Smart Chicago’s Recap of the Connect Chicago Launch

On April 16th, a coalition of public and private partners announced the next chapter in Chicago’s digital leadership: Connect Chicago. Smart Chicago joined the Chicago Public Library, LISC Chicago, World Business Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Connect Chicago Technology Advisory Council, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in launching this initiative.

Omar talking

Internet access is key, but Connect Chicago doesn’t stop there. Connect Chicago seeks to increase access to the Internet, increase digital skills, and increase civic & economic engagement through technology. This will be accomplished by investing in leadership, the scaling of evidence-based programs, and innovation.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel held up Connect Chicago as an example of what can be accomplished through public-private partnerships. Through Connect Chicago, digital learning opportunities will be made available citywide through Chicago Public Library Branches and LISC Financial Opportunity Centers.

Mayor Logo

Smart Chicago is proud to be the home for this important work. Connect Chicago speaks to two of our focus areas: access and skills. From our seat at the Chicago Community Trust, we have hosted and encouraged a community of practice around digital equity through Connect Chicago Meetups. The trainers and community organizations involved work everyday to close technology gaps. We will continue to build community, collaboration, and innovation across the entire ecosystem.

See this blog post by Dan X. O’Neil to access pictures and see the press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

For more information on Connect Chicago, visit connectchicago.org. To get involved and receive regular updates about Connect Chicago, fill out this form.

Smart Chicago’s Twitter Recap of the Connect Chicago Launch

Healthy Chicago 2.0: City Sets Broad, Data-driven Goals

Healthy Chicago 2.0 launch

Allison Arwady, ‎chief medical officer at the Chicago Department of Public Health, discusses infectious disease rates March 29 at the Healthy Chicago 2.0 launch.

Chicago’s 2020 public-health plan is data driven. The city is putting numbers behind 60 health outcomes it wants to improve, from raising life expectancy to reducing infant mortality, gun violence, obesity and even binge drinking.

A 60-page report sets 82 public-health objectives to reach by the end of the decade. Many address larger issues that touch on health. Chicago aims to cut serious injuries in traffic accidents by one-third, and to boost walking, biking and public transit commutes 10 percent.

“The environment is right to bring in new data sets,” said epidemiologist Nik Prachand, the report’s co-author with deputy health commissioner Jaime Dircksen. Facing a 4 percent cut in the department’s funding, health professionals are trying to influence choices throughout the $7.8 billion city budget.

At the report’s March 29 unveiling, the South Shore Cultural Center displayed city maps from the report, with areas of the greatest need colored red. On measures of crime, housing and economic development, the most-afflicted areas matched the neighborhoods with poor health outcomes. (Smart Chicago Collaborative presents much of this data on its Chicago Health Atlas website.)

Teen birth rates continue to fall,” said Dr. Julie Morita, the city’s health commissioner. Chicago has blown through a 2020 citywide target set in 2011. The city also met its 2011 goal for cutting smoking among high-schoolers, and is on track to cut HIV diagnoses.

“But disparities persist,” Morita said. “This is not acceptable.” The city counts more than 70 per 1,000 teen births in West Garfield Park and West Englewood, but less than 5 per 1,000 in other neighborhoods.

Communities that score low for educational, social and economic attainment also show the most births among teenagers, plus higher risks of outcomes from asthma to homicide. “It became clear to us that this should drive our work with Healthy Chicago 2.0,” Morita said – not only treating poor health but addressing its root causes.

Top priorities in the 2020 plan include behavioral health, adult and adolescent health, chronic and infectious disease, and violence. Each interest comes with numeric targets for change. The behavioral health plan would cut ambulance calls for suspected opiate overdoses 20 percent and mental-health hospitalizations 10 percent, and would step up treatment for severe psychological stress by 10 percent. Specific communities get special attention, including a pledge to cut suicide attempts by 10 percent among gay or transgender teens.

Local residents and health workers helped guide the broader approach in 18 months of agenda-setting meetings. Attendees at the plan’s launch say the approach makes sense: They see similar connections among bad results of all sorts.

“Typically at a restaurant we have found a correlation between labor violations and health and sanitation violations,” said Felipe Tendick Matesanz, development specialist at Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Tendick Matesanz was part of a team that set the plan’s community development strategies. It aims to improve well-being by boosting savings and assets among low-income residents. The city still needs baseline measurements for that goal.

The plan’s first deliverables are steps toward better metrics. The city will adopt research principles and launch a “public health data partnership” by July 1. Prachand wants to track health inequities using retail, insurance, land use and other metrics. He also wants to draft standards for data integrity and privacy.

“We’re looking to shake up the private sector,” he said. “People complain about government data being slow, but there’s a firewall around private data. It’s not available to you.”

To build a framework for evidence-based policy, the city pledges to launch a functional data network by July 2017. By the end of 2017, it should have infrastructure in place for training and for publicizing research.

Six public meetings in May will give an overview of the plan and ask for ideas.

Caregivers are enthusiastic about the expansive view of the city’s health. “It’s going to take the whole community of people to work cohesively together,” said public-health nurse Donna Feaster.

“For all of us this is part of our mission. In the end, it’s about people who need services,” said Karen Reitan, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, who served on the report’s steering committee. She believes the city’s goal-setting collaborators in the health community now will be motivated to act.

Reitan thinks the push for metrics will make agencies more responsive too. “There’s a school of thought, which I don’t agree with,” she said. “If it did not get recorded, it did not happen.”

Recap of the Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards at #NLC15

Smart Chicago was at  the National League of Cities 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville, TN to help distribute the first annual Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards. The awards were created by Next Century Cities and the National League of Cities in partnership with Google Fiber to recognize municipalities that have made major strides and investments in closing their digital divides.

Chatt pic for blog

I assisted with the planning and judging of these awards. As a Program Analyst for Smart Chicago working for the Connect Chicago Initiative, I have have had the privilege to be part of this cross-city, cross-sector community of practitioners who think about the digital divide everyday.

Over 30 city governments applied for the awards. From mobile tech vans to matching technology grant programs, these city-supported programs have helped helped get more residents online.

Here are the winners:

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You can read cases about the winners and each winning program here!

How to Get More Residents Online

At the Congress of Cities, I moderated a Solutions Session with two of the Digital Inclusion Leadership Award winners: Austin, TX and Davidson, NC. The cities were invited to describe their winning programs and give concrete, specific recommendations to other municipalities seeking to replicate their work.

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I found both of these cases to be compelling. Austin’s Digital Assessment survey work (conducted every three years) is a great model for institutionalizing the regular collection of essential Internet access and use data across neighborhoods. Davidson’s Eliminate the Digital Divide Program featured the clever “Squeeze Out the Digital Divide” – a part fundraiser, part youth-driven community awareness campaign that uses lemonade stand revenue to fund devices for school-age children.

Here is the full presentation from the Solution Session:

Lessons for Chicago

Back in 2009, the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act infused Broadband Technology Opportunity Fund grant money into many cities to help close the digital divide. Cities like Chicago and the ones above are all experimenting with ways to institutionalize digital inclusion work in the aftermath of that grant funding – whether it’s device lending and refurbishment, public computing labs, awareness campaigns, Internet access survey work, and digital training programs.

This is why Connect Chicago is so important. We’re working with partners all over the city – both public and private – to coordinate Chicago’s digital access and skills ecosystem and support the trainers on the front lines of digital inclusion work.

One thing I noticed was that almost every winning city from the Digital Inclusion Leadership Award had a City Hall Champion in the form of a mayor, an agency head, or a department. Connect Chicago benefits from both the Mayor’s office and the Chicago Department of Innovation & Technology being on its Steering Committee. This involvement sends a clear message: the digital life of every Chicagoan matters.

Despite the great work being done in the field, there are untapped opportunities for  innovation and experimentation. At Smart Chicago, we want to understand how to increase and strengthen the network of digital access and skills resources across the City. Specifically we’re thinking about:

  • How to create referral systems for training across decentralized, but complementary services
  • How to track digital access and skills outcomes. Though we can collect data on participation and certification
  • How to engage with residents about their desire to learn new digital and technical skills. How do they want to learn? What do they want to learn? What are the obstacles in the way of learning those things?

We know we are not alone in asking these questions. Now, through the Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards and the community of applicants, winners, and best practices that it’s assembled across the country, we have a peer network of organizations to collaborate with.

To become a member of the Digital Inclusion Learning Network, fill out this form

Themes from #NNIP Dallas 2015

The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a network of trusted city organizations committed to collecting, analyzing, and sharing neighborhood data in service to their communities. Partner organizations convene twice a year to share their work and collaborate on topics from policing to tracking investments in neighborhoods. Last week, I attended the NNIP meeting in Dallas, Texas.

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It’s worth noting that the humans behind the number crunching and data visualizations were of extremely high quality. I was struck by the camaraderie, creativity, city pride, and good ole fashioned work ethic coursing through the NNIP culture.

It’s also worth noting that any conference or meeting that starts with a “what’s your favorite dataset?” icebreaker is just awesome.

Here’s a look at the major themes that arose throughout the three days of conversations, panels, and tours.

Neighborhood Data Needs Context

It was no accident that presenters from Dallas, Austin, and other cities had trouble making sense of neighborhood indicators without also nodding to historical and social context.

The first panel of the NNIP meeting was just as much about the origins of geographic inequity as it was about the data of geographic inequity. Nakia Douglas of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, John Fullinwider of Lumin Education, Regina Montoya of the Mayor’s Poverty Task Force in Dallas, Theresa O’Donnell of the City of Dallas, and Donald Payton of the African American Genealogy Interest Group discussed the city’s “divides” – especially the prominent north-south divide.  The panel pointed out that these modern inequalities stem from both historical and present racial discrimination.

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Living out this need for context, NNIP scheduled tours in Dallas. I had the opportunity to visit the Cottages at Hickory Crossing, the city’s first Housing First community. The 50 approximately 400 square foot single occupancy homes are for the homeless, mentally ill, and previously incarcerated. Future residents of the Cottages will have access to a suite of supportive on-site health and social services.

We walked through the construction, asked questions, and learned about the evaluation plans paired with the program. Even before the residents have moved in, the Cottages are planning an evaluation of the initiative – tracking resident outcomes and savings to Dallas taxpayers, for example. Residents are those who incur the highest cost to taxpayers by remaining homeless, less healthy, and less supported.

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By the way, the Cottages at Hickory Crossing have their own Target registry if you would like to help furnish the homes!

NNIP Partners as Local Leaders & Conveners

Several NNIP partners discussed how they lead the conversations and collaborations around data within their cities. Many hold “Data Days” – events usually involving trainings and/or collaborations around neighborhood datasets of interest. Milwaukee’s Impact Inc. is holding their first Data Days this week. Charlotte, NC held their Data Days earlier in October.

One of the most interesting examples of data leadership? Every month Cleveland’s NNIP partner, the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western University, convenes all of the city’s organizations that collect data so they can share their work and build up a citywide data catalogue.

To accomplish their local work, NNIP partners form strong, trusted relationships with government agencies, police departments and other public collectors of data. During the meeting, partners what it took to open up in-demand local data and information for residents. One of my favorite insights came from Data-Driven Detroit (D3) who shared concrete advice for cities working with police departments to open up data.

Going forward, I hope NNIP partners can continue to discuss how data can build and repair community relationships in our cities. In Chicago there is so much work to do in this area. Data can be open and free, but if residents don’t trust it, there is still work to be done. Our own Kyla Williams spoke to this on social media while following the NNIP meeting remotely:

Data for Local Action

NNIP isn’t just about the data for data’s sake; it’s about turning data into informed local action. At the end of the day, if the data aren’t useful, used, or noticed then they are worthless. It’s all about democratizing information for community empowerment and smart policy decisions. This theme echoed several times throughout the NNIP meeting. One example was in Impact, Inc.’s mantra: “No data without stories, no stories without data.”

During the meeting, NNIP dared its partners to make their tech ecosystem. What does that mean? It means taking inventory of information lifecycles in your city and where residents and local organizations fall in those process maps. After all, it’s not enough to know how data is collected, analyzed, and repurposed; cities also need to know how neighborhood indicators and data stories can be turned into smart policy changes and smart local programs.

Here at Smart Chicago we’re also been thinking about ecosystem definition, turning data into action, and formulating meaningful resident engagement around Chicago’s data work. Between Array of Things, WindyGrid, and last year’s Chicago School of Data, there’s a lot to talk about! There are also essential Chicago partners with excellent neighborhood data: DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies, the Woodstock Institute, and the Heartland Alliance. We need to work together to centralize our neighborhood data, engage with residents and make sure that Chicago isn’t just a “smart city,” but a smart city that works for everyone.

NNIP as a Community of Learning

The NNIP meetings are called “meetings” and not conferences for a reason. There was a palpable roll-up-your-sleeves attitude across the participating partners. I heard stories of people traveling to friends and collaborators in other cities to help replicate successful work nationally. Again, this is a great group of humans.

Those of us visiting NNIP or attending for the first time certainly saw the value of these meetings. Collecting, using, and disseminating neighborhood data to improve your city can be slow work with long-term gains. Having a supportive national network facilitating peer learning seems like an essential ingredient to progress.

Well said, April! Let the homework begin!

To see all NNIP documentation on the Dallas 2015 meeting, see their website.

Health Advocates Weigh Data, Equity in Obesity Targets

Health workers review the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children policy agenda on Sept. 16, 2015.

Health workers review Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children policy agenda.

Childhood obesity is a stubborn problem to reverse in communities starved for cash. In a new five-year plan, Chicago health advocates put a priority on targeting funds and tracking results.

“We are not seeing significant improvement in disparities,” dietitian and food consultant Tracy A. Fox told the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children. The group outlined its policy agenda at a Sept. 16 meeting.

A decades-long rise in obesity rates has leveled off at 17 percent, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. “It’s a plateau at an insanely high rate,” Fox said.

The overall trend also disguises rising obesity rates among minorities. “For African-Americans in particular we are seeing pretty significant increases. So I think we have our work cut out for us,” she said.

“As you discuss your policy agenda for this coalition, I would think about always viewing what you’re doing through the lens of how this would impact disparities,” Fox advised. “If you’re going into a middle- or upper- income school and you’re making significant changes, that’s really cool and that’s really nice. But are you then widening the gap between what’s happening in the city with African American and Latino kids and white middle- and upper-income kids?”

The group is refocusing priorities as both city and state lawmakers consider one of its initiatives, a tax on sugary beverages.

“There’s an argument to be made, if you’re just looking to lower consumption, then where that money goes is maybe not as important as just raising the price of soda,” said executive director Adam Becker. Still, the group is pushing for proceeds to benefit public health instead of sweetening general revenues.

“The feasibility is not really a question anymore,” Becker said. “It’s more the political will.”

The City Council health committee in September considered a penny-an-ounce tax. But its chair, Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward) has not committed to advancing the plan. A state tax on distributors gained Chicago and suburban sponsors but has not advanced in the Legislature.

“It shows momentum,” said Elissa Bassler, chief executive of the Illinois Public Health Institute. “It’s being seriously considered as a source of revenue to improve health and invest those revenues into health initiatives.”

As new policies gain traction, data analysis has emerged as a priority. “Just because a bill got signed into an act or an ordinance passed doesn’t necessarily mean the things you intended to have happen are indeed happening,” Becker said. “A lot of the real hard work comes when you have to then monitor where things are going.”

Obesity and overweight in kindergarten, 6th and 9th grades, 2012-13 (Chicago Public Schools)

Obesity and overweight pupils in kindergarten, 6th and 9th grades, 2012-13 (Chicago Public Schools)

For example, Illinois requires schools to take body-mass measurements, but the consortium wants the data tracked to identify areas in need. In the latest review of Chicago Public Schools data, roughly half of students were overweight or obese in 11 of Chicago’s 77 community areas.

The coalition of public-health advocates wants to build on recent legislative victories. Childcare centers in Illinois now must meet standards on physical activity, nutrition, screen time and breastfeeding. The group seeks to extend the licensing requirements to child-care family homes.

Less sugar and fat are now required in subsidized school food programs, along with more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. The consortium wants to maintain the higher standards and expand a federal summer nutrition program, which reaches only 15 percent of eligible children in Illinois.

“We work a lot in school breakfast,” said Bob Dolgan, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “And it’s surprising even in low-income school districts how few administrators think about the fact that they have children coming to school without a meal and not eating until lunchtime. How can they possibly concentrate and excel in school without a meal?”

The group also pledges to spread novel ideas such as doubled food stamp benefits at farmers’ markets, a loan pool to build grocery stores in food deserts, and a “baby friendly” designation for hospitals that support breastfeeding.

And it advocates plans to encourage recreation and make streets safer. “In the first several iterations of the transportation bill, there’s been a big shift of more money for walking and bicycling,” said Melody Geracy, deputy executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “It is still a microscopic grain of sand in terms of the overall transportation budget. Still, it’s a target” for cost-cutters, Geracy said.

The group’s five-year plan retools an agenda set at a 2010 conference of local advocates. Policy-focused members shared a draft this spring with the group’s executive committee. Becker said national advisors provided details on policy specifics. Lurie Children’s Hospital, where the consortium is based, checked for conflicts with its own positions.

“You all as a city are probably farther ahead than a lot of even big urban cities in terms of really trying to come together with a unified agenda,” Fox told the group.

The policy document says political support is “particularly threatened” for federal health supports such as Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. The CDC program pays for health screening in Chicago minority communities.

She advised local advocates to talk up their victories. “The more evidence base you have, the better,” she noted, but success stories from the front lines are more likely to engage lawmakers.

Local policy strategists suggested that closing gaps in outcomes will require wider access to preventive care. “Reducing disparities isn’t the same as creating equity,” said Joseph Harrington, regional health officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Chicago Early Learning Finder at ChiHackNight

mReliefChicagoEarlyLearningFor the August 11th #ChiHackNight, mRelief, the City of Chicago’s Cara Bader and our own Sonja Marziano talked about the new Chicago Early Learning Finder.

The Chicago Early Learning Finder lets Chicago residents see if they are eligible for Early Childhood Programs through either the mRelief website or by texting “Hello” to 773-377-8946.

The finder works by having residents answer short and simple eligibility questions. Once completed, the finder recommends three locations based on the resident’s eligibility and preference. When the resident selects the location they want it will connect them to the Early Childhood Learning Portal where they can kick off the enrollment process.

Smart Chicago has run the Early Learning Portal since 2012. In 2013, they worked with the Azavea team to integrate SMS messaging into the portal.

At the time, here’s what Azavea had to say about the project.

“An interesting challenge the design team will face in the upcoming work will be to refine the SMS interface to the application. During the usability tests and demos of the application, we’ve received a lot of excited feedback about this feature. It provides a way for users to access the data behind the application by sending and receiving text messages. There is a dearth of resources that describe good user experience (UX) design in the realm of SMS interfaces, so through the examination of existing SMS products and iterative redesign, we are looking forward to learning some of the tricks to creating a great SMS user experience.”

With mRelief’s experience with screening for social services, they were the perfect fit to help residents understand the different options for early learning childhood programs. This is one of the largest screeners that mRelief has ever built. Here’s the timeline that they used to build the Learning Finder.

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The City of Chicago paid mRelief to do this work— one of the first civic startups in Chicago to conduct business directly with the city.

To find out more about mRelief, you can visit their website at mRelief.com.