Join the Mass Pacer Postcard Campaign

On this Friday, May 1, 2015— Law Day— the Smart Chicago Collaborative is joining with colleagues across the country to participate in “An Appeal For Postcards”.

We’re asking law students, lawyers, and anyone who cares about the law to write a brief note about why they think that access to PACER is important. Come to John Marshall Law School, 315 S. Plymouth Court to complete a postcard and get your voice heard.

Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows people to obtain case and docket information online from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, and the PACER Case Locator.

There are a multitude of issues with PACER, many of which are detailed here at Yo.YourHonor.Org. PACER is a complex, cost-filled, and technically primitive system that unnecessarily impedes the free flow of information about our courts and our law. “This is about access to justice, about innovation in our legal system, this is about basic principles of due process and equal protection in our democratic system.”

Here’s our plan for Chicago:

This program is a part of our Justice program here at Smart Chicago. The beginning of May has had a long and proud history in Chicago, serving as a day of action and reflection about the role of the masses in society. We’re proud to be a part of this national effort. Please join us!

Law School, Night

Law School, Night

New Cook County Data: Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Boundaries

Cook County TIF Boundaries Open Data

Cook County TIF Boundaries Open Dataset

On April 8th Cook County GIS and the Cook County Clerk’s Office added Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Boundaries to the Open Data Portal. The description states:

TIF District boundaries. TIF districts receive money from property taxes by utilizing increases in the value of properties located in the TIF. There is no tax rate for TIF districts. Instead, TIFs receive money based on tax rates generated by other districts’ tax levies. Money is allocated to the TIF based on the composite tax rate for properties in the TIF and the incremental value of properties in that TIF (when compared to values when the TIF was established.)

This release is a result of ongoing collaboration between Cook County GIS and the Cook County Clerk’s office as well as a dataset suggestion from the public. A Dataset Suggestion submitted on March 29th through the Socrata Data Portal Suggest a Dataset tool asked for “TIF shapes.” After consulting with the Clerk’s office the GIS Department added the TIF boundary data to the portal. TIF boundaries have been available for TIFs controlled by the City of Chicago for some time. Now, the data is available county-wide.

Dataset suggestions can be submitted through the nominate form at: or by emailing As part of my work on the Cook County Open Data project, I monitor the submissions to these places and help keep track of all requests.

Still time to register for UCP’s Innovation Lab Designathon!

Trans_LogoThere’s still time left to register for United Cerebral Palsy’s Innovation Lab.

Smart Chicago will be co-hosting an event where we hope to bring together designers, makers, manufacturers and assistive product aficionados among others at Innovation Lab for a competitive, collaborative and undeniably unique experience!
Hear from leading makers and hackers and people with and without disabilities about the principles of Universal Design actually prototype new products that are more accessible, attractive and easier to use for people with all levels of ability.
This intense event will focus on accessibility and usability in product design and rapid prototyping with lightning talks from notable speakers, coaching and mentoring from the experts, teamwork and product demonstrations and finally, prizes for the top ideas!

You can register for the event here!

Using Twitter to boost your event

Twitter Analytics account overview for SmartChicagoAt Smart Chicago, use social media significantly to help spread the word at our events as well as to share what’s happening at different civic events throughout Chicago.

We’re going to go over a few tips and tricks for using social media to boost your event.

You’ll usually have two goals with social media. The first is to get people to attend your event. The second is to add followers so that when you have future events or news you can spread it more easily.


We use Twitter when we’re covering live events. Twitter’s ability to post rapid real time updates makes it perfect for things like this.

Our strategy for events is to write up a blog post advertising the event. If we know the hashtag already, we’ll start using that when we tweet the event out.

We use the hashtag so that people can start following other accounts that are also using the hashtag. This also lets our followers know there’s an event going on and that’s the hashtag we’re using.

We’ll also retweet other accounts that are using the hashtag. Sharing is caring.

Just before the event starts, I’ll try and ensure that we’re following all the speakers and organizers. Once the event starts, we begin our livetweeting.

When we’re live tweeting, I’ll normally have an aftermarket tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck so that I can tweet from both my personal account and my organization account. I’ll have one column set up just for the hashtag so I can quickly RT relevant tweets.

I’ll also have a phone in my hand and logged into Twitter as my organization account. Tweets with pictures tend to get more engagement. I normally do a photo when we start, when a new speaker comes on stage, or there’s a particularly interesting quote. Whenever we take any photo or mention something somebody said, we almost always tag the person if they’re on Twitter.

For national events like Code Across and National Day of Civic Hacking, I’ll also use the national hashtag as well as mention the @codeforamerica and @civichackingday account. If they retweet your tweet, then that amplifies your tweet by a factor of 20.

After the event, we’ll use the twitter stream as notes for when we blog about the event.

A note about trending and gaining followers

A lot of times, particularly on television networks, you’ll see people encouraged to ‘make something trend’ as if it’s a game you can win. We do not advise this.

Trending doesn’t measure popularity, it measures velocity. It tries to show what ‘new’ topic people are ‘now’ talking about. Once a lot of people have started talking about something, it loses it’s trending topic. That’s also why you don’t see Justin Beaver or any of the other boybands trending all the time. That’s also why during television shows, you’ll see the networks make up hashtags on the fly. They know that the odds of trending go way down over time. It’s easier to get a new hashtag trending rather than an old one. If they tell people to tweet at a hashtag for an upcoming episode, they lose the needed velocity to make something trend. Once it starts trending, it’s tough to get it to stay trending because it relies on ‘new’ people tweeting the hashtag. No points are awarded for the same people tweeting the same thing a bunch of times.

Which brings us, why try to get something to trend in the first place?

For television shows, it’s about advertising. They want people who are just cruising twitter to see the trend and think “Oh wow, a lot of people are watching this – maybe I should tune in.”

For this community, it’s not as important. Your goal isn’t to trend, but to build your audience. This is particularly true if you’re running your Code for America Brigade twitter account. You want people to start following you and learning what you’re about and how you can get involved. That means that buying followers won’t do you any good.

Getting Twitter followers takes time and consistently producing content worth tuning in for.

Analytics for Twitter

It used to be that you had to pay to get stats for Twitter. That isn’t true anymore. You can access Twitter analytics for free by going to and see how you’re doing.

For more tools, check out the Code for America Brigade Toolkit!

Sonja Marziano Presents CUTGroup at Civic Design Camp

TCivic Design Camp Logooday I presented the Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) at Chicago Civic Design Camp. Civic Design Camp is a one-day gathering of practicing designers of all stripes with local government officials interested in using design to improve the services they provide to citizens.

I am excited to be part of this event, since the CUTGroup incorporates feedback from regular residents in the process of design and redesign of civic websites and apps. I will talk about the practical skills in running CUTGroup and how CUTGroup is a new model for UX testing, digital skills building, and community engagement.

Here is my presentation: