Smart Chicago Joins the NTIA’s Community Connectivity Initiative as a Collaborator

Smart Chicago is a Collaborator in the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s Community Connectivity Initiative. The Community Connectivity Initiative was launched in March of 2016 as part of the White House’s broader ConnectALL Initiative. Here is how the Community Connectivity Initiative is described:

The Initiative will empower communities across the country by giving them tools to support and accelerate local broadband planning efforts. NTIA, in close collaboration with its partners, will create a comprehensive online assessment tool to help community leaders identify critical broadband needs and connect them with expertise and resources. The tool will provide a framework of benchmarks and indicators on access, adoption, policy, and use for communities.

As a collaborator, Smart Chicago has an opportunity to shape the Community Connectivity Indicators Framework. In May of 2016, I participated in the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion Summit which included an informational session and workshop on the Community Connectivity Framework led by the NTIA.



The Community Connectivity Indicators Framework, being co-built with other local and national institutions, will be a flexible assessment guide for a 21st Century information ecosystem — assessing technology assets & infrastructure, skills, and Internet access, among other things.

This initiative is aligned with Smart Chicago’s work in community indicators and, most importantly, is aligned with the mission and work of Connect Chicago — the cross-sector civic leadership initiative seeking to make Chicago the most digitally skilled, connected, and dynamic city in America. Part of Connect Chicago’s leadership & coordination efforts will involve increased measurement to better understand our skill and access gaps. The Community Connectivity Indicators Framework will inform our approach to that measurement. 

This isn’t the first time that the Smart Chicago has aligned with the NTIA’s federal efforts. From 2010–2012, Chicago made made major strides in expanding and evaluating digital access & skills programing with support from the National Telecommunications & Information Association’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP). You can read about our work in program here.

To learn more about the NTIA’s Community Connectivity Initiative & Framework, visit this website.

Smart Chicago Collaborative and the City’s Technology Plan

Earlier this month, Chicago Chief Technology Officer John Tolva unveiled the city’s very first technology plan. The plan was a result of a year-long process of research, brainstorming, and thinking about how to make all of Chicago competitive in the new digital economy.

This plan is a comprehensive framework for growing Chicago’s technology sector , getting broadband connectivity for everyone, and  ensuring that Chicago remains a leader in open government data .

The plan also highlights the work that the civic technology community has been doing in Chicago. From the weekly OpenGov Hack Nights, the Smart Communities Program, and youth STEM programs; Chicago already enjoys a strong set of technology strengths and this plan will enable the city to advance even further.

Smart Chicago Collaborative is proud to have a key role in many of these initiatives and is dedicated to  implementing this plan. Here’s a look at our role in the plan and the aspects of our existing work in this context.

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More than 1,000 Photos of Public Computer Centers and Community Technology Centers Were Taken in the Connect Chicago Summer of Data

The Connect Chicago Summer of Data is almost over. 14 canvassers travelled the city to visit more than 200 Public Computer Centers and Community Technology Centers. They interviewed center staff, updated detail pages, and took many, many photos.

We outfitted each 2-person team with an iPad that allowed them to take high-quality photos of building exteriors, computer stations, and community rooms. The idea was that as people prepared to visit a public computer center, the more they knew about the place they were about to visit, the more confident they would be about it.

Ends up that the teams took hundreds of great photos. See them all here.

Northeast Senior Center

Here’s all of them, in a slideshow:

US Ignite Summit: Building the next digital world (and what it means for Chicago)

Ballroom Crowd at the US Ignite Application Summit at the Allegro Hotel, Chicago

The US Ignite Summit highlighted the potential and the opportunities that the next generation internet will bring to the United States. The next generation internet will have upload and download speeds above 1000MBps. (For comparison, the average download speed in Chicago is 50Mbps and the average upload speed is only 10MBps.)

The summit highlighted the potential of next generation apps and the economic development that’s possible with gigabit internet. The summit was attended by 300 people, 53 of whom hailed from the City of Chicago. Through Smart Chicago’s sponsorship of the event we were able to give out several free passes to Chicago residents to ensure that there was a wide variety of fields represented at the conference.

Pallavi Anderson leads a group at the Ideation session of US Ignite

Smart Chicago Collaborative also ran an ideation session as part of the summit. With so much money, time and effort being invested into the gigabit internet it’s important to gain a wide variety of perspectives on what we could do with the next generation internet. Several fantastic ideas where generated out of this session including apps centered around emergency response, healthcare, and library systems.

Smart Chicago Collaborative was also proud to host a reception where internet advocate Susan Crawford spoke about the progress of communication technology – and how we can support real world ties with technology.

Susan Crawford Addresses the US Ignite Application Summit at the Cultural Center in Chicago

Gigabit internet is coming to Chicago. Smart Chicago Collaborative looks forward to assisting in efforts to bring the next generation internet here and looks forward to the economic and social opportunities that it will bring.


Connect Chicago Summer of Data

We’ve embarked on a new program– the Connect Chicago Summer of Data– and we need your help!

During the summer we’re sending out canvassers who will visit farmers’ markets, street fairs and other special events to make certain that everyone is are aware of Connect Chicago and the services offered at all of your locations. Please let us know if there are any particular events you’d like them to attend.

These teams will also visit all Connect Chicago locations to gather more information about each place so that we can keep the Connect Chicago website up to date. They’ll use the same form that location page admins can use when they sign up to be Connect Chicago admins.

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OpenGov Hack Night: 1 Year Anniversary

Happy Birthday OpenGov Hack Night!

This week was the one year anniversary of the Chicago OpenGov Hack Night.

The Year in Review (6:30)

Some quick stats on what’s gone on in the past year.

Chicago’s OpenGov Hack Night has been around for a year!

Congrats guys!

The City of Chicago and the Broadband Technology opportunities Grant

Francesca Rodriquez and Danielle DuMerer gave a presentation on the city’s efforts to close the digital divide.

The City of Chicago was one of the few major cities to receive a Broadband Technology Opportunities Grant. This grant is used to fund a number of projects in Chicago aimed at growing broadband adoption in Chicago.

The City received $16 million in BTOP funds to help build out Public Computing Centers and run comprehensive programs in some of Chicago’s more disadvantaged neighborhoods. In addition, the MacArthur Foundation provided matching funds. LISC Chicago and the Smart Chicago Collaborative partnered with the city to administer the programs.

You can find all the public computing centers that are funded by the grant on

EveryoneOn campaign

Chicago’s done a lot of work to close the digital divide and continues to hammer away at the issue with the launch of the EveryoneOn campaign. EveryoneOn is a national program that aims to increase digital literacy and access to the high speed intenet. The program is being piloted in Chicago.

As part of the program, the city is partnering with Connect2Compete. Connect2Compete is a non-profit website where residents can search for affordable internet options near them. Residents simply enter their zip code and answer a few questions in order to see their options.

Previously, the City worked with Comcast to provide low-cost internet as part of the Internet Essentials initiative in 2011. The city has now expanded that option to include FreedomPop.

FreedomPop is a wireless router that uses the CLEAR 4G wireless network. (Smart Chicago is currently testing the devices across the city as part of the Civic User Testing Group.) With the FreedomPop routers, residents can get a gigabyte of free data each month. For $10/month, residents can increase that amount to 10GBs.

FreedomPop Routers

The city has made great strides to close the digital divide in the past two years. Here’s some examples of the work that’s gone on. (From the city’s website)

  • Establish free Wi-Fi at 28 public computer center sites and upgraded free Wi-Fi at 66 Chicago Public Library branches;
  • Provide over 180,000 hours of instructor-led technology training to 29,300 Chicagoans citywide;
  • Help at least 570 Chicagoans find jobs through 180,000 one-on-one CyberNavigator assistance sessions at the libraries;
  • Deliver technology training to over 1,000 small businesses;
  • Provide out-of-school digital media programming to 1,350 youth;
  • Establish the Connect Chicago network to bring together over 250 locations that offer free digital skills training throughout the City; and
  • Install over 1,400 computer stations at 170 public computer centers citywide, located in CHA facilities, CCC campuses, community centers, libraries and Veterans Resource Centers.

We’re excited to see what comes next.

Juan-Pablo Valez: Lessons on civic hacking (25:35)

Juan-Pablo Valez presented his thoughts on how we can get citizens involved in civic hacking.

Juan used a number of examples to help explain the process of civic hacking and how citizens can get involved.

Lesson One: It needs to solve a problem – Flu Shot App

The City’s health department distributes free flu shots every year to help keep Chicago healthy. This year the city heavily advertised on CTA to encourage residents to get a flu shot. However, it wasn’t always easy to find where to get a flu shot.

More civic hackers hard at work

Working with the city’s health department, Tom Kompare built the flu shot finder app. Once the app was built, it was adopted by the city.

Juan explains, “While the flu shot app won’t solve public health, it does solve a particular civic problem – and that’s good!”

Lesson Two: Discovering the bureaucracy –

As civic hackers start to work on these projects is that you discover the intricate of the way the city works. is an OpenCity website that lets you explore Chicago’s different zones. The site also educates people on what the zones actually mean.

Lesson Three: Spreading the word –

Josh Kalov and Derek Eder discuss the app

The other big lesson is that once an app is built you need to get the word out. Jeanne partnered with Josh Kalov and the Open Data Institute to create a website that helps open up school data in a format easily understandable to parents. By helping to provide guidance to what parents needed, the end result was a site that helps parents and the community understand what’s happening with the school closing in Chicago.

Jean found the groups in Chicago that cared about the school closings and worked with them to help get the word out. has now been featured in several press stories and is one of the most accessed civic apps coming out of Chicago.

LISC Chicago (49:00)

Suzanna Vasquez, Executive Director of LISC Chicago, spoke about their Smart Communities program. Smart Communities works to increase digital access and digital literacy in the Chicago neighborhoods of Auburn Grsham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humbolt Park, and Pilsen. LISC works with local partners to help support local initiatives to close the digital divide. A good example is the work done by Teamwork Englewood. (Who is working to raise funds to increase its Englewood Codes class to 30 students.)

LISC is a semi-finalist for the Knight Foundation News Challenge for their proposal “OpenGov for the rest of us” that hopes to use the same model to help open gov and civic hacking projects in the neighborhoods.

The City of Philadelphia – BTOP Partners and Philly Tech Week (57:55)

OpenGov Hack Night was proud to have Linsey Keck and Ashley Del Bianco as guests at this week’s hack night. They were part of the BTOP conference that was occurring in Chicago this week.

Linsey and Ashley run the BTOP grants in Philadelphia. Philadelphia and Chicago have a lot of similarities in terms of their open data policies, their efforts to close the digital divide and both cities have civic hacking events on a regular basis.

At next weeks Philly Tech Week, the team is running several events aimed at getting people to think about digital access issues. This includes an event designed to get all members of the tech community to talk about how we bridge the gap between the tech world and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Big Data Week in Chicago (1:07)

Next week is going to be Big Data Week in Chicago. There will be a number of events in the Chicago all during the week with many of these events being streamed online. You can get more information about these events by visiting