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.

Expunge Design Day at Stanford d School

On Saturday, November 7, I visited Stanford University’s dSchool to participate in Expunge Design Day to “work with young people in the Bay Area to imagine what more user-friendly ways to clean and seal their record might be.” Chris Rudd, who previously led the Mikva Challenge Juvenile Justice Council (JJC) and laid out plans for, is now a dSchool Fellow who wanted to use as a platform for youth in California to think about what their own expungement website and app would look like.

Twelve youth participated alongside adult coaches, lawyers, and technologists. The goal was first to learn about design thinking methods (such as interviewing and prototyping) and then use those practices to review, plan and wireframe a new piece of technology to get records expunged. Once the youth decided what they wanted to see then the technologists helped create real examples of what those websites might look like.

Review of

In small teams, youth looked at and listed out what they liked about the website, what they didn’t like, what could be better, and what they wanted to add. Overall, youth liked that was simple, easy to use and had a lot of good information. All of the youth teams liked the mission behind the website and thought this helped with an important issue and liked that you could be connected with free legal resources.

There was a lot discussion around making the website more engaging. Some youth felt that completing the questions and form “felt like homework” and was not sure about what would happen afterwards. Also, a few people were confused about the language like the term “rap sheet.” The youth teams had a lot of great ways to make this website better:

  • More photos and videos to make it more engaging (some youth even wanted to see a game!)
  • Help finding lawyers by seeing who they are, a short description of what they work on, and reviews
  • Different ways to talk with lawyer such as text message and Snapchat
  • More youth-oriented language from people (including celebrities) that youth trust
  • Youth also wanted to have more information about resources, their chances for expungement and what they might expect in court. We talked a lot about including success stories from real people about expunging their records and describing why it’s important to expunge your juvenile record

Project ideas & examples

Once all of the youth presented their ideas, they were invited to take a tour of Stanford while a team of tech volunteers worked together to make examples of what their websites might look like. When they came back, the tech teams presented each of their designs and got feedback from the youth.

The first example was a website where the user would view stories from different people who went through the justice system and the expungement process. We added this because we heard from the youth that it was important for them to hear first why they should expunge their record. In addition, they upgraded the FAQs section so that instead of reading a list of questions the format was changed to a messaging interface (like Kik) that allowed you to ask questions and then the answers would show up from a celebrity that the youth wanted to hear from (we heard specifically that hearing answers from Kevin Hart would be a good touch, so we added it!).

Expunge Design Day exampleThe second example focused on a website where youth could read about potential lawyers who could help them expunge their records. Not only would they be able to read about who they are and their reviews, but also be able to message or chat with the lawyer before meeting in person.

The last example would be an ideal solution in expunging records where youth would be able to input their name and birthday and immediately find out if they have a record, what it was for, and if it could be expunged.

Youth-Led Tech

Expunge Design Day was a great example of youth leading tech solutions. It was successful because of the youth’s ideas, but also the coaches and technologists who volunteered their time to work alongside the youth. We need more events like this one, where we as adults are taking a step back and listening to youth, and together are thinking about solutions that really work for youth.

As we continue our work at Smart Chicago, I am also thinking of ways that we can incorporate ideas from youth into our own website to make it a better resource for youth.


New Video

We recently worked with the Mikva Challenge Juvenile Justice Council to create a video about and why expungement matters. 


We did this as part of our work, which is to increase public awareness, support the work of institutions, and document the juvenile expungement application process.

This is a youth-led project, and it was important that our outreach, and this video, is also youth-led. Therefore, this the JJC’s direction that they created from the prompt: “If you had only a minute to tell someone about and why expungement matters, what would you say? What would you tell them to get them to visit and kick off the process of getting their records expunged.”

Here are a couple of quotes from the video:

There’s no reason you or any of your friends should be struggling to get a job or go to school.

Really bright and ambitious kids get into trouble in their youth and that says nothing about who they are as a person. is important to me because it gives children who have been in the juvenile system a second chance, without letting other people know that this is their second chance making it.

The youth from this video all are part of the Mikva Challenge JJC.

This video was created by Kamal Williams (a Youth-led tech instructors from last summer!).

We are members of Literacenter, and filmed this video in their space.

Suzy Connor Joins Smart Chicago as Consultant Focusing on Arts, Justice, and Education

Suzanne Connor - 2015[1][2]Yesterday marked the start of Suzy Connor’s work here at Smart Chicago. We’ve worked with Suzy over the last couple years in her work as the senior program officer for arts and culture at The Chicago Community Trust, where she created the Arts Infusion program and was responsible for a host of other grants that enhanced cultural vibrancy, access and diversity.

Most recently, we worked with her to launch Get Drive, a project that compiled resources for court-involved youth to clear their records (!), get back in school, get a job, and get other support.

Suzy’s work over the years aligns perfectly with Smart Chicago’s work to improve lives in Chicago through technology mission.  We’re excited about combining her professional expertise, experience, and networks in creative youth development & juvenile justice with our emerging models around civic engagement.

Suzy will strengthen the Smart Chicago justice work area and will help inform or stimulate our Connect Chicago, Chicago School of Data, and Youth-Led Tech programs. Her engagement will employ a number of the experimental modes we’ve investigated and we expect to be able to create new ones together.

Here’s a specific look at the work she’ll be doing:

Arts Infusion

Arts Infusion Evaluation FINAL REPORTOver the last six years at The Chicago Community Trust, Suzy created and led Arts Infusion. The Urban Institute recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of this program: Arts Infusion Initiative, 2010–15: Evaluation Report. The report is fascinating, and we will be sharing findings from report as we move forward.

Suzy will work to continue and expand the Arts Infusion cohort, focusing on teaching artists rather than organizations, with the goal of building a deep, diverse, and resilient community of practitioners. Our expansion efforts will include both arts-focused and technology-focused instructors working with teens and young adults in under-resourced communities, including court-involved youth.

Together, we will develop a coherent co-creation strategy with this cohort with communication at its core. The foundation of this cohort is not grants; it is communication and shared work. A civic engagement model rather than a social services model, based on principles found in Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement. We seek to help guide an expanded network to foster innovative approaches and respond to the needs articulated by practitioners themselves. Integral to this approach is the inclusion of young adult practitioners who are “alumni” of Chicago’s teen programs.

Connecting youth to technology

YouthledTech-logoSuzy will also work to strengthen the links among released juveniles and Arts Infusion grantees, other arts and technology programs, and relevant resources. Smart Chicago is already a partner in this effort through Get Drive and

We will incorporate recommendations from the Urban Institute evaluation to enhance strategies for using technology and social media to spark & sustain connections between court-involved youth and the people and resources they need to move forward in life.

This work also ties into our Youth-Led Tech program, where we will look to work in the detention center and connect those youth to community opportunities to build their skills. We’re also looking to evaluate how to replicate the Youth-Led Tech mode.

CPS Digital Arts Career Academy

Suzy will also lead Smart Chicago’s efforts to help to guide engagement, design, and advocacy efforts related to the development of a potential CPS Digital Arts Career Academy. Our focus will be on engaging the public and helping foster communication with the community around planning.

Smart Chicago’s commitment to developing a diverse IT workforce and its recent success with Youth-Led Tech makes it a valuable partner to CPS in this first-of-its-kind initiative.

Chicago Track

chicago-trackLastly, and more loosely, Suzy will help the Trust grantee Office of Creative Industries at the City of Chicago to connect to the broader context of workforce development, which brings back the lessons of Investing in people and organizations as the key to civic tech.  

We’re interested in helping build the workforce pipeline in digital media by integrating the Chicago Track project and career-oriented digital media nonprofits with the workforce development and technology sectors that are more adept at tracking trends and job growth. We hope to leverage the combination of our commitment to juvenile justice, the needs of the tech community for diversity, and the opportunity to strengthen a career pipeline for an important constituency in our city.

Join us in welcoming Suzy to Smart Chicago.

2015 Year in Review

This was a big year for community technology in Chicago. Here’s a month-by-month look at some of the things Smart Chicago has shared, supported, and accomplished in 2015.

January: Smart Chicago Model Featured at the Gigabit City Summit

Smart Chicago attended the Gigabit City Summit in Kansas City, MO – a three-day learning and networking opportunity exclusively designed for leaders in current and emerging Gigabit Cities. Cities convened to discuss how to facilitate business & startup growth, spark government innovation, and achieve equity of access in the presence of next generation speeds. You can see our presentation here and read our recap of the event here.  Denise Linn, who we would later hire as our Program Analyst in June, was also at the Gigabit City Summit. Here is her recap of the Summit on the Living Cities blog and her research on digital equity & gigabit cities.


Game of Gigs Gigabit City Summit 2015

With the start of 2015 seeing this event and the end seeing Google Fiber’s announced interest in Chicago, the topic of gigabit connectivity has come full circle. Smart Chicago is deep in this work – right at the intersection of city data, access, skills, and infrastructure.

February: Textizen Campaign for Placemaking

Smart Chicago used Textizen to get feedback from residents on the Chicago Complete Streets Program. Chicagoans were asked to give input on utilizing and improving public street spaces. At Smart Chicago, we understand how powerful text message can be to reach new audiences and listen to our community. This was a great collaboration with the City of Chicago’s Department of Transportation. You can read a blog post about the initiative here.

By July, Textizen was purchased by GovDelivery. We see the success of this company— one that started in a Code for America fellowshipbecame a CfA Accelerator company, as a success for us and our quiet support. We were deeply involved at the product level— sourcing customers, paying for the service, providing brass-tacks product feedback.

March: & Fingerprint Terminal was launched in January of 2014 as a website that helps start the process of erasing juvenile arrests and/or court records. Smart Chicago has a long history working on starting with the inception of the idea during our #CivicSummer program in 2013. With the support from The Chicago Community Trust, we continue to increase public awareness, support institutions, and document the juvenile expungement application process.

In March, we secured a fingerprint terminal at the Cook County Juvenile Court to help youth get their rap sheet. We know that juvenile expungement is an arduous legal process that prevents many young adults from expunging their records. The fingerprint terminal for the Cook County Juvenile Center helps young adults connect with free legal aid at the Juvenile Expungement Help Desk while also getting their rap sheet — one of the most important pieces to starting the expungement process.

April: Experimental Modes Convening  

Our consultant, Laurenellen McCann, invited technology practitioners to The Chicago Community Trust on April 3 & 4, as part of our Knight Deep Dive work. The Community Information Deep Dive initiative (or just “Deep Dive”, for short) is an experiment in synthesizing new & existing community information projects into a cohesive system for engaging with residents from the seat of a community foundation.

Experimental Modes Group photo

The convening was an investigation into what it means to build civic tech with, not for. It answered the question, “what’s the difference between sentiment and action?” through the experiences from the practitioners in the room. Here is a recap of the day including everyone who attended the convening. Laurenellen conducted an enormous amount of research around this topic which can be found on our website and in this book.

May: Foodborne Chicago Recognized as the Top 25 Innovations in Government

In May, our partner Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) was recognized as a Top 25 program in the American Government Awards competition by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation for its Foodborne Chicago program. Smart Chicago launched Foodborne Chicago in March 2013 with the goal of improving food safety in Chicago by connecting people who complain about food poisoning on Twitter to the people who can help them out —  the Chicago Department of Public Health.

June: City of Chicago Tech Plan 18-month Update

The City of Chicago released the 18-month Update to its Tech Plan and highlighted a number of Smart Chicago projects: Smart Health Centers, Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Foodborne Chicago, and CUTGroup. The Plan also discussed WindyGrid and the Array of Things sensors — projects where Smart Chicago is a civic engagement partner.  

Read Smart Chicago’s take on the 18-month update here.

July: Youth-Led Tech

We can’t talk about Smart Chicago’s work in 2015 without talking about Youth-Led Tech. Youth-Led Tech was supported by a grant from Get IN Chicago, an organization that supports and evaluated evidence-based programs that lead to a sustainable reductions in violence. For 6 weeks, 140 youth were taught technology curriculum in 5 neighborhoods  across the city of Chicago: Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, and Roseland. After completing 170 hours of WordPress training and content creation, the youth earned their own laptops in a graduation ceremony at Microsoft Chicago’s offices. Youth-Led Tech Celebration Ceremony

Smart Chicago documents everything, not only for our sake, but for the sake of others in the digital skills & access ecosystem. We have released the full curriculum online for anyone to use and adapt. We have our catering data, our instructor hiring process, profiles of our learning environments, and screenshots of the youth websites online. Later in 2015, Susan Crawford wrote a piece about the program in Medium, documenting the philosophy of the tech program where the youth, and not the tech, were prioritized:

There were also social-emotional learning elements of the program — peace circles, restorative justice — and talks about power in the city of Chicago. And here’s where Dan O’Neil’s attention to food fits in: O’Neil says the number one message he wanted to get across to the youth in the program was, “”We love you and we’re never going to let you go.’”

To access more links about Youth-Led Tech, visit this section of our website.

August: Bud Billiken Parade

Smart Chicago partnered with Chicago Defender Charities to support their efforts to include more technology tools (such as live-streaming and Textizen voting) in their programs. In August, we provided text voting during the Bud Billiken Parade so spectators could vote for their favorite youth dance teams, music groups, and performers.

Smart Chicago staff, consultants, Smart Health Navigators, and Youth-Led Tech instructors also marched in the parade! We marched with our friends Gray Era Brass, handing out swag, promoting the text voting campaign, and shared information about Smart Chicago programming.

Bud Billiken Parade 2015We look forward to continued collaboration with Chicago Defender Charities beyond 2015. For more information on the Bud Billiken Parade, see this blog post.

September: Our Civic Tech Publications & Philosophy

September 2015 saw the launch of publications and thought pieces emphasizing the importance of authentic civic engagement in technology and articulating Smart Chicago’s civic tech framework. We believe that the real heart of civic tech isn’t code, the apps, or the open data. It’s the people. The neighborhood tech youth instructor, for instance, onboards family, friends and neighbors into the digital economy and tech pipeline, but their work is too often hidden or uncelebrated. Executive Director Dan O’Neil penned the Civicist post, “The Real Heart of Civic Tech isn’t Code.” Here’s an excerpt:

Civic tech that doesn’t include people like Akya, Angel, and Farhad leads to a distorted vision of the field. A vision that leads with technical solutions rather than human capacity. A vision that glorifies the power of the developer rather than the collective strengths of a city.

Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech by Laurenellen McCann was also published in September. This book represents the culmination of the Experimental Modes work under Deep Dive and was fueled by a scan of the field and practitioner convenings. It can be ordered on Amazon and read online. Our friend and former consultant Chris Whitaker also documented his civic tech lessons learned in the Civic Whitaker Anthology. These books are a testament to the great work of the authors, but also catalyze conversation for the civic technology and how the movement be innovative, engaging, and inclusive.

October: NNIP & Chicago’s Data Ecosystem

To build on the data ecosystem research and work of the Chicago School of Data, Smart Chicago started engaging with the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP).  We attended the Dallas NNIP meeting in October. NNIP is a collaborative community of 35+ cities and the Urban Institute. Partners centralize, analyze, and engage residents with neighborhood-level data. You can read our recap of the NNIP meeting lessons and themes in this blog post.

Continuing last year’s work with the Chicago School of Data survey and the Chicago School of Data Days, we seek to coordinate and support Chicago’s strong data ecosystem. Who is in that ecosystem? Institutions like DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies, the Woodstock Institute, Chapin Hall, and the Heartland Alliance, just to name a few. Here is a taxonomy of this ecosystem that fuels our thought and collaborative framework in this area.

We look forward to continuing our engagement with NNIP and contributing to that network of cross-city practitioners.

November: Smart Health Centers

Our Smart Health Centers program places trained health information specialists in clinics to assist patients in connecting to their own medical records and find reliable information about their own conditions. In 2015, we expanded the program to more locations and hired a few of our Youth-led tech instructors from the summer as navigators. You can read Akya Gossitt’s story about her path leading to becoming a Youth-led Tech instructor and then a Smart Health Center Navigator.

We also began recording and sharing podcasts developed by the Smart Health Center Navigators. The Navigators discuss topics like healthy holiday meals and the digital divide in health care. You can listen to them on the Smart Chicago soundcloud account. We are excited to provide more opportunities like this to our Navigators and amplify their voices.

December: Final Integration of CUTGroup Text Message Solution

In September, we announced that residents can now sign up for CUTGroup via text message. This month, we implemented the last piece of this work where testers can also learn about new testing opportunities and respond to screening questions via text.

We did this work because if you do not have Internet access at home, you are limited by your time commitment on a public computers and might not have a chance to respond toemails in time to participate in a test. Out of our 1,200+ CUTGroup members today, 29% of our testers said their primary form of connecting to the Internet is either via public wifi or their phone with data plan. The impetus behind this project is to serve the large and growing number of residents who do not have regular access to the internet. By adding a text mode, the CUTGroup will be more effective at discovering resident’s voice.


More in 2016

We thank all of our founderspartners and consultants who have been a crucial part of this work.