Kyla Williams Co-Presents Today at Philanthropy Ohio’s Annual Conference

Today, Leon Wilson, CIO of the Cleveland Foundation, and I will co-present at the Philanthropy Ohio’s annual conference with a theme this year of “Philanthropy Forward” and a concentrated discussion on Digital Civic Engagement & Community-Centered Design. Philanthropy Forward ’17 is set to inform practices, strategies and goals and connect peers in the field of philanthropy. The conference will also focus on the future of philanthropy with insight into the current state of the sector – fueled by recent research – addressing transitions, change and the leadership pipeline. With several networking and roundtable discussions, attendees will discover how to shift failures to successes, effectively fund advocacy and civic engagement and hear from  exceptional leaders across the state and country.

Leon and I also presented in April 2017 at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference “Leading Together” as part of a panel discussion with: Aaron Deacon, Managing Director, Kansas City Digital Drive; Elizabeth Reynoso, Assistant Director of Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities; and Lilly Weinberg, Program Director/Community Foundations, John S. & James L. Knight Foundation on “Supporting Civic Engagement through Technology and Community-Centered Design”. After finishing that presentation we decided more collaborative sharing between cities was necessary and lead to this opportunity at Philanthropy Ohio.

Community building in the digital era requires providing a space for the public sector and local communities to interact. Building solutions with peoplenot just for them – by using community-centered design can have profound social impact. This has been central to Smart Chicago’s work and has lead to the building of processes, products, services, and other lightweight tech solutions that have been helpful.

Our presentation today has the learning objectives:

  • To introduce different models developed in communities to address civic engagement digitally
  • To encourage the consideration of embedding support for digital civic engagement into existing grantmaking & advancement efforts

You can follow the happenings of the conference on Twitter @PhilanthropyOH and @SmartChgoKyla or by using the hashtag #PhilFWD17.


Good News!!! The Smart Chicago team is moving and now will be co-located with the City Digital Team at UI Labs. As such, our individual emails will be changing to:

Kyla Williams 

Sonja Marziano

Denise Linn     

Leslie Durr       

Our new mailing address is 1415 N. Cherry Avenue Chicago, IL 60642 and general phone number is 312.281.6900.

Please check our website at or follow us on twitter @smartchicago for more updates.

We appreciate your patience during this time of transition.

Smart Chicago Collaborative Cited as Influencing Federal Digital Communications

Here at Smart Chicago, we seek to use existing tools to get things done. That’s why we launched our Annotations Program last year to publish rich text-based annotations of dense government documents like municipal code, RFPs, contracts, and other documents of this nature.

Today, the GSA cited us an example in launching their own annotated content: GSA Introduces News Genius to Decode Government Web

The federal government joins the City of Chicago’s Smart Chicago Collaborative, MIT, Harvard and other leading colleges and universities in putting News Genius to practical uses. The Smart Chicago Collaborative opens contracts, municipal code, request for proposals and more. The edX online education initiative, including MIT, Harvard and the Smithsonian Institution, similarly uses the annotation platform to unlock deeper understandings of course materials.

Help us annotate!

The Launch of Smart Chicago Annotations

City of Chicago – RFP for Municipal Code Printing, Sales, Web Hosting, and Editing Supplementation Service

Today we’re launching our Annotations program, where we publish rich text-based annotations of dense government documents like municipal code, RFPs, contracts, and other documents of this nature.

People in the open government / open data world like to poke fun at documents. Often published in PDF format, and containing stilted language and legal provisions, these files are easy targets for those of us who are unfamiliar with what they say and what they can lead to.

But these documents are important. In many cases, they are lifeblood of cashflows in and out of government. They are the sum total of the rules— the code, so to speak— that we use to run things. They are the objects with the signatures & the stamps, the legal descriptions and the scopes of work. They matter; enormously. And we have to understand them.

At Smart Chicago, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to create sustainable infrastructure for civic innovation. Programs like the CUTGroup (resident-centered design that engages hundreds of Chicagoans), Hosted Web Space (free server space and configuration for people working in open data), and our Github account (open source code from myriad web projects that put real money into the hands of civic developers) are deliberately designed to build this infrastructure.

This annotation project is a step toward addressing another infrastructure issue— funding. We believe that government spending on technology could be used to fund civic innovation while reducing overall spending. Small civic developers— the ones we hire to do our projects— should be bidding on any enterprise software system that comes down the pike. Introducing open technologies, agile methods, and new mindsets to government contracting will lead to more efficient spending and economic expansion.

What we’re trying to do is build the civic innovation sector of the technology industry.

We use News Genius as the platform for our Annotations program. It has a number of features that make it great for our purposes:

  • Rich annotations (links, images, video embeds, etc.) that allow for deeper understanding of specific words and phrases
  • Direct, sharable hyperlinks to specific annotations to stimulate discussion
  • Open platform that allows anyone to improve the annotations
  • There’s a large and growing community of people on the platform, annotating all sorts of text

Join us!

Here are the items we’re annotating upon launch:

News Genius is a project of Rap Genius, which focuses on annotating the lyrics of rap songs. As you can imagine, the content on that side of the site can get somewhat off-color. If you stay focused on the above-reffed items, you should be able to steer clear of any of that. As we like to say here at Smart Chicago, “open means open”. 

One side effect of this project is that we’ve started the first “Artist” page for our favorite municipal government: as well as the Department of Law ( and Department of Procurement Services ( Those are some great URLs.

Much, much more to come.