Connect Chicago Digital Skills Road Map Working Group #1

On September 9th, Smart Chicago hosted the first meeting of Connect Chicago’s Digital Skills Road Map Working Group. Its purpose: to define and inventory “digital skills”, understand the taxonomy and ordering of these skills, and ultimately prescribe those skills to personal goals.

By design, this working group was about understanding skills leading to goals, rather than tools or programs. We loosely envision the result of our work as a “road map” or “framework” — something all programs and trainers in Chicago can eventually use to help create personalized learning pathways for those they serve.


Here is the presentation and activities that we used to frame our initial conversation:


The idea to form a working group stemmed out of conversations at the Connect Chicago Meetupa monthly convening of digital inclusion professionals and advocates. The Meetup and the Working Group benefit from a diverse collection of institutional perspectives: Chicago Public Library, Chicago Public Schools, Adler Planetarium, Microsoft Chicago, Columbia College, Literary Works, and Digital Youth Network, just to name a few. 

As working group members introduced ourselves to one another and shared our motivations for being in the room, several themes arose:

  1. Even before imparting skills and training, we need to work together to combat the relevancy barrier to broadband adoption — we should work to articulate the value of skills for education, workforce development, and employment
  2. In the continuum of digital skills, we can’t ignore literacy, hardware use, and basic typing
  3. It’s not just about the skills of individuals. Businesses need skill development and training  as well

We also recognized the great work that has laid a foundation for our understanding of digital skills in Chicago. We took inspiration from Mozilla Web Literacy — a useful framework for web literacy, or the skills needed to utilize the power of connectivity. We ultimately interpreted our set of skills to be broader that those in the Web Literacy framework, including offline computer tasks as well. We also sought to organize skills and learning paths by common goals, rather than just skill categories or levels of difficulty.

Another resource that played into our conversation were the results from CUTGroup #21 — focus groups on digital learning opportunities in Chicago conducted at the end of 2015. One of the biggest takeaways from those focus groups was that curricula, programs, and classes should be framed in terms of learners’ motivations — their economic, professions, civic, personal goals driving them to learn more about technology.

Defining “Digital Skills”

During the first session of the Working Group focused on “Activity #1: Defining Digital Skills.” We saw this as a crucial, foundation task — a way for all of us to check our assumptions, get on the same page about what we are “mapping,” and standardize language across our organizations.



We broke out into groups to tackle these questions. Below are the notes from those breakout groups:


Notes from Breakout Group 1. They took an excellent inventory of foundational skills.


Notes from Breakout Group 2. Note the “four pillars” of digital skills that they used to frame their conversation.


Notes from Breakout Group 3. This group checked assumptions, debating the appropriate language to describe the skills and “literacy” the working group was grappling with.

Here are several memorable takeaways from Activity 1:

  • Our target “starting point” for digital skills is many steps before opening a browser — knowing about hardware, parts of a device, which devices are best, and conceptually what technology and connectivity can do to improve your life, were all mentioned as foundational steps
  • “Digital Literacy” was discussed as a benchmark (vs. “digital skills” which is a spectrum). As a benchmark, digital literacy seemed to represent the point where a learner was (1) interested or invested in learning (2) confident to take next steps in learning (3) knew what there was to learn and (4) was familiar with the basic language of technology. In this way, “digital literacy” mirrored the idea of traditional literacy, where, at a certain level of skill a reader was literate enough to read and learn how to read better or even teach themselves how to read better.
  • Our target “ending point” is creation/design — when a learner not only is competent in consuming information through technology, but is also building new (and relevant/useful) things with images, code, video, etc.
  • There are still issues with common language in our field. We discussed and debated the merits of terms: digital skills vs. computer skills vs. technology skills. None seemed to accurately capture the 21st Century collection of skills we were attempting to map. This will certainly be a topic we revisit.

At later meetings we will build on this conversation, categorizing skills, and assigning skills to commons learners’ goals. Attaching goals to skills will be a key step of the work. See Activities 2-4 on the Working Group’s slides for more information. Here is a link to the notes from the first meeting of the Working Group. 

The Digital Skills Road Map Working Group is just one dynamic piece of Connect Chicago — a cross-sector, civic leadership initiative that seeks to make Chicago the most digitally skilled, connected, and dynamic city in America. You can read about the launch of Connect Chicago in this blog post, a learn more about our progress in 2016 in this post and in this post

Thank you to all of the people and institutions that made this first convening so fruitful! We look forward to co-building more ecosystem solutions with members of the Connect Chicago community. If you would like to get involved or if you have an idea for another working group, email me at



Announcing the September 2016 Connect Chicago Meetup: Connectivity, Training & Resources in Public Housing

chalogoAt the next Connect Chicago Meetup, we’ll be learning about the new connectivity, training, and device programs available at Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) sites. This will be our first off-site Connect Chicago Meetup where, in addition to learning from peers and partners in the digital equity field, we will also see Chicago’s learning spaces in person! New programs and resources for public housing residents will be showcased and Meetup attendees will get to learn more about CHA computer labs and the work of CHA digital literacy trainers.

Event: Connectivity, Training & Resources in Public Housing

Where: Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center — 4859 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL

When: Friday, September 30th from 11am to 1pm (lunch will be served)

Come meet and network with computer trainers, nonprofit professionals,  technologists, and fellow residents who care about digital access & skills in Chicago. Please RSVP here so we can get an accurate count for lunch. Thank you!

Here’s more information about the new developments and programs supporting public housing residents:

The Meetup will feature speakers from Comcast, the Chicago Housing Authority, and the Digital Youth Network.

The Connect Chicago Meetup is a monthly gathering of computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, and fellow residents who care about the digital lives of Chicagoans. Email Denise Linn, Program Analyst at Smart Chicago, with any questions, concerns or ideas:



Smart Chicago Ash Fellow Glynis Startz featured on Microsoft Chicago’s Civic Chat

This year at Smart Chicago we were pleased to host Glynis Startz, a Harvard Ash Center Summer Fellow in Innovation. As an Ash Fellow hosted by Smart Chicago, Glynis assisted as a writer, thinker, and strategist on the Array of Things Civic Engagement Project.

More about the fellowship:

The Ash Center’s Summer Fellowship is designed to prepare students for careers in the public sector. Students work with some of the most creative and effective public officials and policy advisors in the country, not only to learn but to add value by sharing cutting-edge trends and ideas explored at the Kennedy School.

Glynis was featured on Microsoft Chicago’s Civic Chat on Watch the video linked below to learn more about Glynis and Smart Chicago’s 2016 civic engagement work with data and the Internet of Things.

Here are all of the blog posts that Glynis wrote while she was working with us:

To learn more about the civic engagement process behind Array of Things and its privacy and governance policies, read our Array of Things Engagement Report.

Teamwork, Makes the Dream Work!

Smart Chicago Thanks the Youth-Led Tech Instructors

Successful implementation of any program or project takes a huge amount of effort, energy and commitment. The success of the 2016 Youth-Led Tech program had plenty of each from the 40 carefully selected Lead Instructors, Assistant Instructors and Floaters. The Youth-Led Tech curriculum is carefully crafted to teach technology in the context of the needs and priorities of young people. The curriculum is a step-by-step daily guide to ensure the integrity of the model, but also allows for the exchange of ideas from both the students and the instructors.

The instructors who were selected for Youth-Led tech 2016 represented a variety of educational and professional experience and backgrounds including film production, mentoring, college professors and of course technology! This year’s iteration was revised and edited by Dr. Phyllis West, Ph.D to include modules on Workforce Development, which introduced students to the fundamentals of career planning, helped identify their interests and learn the trends of the fastest growing careers in America, including entrepreneurship.


Black Enterprise Magazine cited Youth-Led Tech as a “summer program (that) puts kids on a positive trajectory.”

Here’s a look at the 2016 Youth-Led Tech instructors.

Chicago Health Atlas Updates

Health & Disability Advocates (HDA) and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) added a new data set to the Chicago Health Atlas. Demographic and population health data is now available by Hospital Service Area. HDA and CDPH co-conven the Healthy Chicago Hospital Collaborative one of the largest hospital collaborations in the United States. The Collaborative strives for health improvement across Chicago making Access to Care, Mental Health, and Obesity top priorities.

 “This new data set is the first time, to our knowledge that population health has been made available at the Hospital Service Area level. These data will help hospitals in their efforts to better understand the needs of the communities they serve, not just their own patients.”- Erica Salem, MPH, Director of Strategic Health Initiatives, Health & Disability Advocates.



The addition of this data is the initial phase of a re-visioning of the Chicago Health Atlas.

“We expect to launch new, robust and vibrant Chicago Health Atlas by Spring 2017. The Chicago Health Atlas will not lose any of it’s functionality and will continue to be of value to the users who look to the Atlas for data. It will be more interactive.”- Kyla Williams, Interim Executive Director, Smart Chicago Collaborative.

The Chicago Health Atlas continues to be the place where you can go to view citywide information about health trends and take action to improve your own health with support by the Ortho S. A. Sprague Memorial Institute.






An Infographic of Connect Chicago from April — June 2016

Connect Chicago is a cross-sector civic leadership initiative that seeks to make Chicago the most digitally skilled, connected, and dynamic city in America. In 2016, we’ve made investments to strengthen and expand our city’s digital learning ecosystem. Under Connect Chicago, the CyberNavigator Program out of the Chicago Public Library has expanded citywide, digital skills training has been integrated into LISC Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers, and the Connect Chicago Meetup has continued to be a platform for sharing ideas and best practices across the community of practice.

Here is a summary of some of the work accomplished during the second quarter of 2016:

The work has just begun. To get involved, join the Connect Chicago Meetup Group. Meet and network with residents, nonprofit professionals, corporate representatives, and technology trainers. Learn about new programs, tools, and best practices for closing technology gaps.

Connect Chicago would not be possible without the support of our Technology Advisory Council:

See this blog post to learn more about Connect Chicago’s work and progress from January — March of 2016. Partners interested in supporting Connect Chicago or presenting at Connect Chicago Meetups can contact Denise Linn at