/artists/City-of-chicago as well as the Department of Law (http://rapgenius.com/artists/Department-of-law) and Department of Procurement Services (http://rapgenius.com/artists/Department-of-procurement-services). Those are some great URLs.

Much, much more to come.