Kick-Off Remarks at the Adler Planetarium on the National Day of Civic Hacking

Here’s some thoughts I shared with the youth at Adler Planetarium this morning:

Hi everybody.

It’s great to see you here at one of the premier places for science in Chicago, the Adler Planeterium.

This morning, you are joining thousands of colleagues— and they are your colleagues— in more than 100 cities in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The National Day of Civic Hacking joins technologists, entrepreneurs, developers and other people like you to improve our communities and the governments that serve them.

Let me ask you now— how many people consider themselves to be developers? How many want to be technologists or web developers when you grow up? How many just want to hang out on the Internet and do stuff? I’m with you.

This is the second annual event, and the Adler has played a unique and critical part from the get-go. They have deliberately included young people in this day.

I’m Dan O’Neil and I run the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology.

One of our core words— our founding principles that we endlessly abide by— is everybody.

It’s super-important because when you’re trying to make technology that serves people, and don’t include people, bad things happens. Things go off the rails.

It happens all the time.

So I’m really happy that the Adler has such great programs to include youth like you in technology and to teach you real skills. It is a missing link in the chain of everybody, and they’re doing a great job in filling it, and I’m proud to say that we work together with them at Smart Chicago to do that.

Every culture has their stories, their tropes, their narratives of self-identity. One of the great stories we tell ourselves here in the United States is that every young person can be anything they want when they grow up.

We sometimes have trouble delivering on that as a country. Class lines get hardened. Simple geographic markers in neighborhoods become impenetrable barriers to individual progress. Lack of meaningful opportunity leads to decades of piled-on trouble.

The Internet, and the technology industry, is one of the great pathways in the ideal that we hold dear. In the technology industry, you really can grow up to be anything you want.

And I want you to help me. Help the Adler Planetarium, and the Smart Chicago Collaborative, and the dozens of huge organizations that are a part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Help build our little part of this world— the civic innovation sector of the technology industry.

The part where we try to make new apps that make living together better, that allow us to make our government more accountable and effective, the part where the goal is to improve lives.

Thanks for showing up today. Get to work.


Live Stream of National Day of Civic Hacking at in the Chicago Loop (Presentations Day 1)

We’re super excited about all the National Day of Civic Hacking happening around the country. We’ll be live streaming our National Day of Civic Hacking in the Chicago

UPDATE: We’ll be live streaming the presentations for Day 1 below starting at 4:00pm CST

We have a plan #hackforchange


(Livestream of presentations start at 4:00pm)

(Recording of this morning’s presentations)

Connect Chicago Live: National Day of Civic Hacking

In our next meetup, we will be focused on Chicago’s vast civic innovation movement, the role of your centers play in that movement, and how we can embed civic tech into our programs (and even our own website!).

The National Day of Civic Hacking is on the weekend right after our meetup (Saturday and Sunday, May 31 and June 1). There are a ton of events– sign up and get involved!

We’ll be live streaming and live tweeting the event starting on Friday at 11:00am! Video stream below the fold..

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Dan O’Neil and Lola Chen on Big Data at PechaKucha Night with the Chicago Architecture Foundation

Tonight I co-presented at the Chicago: City of Big Data Pecha Kucha with my colleague and friend Lola Chen.

Here’s the presentation, along with complete text below.

I’m Dan O’Neil, and I run the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. I’m here with Lola Chen, a community advocate here in Chicago. We are going to talk about the role of humans in big data in an urban environment.2.
I think it has a great role to play in helping understand how to run a city. The understanding of facts is critical to a just society. And what makes sense for other segments of our culture and economy can make sense for government.

And much of my career has been devoted to data. I’ve made data-driven web products for the last decade. Smart Chicago Collaborative is a national leader in the creation of civic apps. We were the impetus behind bringing Open 311 to Chicago. I guess the point is, I know of what I speak.

In my work at Smart Chicago, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the value of humans. They make all data. Data is a subset of humanity, not the other way around. I’ve seen first-hand what happens when the fetish of data can make everything go wrong.

So I am dubious of any discipline that seeks to help people that doesn’t seem to really include people in meaningful ways. Remember how stoked Burgess Meredith was in the Twilight Zone when all the people were gone and he was left with his books?

Pretty much every time I see something in the world of “big data” or “predictive analytics”, there is never any mention of humans. As if the machines are autochthonous, indigenous, comes from nowhere and knows everything. Empty of humans.

But of course humans have made everything. And they are the most versatile and capable objects on earth. Burgess Meredith got pretty bummed when he immediately broke his glasses and couldn’t read any of his glorious books. His myriad word repositories were of no use. If only there was one other human left to read to him.

I’ve come to know Lola through the OpenGovChicago meetup and she’s helped me greatly in my work at Smart Chicago. She is an amazing Chicago resident. She values data and technology, and is one of the best humans I know.

Lola Chen is the master of the email. As I was preparing for this event, and I was pondering the value of humans in big data, she wrote me one of her missives. In it, she wrote, “Any alert person can ride the streets of Chicago and see the pattern of pothole problems. The ride might take 4 hours or so. The making notes might take 1 hour.” This is what I mean. This is the value of humans. So I yield the remainder of my Pecha Kucha to the great Lola Chen.

Hi there, my name is Lola Chen, a self-confessed extreme data hog. I moved to Lincoln Park in 1969, right around when the federal government declared the area the first urban renewal blight zone. I first bought properties in Bucktown in 1984. I moved to East Garfield Park in 1998. All throughout, I collect data.

Everywhere I go I ask the question “when might data be flawed”. I interviewed all sorts of residents and visitors from all over the world.  All have seen Chicago Potholes. Data can be incomplete, biased, omitted, inaccurate, misclassified, or falsified. I have seen all of these.

Here’s a practical example of the lack of data sharing. I had parked far from the curb due to a deep pothole. They gave me a ticket for being more than 13 inches from the curb. One piece of data that should relate to another. I GOT OUT OF THE TICKET.

Data can be falsified faster than you think. I monitored grass cutting in vacant lots owned by the City. The workers knew they had GPS installed on the tractors, and they went up and down the lot, showing through through data that the lot was cut. But they lifted the blade so that no grass was cut. The lot was marked as done. It was not.

Here we have a KINZIE INDUSTRIAL CORRIDOR series of long potholes going down the street that are DEEP. Chicago is currently promoting a return to manufacturing with hopes of creating new jobs. THAT IS WHY THESE POTHOLES ARE RELEVANT. There are patterns, visible, if you look.

This lovely Lincoln Park ALLEY Pothole has a mural as a backdrop. Stanley’s is a neighborhood fruit market institution opened by Greek immigrants in the 1960s who have succeeded in expanding almost every decade. DON’T REALLY THINK AN ALGORITHM COULD PREDICT POTHOLE/MURAL

This Humbolt Park CATCH BASIN Pothole seems to be accessorized with roadwork paraphernalia.  Today the paraphernalia runs for almost 1 block it has been there so long. The paraphernalia becomes permanent. COULD AN ALGORITHM SPEED UP ROAD REPAIR?

This sewer pothole was misclassified as fixed. It was not, however, fixed. This is shoddy workmanship that leads to multiple visits to the same issue, leading to more work for contractors and more dollars out of our pockets. The data saw “fixed”, but it was nothing of the sort.

Here you can see the impetus of my note to Dan. Any alert person can see the issue with the seam in the asphalt. I’ve seen it all over, and reported it to a number of commissioners. The Inspector General is now looking into this.

The City collects and stores enormous amounts of data, but the data is flawed, and there’s not enough. We need drones, satellites, patrol cars, garbage trucks, all collecting data and making 311 requests. There are no mechanisms to address these flaws. We need more people— smart City workers who know the data— cleaning this up. Let’s do it.

So thank you to all the people who helped me put this together. If anybody in the world knows how to fox potholes, please send us some ideas!