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.

Informal User Testing of the Early Childhood Portal

Over the last few months I’ve presented the Early Childhood portal to community groups and parent groups focused on Early Childhood. It was always a great experience, and it has really informed how we run the CUTGroup. Tonight in Englewood we’re doing our first user test, so I thought I’d post about these early, formative sessions.

Here’s a look at some of the sessions:

I presented to 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts’ regular meeting Block Club leaders on Saturday, Decemeber 2, 2012 (8:30 AM!).  People loved the text feature. Out of the 30 people in the room, I had 15 who tested the system at the same time. I learned that people would rather get more information and less results rather than lots of results with limited info.

Presenting the Early Childhood Portal as 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts Looks On

I made a series of presentations at Zenos Colman Elementary School at 4655 S. Dearborn.

Zenos Colman Elementary School

Members of the CPS Head Start Policy Committee gave me great feedback about Spanish language translations, which we then added to the site. I was there for three separate presentations in February 2013.

CPS Head Start Policy Committee Meeting


We also conducted some formal testing of the site. This provided great feedback and real-world experiences, including having your child afoot as you’re searching education options!

User Testing of ChicagoEarlyLearning

The Launch of Chicago Early Learning

Today marked the launch of Chicago Early Learning, a new way to find and compare early learning programs in Chicago.

Here’s some snips from the press release from the Mayor’s Office:

As part of the his administration’s focus on increasing access to quality early learning programs for children across the city and emphasis on helping parents get and stay involved in their children’s education, Mayor Rahm Emanuel today launched a new online Early Leaning Portal, The portal is an easy-to-use, interactive website that puts information about hundreds of quality early learning programs across the city all in one place.


“We were happy to collaborate with the City on this interactive map, which will allow parents and families to find information about these programs easily and quickly. We’re interested in hearing from parents and caregivers on what would make the site more useful to them,” said Dan O’Neil, Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative. “We’re also releasing the code for the site as open source, so that it can be used to make similar map-based sites showing resources across the city.”

“Our focus is on making sure children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. M.K. and I share Mayor Emanuel’s strong commitment to providing high-quality early learning for infants, toddlers and their families,” said J.B. Pritzker, president of the J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation. “Helping Chicago parents and caregivers identify the best early childhood educational opportunities in their neighborhoods is critically important. This online interactive, one-stop shop will help parents and caregivers access and better manage the challenging process of selecting a high-quality early learning program for their infants and toddlers.”

Here’s the code that drives the site.

Chicago Early Learning

Here’s a spot on CBS about the site featuring Kevin Hauswirth of the Mayor’s Office:

Review of Chicago Early Learning Portal on CBS with Kevin Hauswirth from Daniel X. O’Neil on Vimeo.

We worked with a really great team to get this first phase of the Web site launched:

  • At Smart Chicago, we had consultant Derek Eder of DataMade. Derek served as local technical technical project manager and was instrumental in getting the data for the site in good order
  • Azavea, a leading geospatial firm out of Philadelphia, did the heavy lifting around technology
  • The Urban Education Lab of the University of Chicago shepherded the project from the education perspective and worked with other stakeholders like Illinois Action for Children to make sure that the data was sound and the interface was useful key constiuents

We look forward to working toward a successful phase two, which will incorporate feedback from user testing we’ll be conducting in the months to come. Questions, comments, and feedback are always welcome at

Request for Letters of Interest for an Early Childhood Portal

The Smart Chicago Collaborative and the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab are seeking letters of interest for the design and development of an early childhood education web portal for the City of Chicago.

In order to increase transparency and empower parents, the City of Chicago is partnering with the Smart Chicago Collaborative and the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab (UEL) to develop a comprehensive early childhood education web portal. The portal will serve as a one-stop-shop for finding early learning programs, assessing program quality, and tracking data about Chicago’s early childhood systems. With the implementation of the State’s Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), parents will be able to view each program’s star rating to assess quality across the city. The portal will also help parents understand their child’s eligibility for program, and allow for user interaction/input regarding programs. The portal will be fully operational by the end of July 2012, in time for parents to use it as a resource for the next school year.

This request for letters of interest is the first step in the process of finding a vendor, consultant, or group of consultants for the design and development of the web portal. We are looking for letters of interest that demonstrate an aptitude for and experience in this type of work, as well as some initial thoughts on how to execute it. We welcome letters from design firms, technology outfits, and independent developers who have ideas on how to get this done. The Web Portal Design partner for this project will be required to:

  • Work at the direction of the Smart Chicago Collaborative.
  • Work with researchers affiliated with the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab who will provide input on content, how it is presented, and the possible incorporation of experiments aimed at trying to learn about how to make the portal as helpful to parents as possible, and to better understand the decision making of low-income parents around schooling and related issues.
  • Discovery: Discuss goals, objectives, and methodology. Become familiar with all relevant information to design the best possible system, including reviewing all existing school lookup tools in Chicago (CPS School Finder, SchoolLocator, ArtLook), similar tools in other jurisdictions, and commercial options.
  • Development: Be open to using as much open source code as possible.
  • Wireframes: Create the best possible user experience with thoughtful attention to user flows, the feel of the application, and creating a real community around the information.
  • Design: Engage in a classic graphic design process for the portal, including logo, colors, themes, etc.
  • Mapping: Develop a mapping system, using as much open source code as possible
  • Commenting: Develop a commenting system to encourage the sharing of the most reliable information possible within the site

In the letter of interest, applicants should demonstrate experience, aptitude, and capacity in relation to the work described above. In addition, applicants should provide an estimated project timeline and a budget proposal. Letters of interest should not exceed three single-spaced pages, including budget and timeline information, and should be submitted to Dan O’Neil at Brief bios, CVs, or resumes for key personnel should be submitted with letters of interest and will not be included within the three page limit. Letters are due April 13, 2012.

Download this document as a PDF.