Update on the CivicWorks Project on the Knight Foundation Blog

Here’s an informative update on our Civic Works project. Here’s a snip:

The Civic Works Project is a two-year effort to create apps and other tools to help increase the utility of local government data to benefit community organizations and the broader public. w

This project looks systemically at public and private information that can be used to engage residents, solve community problems and increase government accountability. We believe that there is a new frontier where information can be used to improve public services and community building efforts that benefit local residents.

Through the Civic Works Project, we’re seeking to improve access to information and identify solutions to problems facing diverse communities. Uncovering the value of data—and the stories behind it—can enhance the provision of public services through the smart application of technology.

Get Covered Illinois at OpenGov Hack Night

At the last Chicago OpenGov Hack NightCharles Watkins from Get Covered Illinois talked about the  Affordable Care Act and its implementation here in Illinois.

OpenGovHack Night - Get Covered

Get Covered Illinois is an effort by the State of Illinois to make sure that all residents in Illinois get health insurance. Here’s Charles Watkins explaining the effort.

The Affordable Healthcare Act brings about several benefits that weren’t available before including a restricting insurance companies from denying claims based on pre-existing conditions, allowing residents to remain on their parents insurance until age 26, and more coverage for preventative services. Watkins explains the benefits of the ACA below:

There are a number of websites that people can use to get information about the Affordable Healthcare Act and get pre-screened for benefits.  Those sites are:

  • GetCovered Illinois: Which helps to inform Illinois residents about the new healthcare law.
  • Abe.Illinois.Gov: Which enables residents to get prescreened for benefits.  This helps residents determine if they should apply for medicare, SNAP (food stamps), cash assistance, or medical assistance before trying to go to the healthcare.gov website.
  • Healthcare.gov: Which is where residents can search for healthcare coverage. In Illinois, the marketplace is run in partnership with the State of Illinois. There are currently eight insurance companies that are on the marketplace in Illinois.

Charles explains the details of each site below.

After presenting Charles also answered questions from the civic innovation community.

You can find out more about Illinois’ efforts to implement the ACA by going to GetCovered Illinois.


The Next Data Potluck is at the Chicago Community Trust

At the first DataPotluck of the year, consultant and writer Q Ethan McCallum will explain how to put Hadoop to work for you, and how to use Elastic MapReduce (EMR), the hosted Hadoop solution provided by Amazon Web Services. McCallum will teach how EMR can help you get Hadoop in a hurry and on the cheap, without the costly cluster commitment.

Data Potluck Panoramic

Panoramic shot of the March Data Potluck meetup

You can RSVP for the event on the Data Potluck Meetup page. 

Data Potluck is a meetup group run by Young-Jin Kim, Matt Gee, and Nicholas Mader that helps to connect the nonprofit and data science worlds. You can find more information about the group by checking out their page on Meetup.

This is the first time that Data Potluck will be held at the offices of the Chicago Community Trust, 225 North Michigan, where Smart Chicago is housed. I’m especially excited to  see what kind of food shows up. Let’s do this.

Excerpt, Beyond Transparency, Building a Smarter Chicago: Civic Activism

For the past few Tuesdays, we’ve excerpting sections from Beyond Transparency: Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation“, an anthology edited by Brett Goldstein with Lauren Dyson and published by Code for America.

I wrote a chapter titled, “Building a Smarter Chicago“, which I call “an illustrative, incomplete, and idiosyncratic look at the ecosystem in Chicago. It is meant to provide a thumbnail take on how the ecosystem developed here, while sparking fires elsewhere”. Here’s the third section, which covers our long history of civic activism:

Developers: Civic Activism

Every city has its own history and its own approach to the world, and I think that is expressed in its technological history as well. Chicago has been a center of civic activism and individual public creativity for decades.

It can be traced as far back as Jane Addams, who created the Hull House in 1889. It was the first “settlement house,” cooperative residences for middle-class “settlers” in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods that aimed to reduce inequality in urban areas (Wade, 2004). She was also a tireless scholar who studied the geographical distribution of typhoid fever and found that it was the working poor who suffered most from the illness.

Chicago is the place where the drive for common standards, like the eight-hour workday, was fought (Jentz, n.d.). It was a center for the battle against mortgage redlining (the practice of denying or raising prices for mortgages that has played a role in the decay of cities). Activists used data to understand the predicament and prove their case.

The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is a recent national example of success in putting civic data to use for the public good. Everyone loves CTA bus tracker apps, but few people know that the installation of the GPS satellite technology making that possible is the result of a lawsuit brought by a group associated with the Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (Chicago Transit Authority, n.d.). Their case, Access Living et al. v. Chicago Transit Authority, required “installation of audio-visual equipment on buses to announce bus stop information to riders who have visual impairments or are deaf or hard of hearing” (Equip for Equality, n.d.). When you hear the loudspeaker system announce the next street where the bus is stopping, you have de facto data activists to thank.

This is the place where saxophonists rise from the stage, blare out a ten-minute solo, and calmly fade back into the band. It’s the place where slam poetry was conceived—individual poets audaciously grabbing the mic for three minutes and getting judged by the crowd. It’s also where improv comedy—with its focus on ensemble and fast thinking—was invented.

These are threads for us in the civic innovation movement here in Chicago. I believe they’re embedded in the work. They form examples for us to follow—the quiet humility of the worker in the crowd, the developer among the people.

You can find recitations of particular apps using specific datasets anywhere. Just remember that every city has unique cultural and technological histories. This is the essence of an ecosystem, and it’s why they are local.

It’s one thing to recognize history and another to build a local movement from it. Here are some of the entities that have helped form and accelerate the work:

  • Illinois Data Exchange Affiliates was an early-incarnation open data group that led the way (Illinois Data Exchange Affiliates, 2007).
  • Independent Government Observers Task Force was a 2008 non-conference, where many of the leaders of the movement worked together (Independent Government Observers Task Force, 2008).
  • Open Government Chicago(-land) is a meetup group started by Joe Germuska (Open Government Chicago(-land), 2013).
  • Open Gov Hack Nights are weekly meetings that have been critical to accelerating the pace of development (Open Gov Hack Night, n.d.).
  • Digital.CityofChicago.org is a publication at the center of city policy and examples (“Release All the Data,” 2013).