City of Chicago Tech Plan Update

city-of-chicago-tech-planAt Techweek, City of Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman announced an 18-month update to Chicago’s Tech Plan.

Chicago’s first Tech Plan was first launched in 2013 and laid out a strategy to establish Chicago as a national and global center of technological innovation.

Since it’s launch, Chicago’s civic technology community has made significant progress towards the goals of the tech plan.

As a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology, Smart Chicago is proud to be heavily involved in the implementation of Chicago’s Tech Plan.

Here are some highlights from the update.

Next Generation Infrastructure

Chicago is working with internal and external partners to improve the speed, availability, and affordability of broadband across the city. The City is preparing to create a Request for Proposal for companies to design, construct, implement, and manage a gigabit-speed broadband network.

In addition to broadband infrastructure, the city is also working to digitally connect it’s infrastructure. Part of this includes the launch of The Array of Things project which will place network of interactive, modular sensor boxes around Chicago collecting real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. (You can listen to their presentation at Chi Hack Night here.) You can already get up to the hour updates on beach conditions thanks to sensors maintained by the Chicago Park District. The Department of Innovation and Technology has loaded the information onto their data portal.

Make Every Community a Smart Community

One of the major efforts of the civic technology community in Chicago is closing the digital divide in every neighborhood.

Much of the work in the coming months will focus on Connect Chicago. This citywide effort, led by Smart Chicago in partnership with LISC Chicago, Chicago Public Library, World Business Chicago, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology aligns citywide efforts to make Chicago the most skilled, most connected, most dynamic digital city in America.

Here’s more from the Tech Plan about the program:

As part of this initiative, program partners are creating a profile of a fully connected digital community that can be used as a benchmark and will provide best-practice toolkits and other resources to help all Chicago communities reach this benchmark.

If you’re interested in getting involved in  – you should reach out or join the Connect Chicago Meetup!

Another big part of the City’s strategy to close the digital divide in Chicago involves the Chicago Public Library. Libraries around the city already function as public computing centers and now they provide Internet to Go – a program where residents can check out laptops and 4G modems so that they can access the internet at home.

The City of Chicago and the civic tech community is also heavily focused not only access, but on digital skills. The Chicago Public Library’s Cybernavigator Program is set to be expanded and Chicago Public School is working on implementing computer science curriculum at all schools.

On our end, Smart Chicago is working with Get In Chicago to run a youth-led tech program this summer. The conceptual model for this program is “youth-led tech”, which means teaching technology in the context of the needs & priorities of young people. Youth will learn how to use free and inexpensive Web tools to make websites and use social media to build skills, generate revenue, and get jobs in the growing technology industry. They will also learn about all sorts of other jobs in tech— strategy, project management, design, and so on.

Effective Government

The City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology is also making great progress in using data to help city government be more efficient and effective. One of their first projects, WindyGrid, is a geospatial Web application designed by the City’s Department of Innovation and Technology that strategically consolidates Chicago’s big data into one easily accessible location. WindyGrid presents a unified view of City operations—past and present—across a map of Chicago, giving City personnel access to the city’s spatial data, historically and in real time, to better coordinate resources and respond to incidents.

The City of Chicago will be open sourcing the project later this year on their Github page.

That’s not the only open source project that the city has on the books. Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk Jr recently spoke at Chi Hack Night to talk about their new system to predict the riskiest restaurants in order to prioritize food inspections. The system has found a way to find critical food safety violations seven days faster. Aside from the important aspect of less people getting sick from foodborne illness in the City of Chicago, there is another very important aspect of this work that has national impact. The entire project is open source and reproducible from end to end.

Since the release of the Tech Plan, Smart Chicago has been working with the Chicago Department of Public Health on the Foodborne Chicago project. Foodborne listens to Twitter for tweets about food poisoning and converts them into city service requests.  The Tech Plan update has some results from the project.

A study of the system, published by the Centers for Disease Control, found that during March 2013 – January 2014, FoodBorne Chicago identified 2,241 “food poisoning” tweets originating from Chicago and neighboring suburbs. The complaints identified 179 Chicago restaurant locations; at 133 (74.3%) locations, CDPH inspectors conducted unannounced health inspections. A total of 21 (15.8%) of the 133 restaurants reported through FoodBorne Chicago failed inspection and were closed; an additional 33 restaurants (24.8%) passed with conditions, indicating that serious or critical violations were identified and corrected during inspection or within a specified timeframe.

Chicago’s open data portal is also getting expanded as part of the updated Tech Plan having grown by more than 200 data sets over the last two years. Chicago was the first City to accept edits to select data sets through the City’s GitHub account.

Open311 is also getting an upgrade with the city undergoing a procurement processes to build a new 311 system. As part of the process for upgrading 311, the new system will go through user testing through the Civic User Testing Group.

Civic Innovation

A big part of the city’s strategy around civic innovation is supporting the work of civic technologists here in Chicago. As part of the Tech Plan, Smart Chicago will continue to provide resources to civic technologists like developer resources, user testing, and financial support to civic technology projects.

The Tech Plan also calls out our work with the Chicago School of Data. The two day experience was wholly based on the feedback we received from dozens of surveys, months of interviews, and a huge amount of research into the work being done with data in the service of people. If you missed the conference, here are some of the key takeaways.

The Civic User Testing Group also plays a part in the Tech Plan and has recently been expanded to include all of Cook County.

Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman stated that Chicago has the strongest civic innovation community in the country. A large part of that community has been the Chi Hack Night, now in it’s fourth year with attendance now reaching over 100 people regularly.

Technology Sector Growth

One of the most thorny issues for civic technologist is the issue of government procurement. One of the things that the city has been doing is meeting with different groups to talk about ways the city can make it easier to buy products and services from smaller business and startups. (You can see Brenna Berman’s talk at the OpenGov Chicago Meetup here.)

As part of the Tech Plan, the City of Chicago is taking this on directly. Here’s the quote from the Tech Plan:

This summer, DoIT will release a Request for Qualifications for start-up and small-sized companies to join a new pool of pre-qualified vendors eligible for future City procurement opportunities. Companies who are deemed qualified will be placed into a pool and receive access to City contract opportunities in the areas of software application development and data analytics.

To further decrease the barriers facing smaller-sized companies in competing for City business, the City has modernized its insurance requirements to allow for pooled insurance plans. Start-ups that are members of an incubator, such as 1871, or smaller companies that come together for a group insurance plan, may now meet the City’s insurance requirements as a group. Insurance requirements were identified as a barrier to conducting business with the City in a series of listening sessions conducted over the past year with these companies.

This is a huge opportunity not only for civic tech companies, but it will enable the city to take advantage of the innovation coming out of these companies.

You can read the full tech plan here.

New Cook County Data: Cook County Highway Jurisdiction

The Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways has jurisdictional authority of over 557 miles of highways.

The Cook County Highway Jurisdiction dataset contains these roads and through the “MAINT” attribute shows which ones are maintained by the department. This is a spatial dataset that can be downloaded as a Shapefile or KML.

This dataset release is the result of a request made to Cook County’s Open Data email address (

Denise Linn Joins Smart Chicago as Program Analyst

AshDenise4 copy smaller copyToday Denise Linn joins the Smart Chicago Collaborative as the Program Analyst. She will manage citywide ecosystem initiatives like Connect Chicago and the Chicago School of Data.

Denise comes to us from the Harvard Kennedy School, where she completed her Master in Public Policy degree and researched civic innovation and city-level Internet access projects. In 2015, she published “A Data-Driven Digital Inclusion Strategy for Gigabit Cities” and co-wrote the “Next Generation Network Connectivity Handbook.” She previously worked as an Economics Research Assistant in the Auctions & Spectrum Access Division of the Federal Communications Commission and is an alumna of the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

As Program Analyst, Denise will develop, execute, and manage the evaluation of Smart Chicago Programming.  She has primary responsibility for the day-to-day activities of Connect Chicago, the Chicago School of Data, and other data engagement projects like the Array of Things and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership.

You can follow her work on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Slideshare.

Please join me in welcoming Denise Linn.

Cook County presents at Chi Hack Night

Cook County January 1831At this week’s Chi Hack Night, several officials from Cook County talked with the community about county data.

Cook County is one of the largest bodies of government in the country. The county runs a hospital system, one of the biggest jails in the US, one of the largest court systems in the country,  and has a multi-million dollar economic development budget. If Cook County were a state, it would be the 19th’s largest with a total operation budget of $3 billion.

Cook County is different from most other government bodies in that it’s responsibilities are spread out over 11 separately elected officials. That means while most of what Cook County does is under President Toni Preckwinkle, offices like the Cook County Assessor’s office fall under a completely different elected official. This can make the job of working across county agencies much more complicated.

Cook County passed an open data ordinance in 2011 which required Cook County agencies and elected officials to prepare open government plans, to develop data catalogs, and to post at least three “high value” datasets for the County website.

Later on, the County also established a partnership with Smart Chicago that allowed the hiring of Josh Kalov to assist the county in opening up Cook County data.

Cook County had several speakers at hack night speaking about data in their own agencies including:

  • Andrew Schwarm, Cook County Chief Performance Officer
  • Derrick Thomas, Director of Application Development and Management for the Cook County Bureau of Technology
  • Poh Png, Director of IT for the Cook County Clerk’s Office
  • Donna Hart, CIO of Information Systems at the Cook County Health and Hospitals System

Here are the slides and the highlight reel for their presentation:

Cook County has been working on several priorities including reducing reliance on pretrial detention, becoming the health care system of choice, building partnerships to drive the region’s growth and to develop a culture of data driven decision making.

The big challenge that the county faces is that a lot of their data is locked up in mainframe systems. This means that you have to write an entirely separate program to draw the data out. Additionally, because different agencies handle parts of the same process the data ends up living in different places – particularly in the justice and property systems.

Cook County is now working on revamping 80% of it’s systems in order to bring their data under one system. Not only will this make the data easier to access and manage – it will also make it easier for the county to open up more datasets.

At the Cook County Health and Hospital System, they’re working with the Cook County Department of Public Health and the open data team to determine reports to be accessible through the open data portal. CCHHS has to be more careful than other agencies because their data is subject to HIPPA which places safeguards on patient privacy.

Engaging with Cook County on open data

The county is looking to engage the community when it comes to open data. For questions and comments on open data in Cook County you can email

Chi Hack Night Announcements & Notes

Here are some of the announcements made at Chi Hack Night:

  • PyLadies Chicago + Write/Speak/Code Chicago are hosting a Python open source workshop on Sat June 25th at Enova tentative times 10am – 4pm. Lorena of PyLadies Chicago is seeking Python open source projects to work on as well as mentors (roughly 1-4pm or so) that can field questions from workshop participants about these projects. Email if you have interest or questions!
  • State of Illinois hiring GIS Data Systems Analyst. State Project, GIS, Health-Related. Job description at – Margaret Spyker (Data Wrangler for Go Code Colorado!) is here tonight if you have qs!
  • Expanding Civic Engagement (no website)  A joint program of the International Association of Facilitators: Chicago, Institute of Cultural Affairs and Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. in which participants have a chance to brainstorm about Expanding Civic Engagement with a member of the Mayor’s Second Term Transition Team. (Ald. Deborah Green, formerly 29th Ward). This is a great opportunity for ChiHackNighters to feed our work into the Mayor’s planning and to hear from other community groups. There is a $20 registration fee to cover a light dinner.  Register here.  Thursday 6/18, 6-9pm at ICA Greenrise 4750 N Sheridan
  • Vivian Maier Museum Want to help turn the 160,000 images copyrighted by Vivian Maier‘s estate into funding for a museum that better shares her genius with her growing legion of fans?  Here’s the prototype funding site hacked at the Adler by Solstice Media volunteers:
  • Is there sewage in the Chicago River? Yes there is.
  • CSV to HTML Table – Display any CSV (comma separated values) file as a searchable, filterable, pretty HTML table.
  • Chapin Hall is exploring hiring a junior DB manager — if interested in working to work with administrative data to help public agencies and non-profits in the city and state organize their policy and youth/family services, has familiarity with SQL, SAS as a plus, command line… talk to Nick Mader (
  • Maptime Chicago next Wednesday at 6 at CCT. @maptimeChi
  • Cook County Jobs!:
  • The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC) (previously at Chi Hack Night) is hiring a full-time data person. Info here:

Cook County Residents: Join the CUTGroup!

Cook County January 1831The Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) has almost 900 Chicago residents, coming from all over the city— all 50 wards, all 77 community areas. We have done 16 CUTGroup tests on different types of websites and apps. As we continue to get more testing opportunities, we continue to grow our community of testers to get more diverse perspectives involved to help us make software better for everyone.

And today we are excited to announce that we are going to expand the CUTGroup to all of Cook County!

We are looking for new testers from all cities in Cook County with all different types of devices to join us. We will also be testing websites and applications that are created for residents of Cook County, and we will be visiting different cities to make sure we reach new groups of people.

Sign up here! Once you complete this form we will send you a $5 VISA gift card right away!

CUTGroup Homepage, June 2015

Want to share with your friends and neighbors? Download and share this flyer:

Adler Hack for Change Event

alderThis is the full report on the Adler Civic Hack Day  from Nicole Cipri as part of our Documentor Program.

On June 6th, the Adler Planetarium joined venues across the world to host Civic Hack Day as part of National Day of Civic Hacking. National Day of Civic Hacking brings together community members, developers, programmers, and organizers to tackle tough problems and present practical solutions. Hackers come from a variety of backgrounds and bring diverse skill sets. Problem-solvers, makers, coders, tinkerers, anyone is invited to join the events.

Last year, National Day of Civic Hacking saw 123 events in 13 different countries, including at Adler Planetarium. Kelly Sutphin-Borden, an educator with the Adler who also handled logistics for the Hackathon, said this was the third year the Adler had participated in Civic Hack Day. Last year, groups created several seed projects, including an app to help link homeless LGBTQ youth to resources, and a searchable and simplified website explaining the CPS code of conduct to students and parents.

This year, six different people pitched issues facing Chicago. Among the proposals:

  • A website to help engage citizens on proposed legislative regulations.
  • A media campaign to protect Chicago birds.
  • An online archive for photographs by Vivian Maier, a Chicago-area street photographer, which would complement a brick-and-mortar archive of her works.
  • A more accessible and streamlined portal to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook
  • A data collection app for, which would collect cancer patients’ treatment histories and share them with researchers.
  • An app to help hospital patients with follow-up care after their discharge

The last of the problems presented, about helping discharged hospital patients, was proposed by Dr. Pam Khosla, an oncologist at Mount Sinai. She had not planned on participating in Civic Hack Day, but only on keeping her daughter company there for a few hours. She became inspired after listening to some of the other proposed issues.

She confessed that she’d heard about National Day of Civic Hacking first on NPR, and had been confused by the term. “I thought all hacking was bad,” she explained. “Who are we hacking? Why?”

Mount Sinai is a hospital on Chicago’s West Side, an area of the city that suffers from high rates of poverty. Many of Khosla’s patients have trouble navigating the labyrinthine process of longterm cancer treatment. Some of her patients have limited English, or low literacy, or no support network to help them. She envisioned an app or device in which a patient could input their treatment plans, and would then remind them to book transportation to their appointments, take their medication, or help explain procedures or processes. The point was to get better patient compliance, and thus, better quality of care.

After presenting the problems, Clint Tseng of Socrata offered a crash course in accessing open data provided by Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois. He also stayed on hand to help groups utilize this data for their projects.

Individuals broke up into teams to tackle each of these issues, usually starting with a brainstorming session. Problem Owners were interviewed about what kind of solutions would be practical, while everyone pitched in to come up with ideas for formats, funding possibilities, and organization. After a rough idea is drafted, the group had the next 24 hours to fine-tune their proposed solution, presenting it the following morning.

For those interested in seeing what the groups came up with can look through #hackforchange and #civichackday on Twitter.