Community Call: NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship Q&A

The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has just announced that applications are open for their 4th Cohort of the National Digital Inclusion Fellowship. For this round, 2 positions are available in Chicago, supported by Capital One. Since many of our Connect Chicago trainers and nonprofit staff will be eligible to apply for this opportunity,we wanted to elevate it!

What: Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF) Cohort 4 Community Call

When: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 1pm central / 11am pacific

Register: Please visit this NTEN website to RSVP and receive call-in information. 

Why apply for the NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellowship? You’ll have access to NTEN resources to help you craft or improve new, needed digital access and skill-building programming for your organization. In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to travel, participate in monthly online trainings, learn from fellow cohort members’ work across the country, and receive 1-on-1 support from NTEN staff. Your work will also be of value to the whole Connect Chicago community — your methods, new materials, and lessons learned will bring value to our whole community of practice. We look forward to seeing the progress your leadership brings and potentially showcasing your work through our Meetups and newsletters!

Note that the call is free and you don’t have to be an NTEN member to attend, but you do have to sign up in advance! To sign up, visit this page. 

On a personal note, I’m so pleased to see this opportunity come to the Chicago ecosystem which is rich with creative, passionate tech trainers and advocates from many mission-drive organizations. I’ve had the opportunity to support, advise, and collaborate with previous Digital Inclusion Fellows, so it’s wonderful to see the work spread to new cities!

About the Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF)

The Fellowship program supports local non profit leaders in creating and building the most effective programs that best serve their communities. With the support of their organization and supervisors, non profit staff participate in a year of learning, sharing, and developing their digital literacy programs.

Fellows in this year-long professional development cohort will develop digital literacy programs specifically suited to serve their communities. These programs may help:

• parents access online school portals job seekers achieve certifications develop, resumes, and search for jobs

• seniors use tablets to communicate with family

• residents access government information and programs

• entrepreneurs start or expand an online business

• participants acquire devices

The Fellow, Fellow’s regular employer, and NTEN staff will craft a set of tangible goals including the number of individuals served, instruction time, and volunteers trained.

You can apply for the Fellowship online HERENote that prospective fellows and their supervisors are expected to submit material, too!

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.

Announcing the August Connect Chicago Meetup: Serving Chicago’s Seniors

At the next Connect Chicago Meetup, we’ll have a conversation about technology training programs supporting Chicago’s senior population. We’ll hear from two important local projects: Microsoft’s DigiSeniors Curriculum & the Chicago Public Library’s Digital Learn Platform.

Event: Connect Chicago Meetup: Serving Chicago’s Seniors

Date: Friday, August 18, 2017

Time: 11am – 1pm

Place: Microsoft  — 200 E. Randolph Suite 200

RSVP here

This is an incredibly important conversation to have across service providers and partners in Chicago. In general, seniors nationwide are more likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide — both less likely to have broadband in their homes and less likely to own a computer. Chicago is no different. Here are the estimated percentages of Chicago residents who own a computer and have Internet access, by age group:

Data Source: ACS 2015 – 1 year

Last year, Microsoft started to address this need though DigiSeniors — a curriculum tailored to senior learners new to technology. In 2016, Microsoft spoke at a Connect Chicago Meetup and kicked off a series of train-the-trainer sessions with technology instructors from different neighborhoods, nonprofits, libraries, and community centers across Chicago. This year Microsoft is presenting newly updated curriculum and a full Leader’s Guide, and will be hosting even more free train-the-trainer sessions for anyone seeking to learn how to instruct senior learners in computer basics. Sessions will be held on Wednesday August 23rd, Tuesday September 12th, and Friday October 6th. You can sign up for a session at this form, also embedded at the end of this post.

At the same time, Chicago Public Library was developing Chicago Digital Learn which is an online platform which assists everyone, including seniors, in learning how to use a computer.  Chicago Digital Learn is free for anyone to use and contains video based interactive lessons which are easy to use and easy to understand.  Getting Started with a computer, Intro to Email, Using a PC, Online Job Searching, Intro to Facebook are some of the lessons offered. 

Now Chicago Public Library and Microsoft have collaborated to create additional lessons on Chicago Digital Learn which appeal to everyone but especially to seniors—Keeping Safe on Your Computer and Making Your Computer Easier To Use.  The content for these courses comes from Microsoft’s DigiSeniors and provides another way this important information is disseminated.  These lessons are aided by instruction of CyberNaviagtors (computer tutors) in Chicago Public Library branches across the city. 

So now instructors can utilize both resources in working with their new computer learners including seniors.

Come join the conversation and help fuel an equitable tech ecosystem in Chicago! Meet and network with computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, technologists, community advocates, and fellow residents who care about digital inclusion in Chicago. Please RSVP at this link so we can get an accurate count for lunch.

Special guests that will share their work and help us discuss this topic include:

  • Shelley Stern Grach, Microsoft Chicago
  • Anna Draft, Microsoft Chicago Fellow
  • Mark Andersen, Chicago Public Library
  • Kate Lapinski, Chicago Public Library

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 for future Connect Chicago Meetups:

Fill out my online form.

Digital Inclusion Meets Open Leadership: Connect Chicago & the Mozilla Global Sprint

This year I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the third cohort of Mozilla Open Leadership Training. During the 14-week program I learned from mentors and fellow project leads across the world working on collaborative initiatives promoting an open, healthy Internet for all.

In the program’s own words:

Open Leadership Training is for anyone who is currently running or starting an open project and wants to invest in their open leadership skills. Project leads, partners, or small groups of co-leaders responsible for project success and growth.

The project doesn’t have to be technical! It can be curriculum (open educational resource), an open data project or report, an open source software project, or anything else that has: 1. a way for others to get involved 2. a feature, release, or MVP (minimum viable product) to work on publicly with community members for the duration of the program

At Smart Chicago we do a lot of work within the broader category of tech inclusion — whether it’s about onboarding nonprofits into the data ecosystem, getting residents involved with improving civic tech tools, or building smart city infrastructure with resident input. Though much of our project work (especially on the civic tech and data side) already exist in the open, I was interested in bringing the spirit of open work to our biggest digital inclusion initiative: Connect Chicago.

Applying Open Leadership Practices to Local Digital Inclusion Work

Connect Chicago is a citywide digital inclusion initiative focused on increasing access to the Internet and digital learning opportunities. Throughout 2016 and 2017 we’ve worked to bolster in-person collaboration through Connect Chicago Meetups and recent neighborhood-based participatory design sessions with DePaul University. Given that goal and our desire to strengthen online collaboration methods for current and future contributors, applying Open Leadership Training to the work made sense.

At Smart Chicago I get to work at the intersection of digital inclusion, civic tech, and open data. One thing I love about working at that intersection is that I get to think about how each of those sometimes siloed categories of public-serving technology can inform the others. In the past I’ve talked more broadly about how the digital inclusion and civic tech communities could collaborate better. My natural frame of mind within that conversation was previously skewed in one direction; I mostly focused on what digital inclusion partnerships could do to strengthen civic engagement in civic tech.

Now, in addition to thinking about how digital inclusion can strengthen civic tech, I’m considering how civic tech processes can be adapted to improve local and national digital inclusion work. Civic tech communities are quick to share, quick to remix others’ work, considering user experiences, and are generally good at harnessing the power of volunteerism. Though digital inclusion work like Connect Chicago is less technical than a civic tech project, the “build with” attitude matters just as much.

In that spirit, Connect Chicago has strategized how to open up our work more to invite more collaborators and more feedback. Meetups provide a platform for digital inclusion advocates and practitioners to share ideas, best practices, and resources. Community Technology Forums are an emerging channel for residents to co-design digital inclusion priorities. Community members and national peers can drop into our Google Folder to see our materials and even edit documents or notes. We also created a centralized onboarding form to point potential collaborators to the modes of participation they are most comfortable with (ex: Google, Meetups, Slack). Bringing this work the the Mozilla Open Leadership Cohort and the 2017 Global Sprint was the next step in that journey.

Join the Mozilla Global Sprint

Connect Chicago is pleased to participate as a Mozilla Global Sprint 2017 project this Thursday and Friday June 1st & 2nd. The Global Sprint is like a giant global hackathon/ideathon that anyone with a device and an internet connection can participate in. Given that increasing quality online and offline collaboration is a current priority, we embrace this experience as a Mozilla Global Sprint Project to invite current and new collaborators into Connect Chicago work.

It’s easy to get involved remotely. As a first step, I recommend that you read the Connect Chicago Project Roadmap — a one stop, centralized starting point for how to contribute to Connect Chicago’s digital inclusion work during the Mozilla Global Sprint and beyond.

Note that beyond a general comfort with Google docs, there are no other prerequisites to being a meaningful contributor to Connect Chicago. Even if you’re just inserting or submitting comments/questions into our shared collaboration doc, all input is welcome. You can also engage on Twitter! Tweet ideas, questions, and updates using #mozsprint #ConnectChicago.

If you’re a local Chicago resident and want to participate in the Global Sprint in person, there’s an option for you! On Friday, June 2nd I will be online and in Chicago with my fellow local Open Leadership Cohort members, David Bild of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Priya Shah from the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology. To join to the local Chicago Sprint, register here while space is available!

Want to read more about this work and how Connect Chicago is involved? The Mozilla Global Sprint team just interviewed me on their blog! You can read the full post here. You can read other project leads’ interviews here.

Future Open Project Work Advancing Digital Inclusion

Thus far, open working practices (both online and in person) have improved Connect Chicago and we hope get even better over time. Open working has been a great way way to crowdsource information about digital inclusion resources, gather expertise from many valued local collaborators, check our assumptions, and increase momentum around our mission.

I’d love to collaborate with others locally and nationally to think more about how to challenge the “how” of digital inclusion work in this way. Anything the Connect Chicago community creates is fair game for others to use, remix, adapt to their city, and share. Open working has major implications for not only local projects like Connect Chicago, but also national networks of digital inclusion practitioners working across municipalities and tackling similar problems. We could apply open working strategies to co-build new projects, share and build on each other’s digital inclusion data work, or create truly open and editable training materials, just to name a few possibilities.

If others are interested in talking more about open digital inclusion work, feel free to email me at

Announcing the June Connect Chicago Meetup: Empowering Girls Through Technology

At the next Connect Chicago Meetup, we’ll have a roundtable discussion led by a panel of trainers and nonprofit representatives that work every day to leverage tech training to improve the lives of girls and young women across Chicago.

Special guests that will share their work and help us discuss this topic:

• David Lane, YWCA Chicago

• Asia Roberson, Digital Youth Divas

Here’s the event information:

Event: Roundtable Discussion: Empowering Girls Through Technology

Where: The Literacenter — 641 West Lake St. (read more about Literacenter here)

When: Friday, June 9th from 11am to 1pm

RSVP here.

Come join the conversation and help fuel an equitable tech ecosystem in Chicago. Meet and network with computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, technologists, community advocates, and fellow residents who care about digital inclusion in Chicago. Please RSVP on Meetup so we can get an accurate count for lunch. Thank you!

The Connect Chicago Meetup is a monthly gathering of computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, and fellow residents who care about the digital lives of Chicagoans. In 2017, Meetups will be held downtown and some events (called Community Technology Forums) will be held at community learning & nonprofit sites across the city. Email me at with any questions, concerns or ideas for future Connect Chicago Meetups.