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.

Leslie Durr Joins Smart Chicago as Project Coordinator

Leslie DurrLeslie Durr  joins the Smart Chicago Collaborative as a Project Coordinator.She will serve as the point person for projects including Chicago Health Atlas, Smart Health Centers, Foodborne, Hive Learning Networks and Youth-Led Tech. She will also be working to add several new projects to our portfolio.

Her experience includes program development and grant management in the non-profit sector, most recently with the Southland Health Care Forum as the Project Director for the State of Illinois Get Covered Campaign.

Leslie has her Master of Science in Human Service Administration from Spertus College and Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Jackson State University.

You can follow her work on Twitter.

Please join us in welcoming Leslie Durr.

City of Chicago Tech Plan Update

city-of-chicago-tech-planAt Techweek, City of Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman announced an 18-month update to Chicago’s Tech Plan.

Chicago’s first Tech Plan was first launched in 2013 and laid out a strategy to establish Chicago as a national and global center of technological innovation.

Since it’s launch, Chicago’s civic technology community has made significant progress towards the goals of the tech plan.

As a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology, Smart Chicago is proud to be heavily involved in the implementation of Chicago’s Tech Plan.

Here are some highlights from the update.

Next Generation Infrastructure

Chicago is working with internal and external partners to improve the speed, availability, and affordability of broadband across the city. The City is preparing to create a Request for Proposal for companies to design, construct, implement, and manage a gigabit-speed broadband network.

In addition to broadband infrastructure, the city is also working to digitally connect it’s infrastructure. Part of this includes the launch of The Array of Things project which will place network of interactive, modular sensor boxes around Chicago collecting real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. (You can listen to their presentation at Chi Hack Night here.) You can already get up to the hour updates on beach conditions thanks to sensors maintained by the Chicago Park District. The Department of Innovation and Technology has loaded the information onto their data portal.

Make Every Community a Smart Community

One of the major efforts of the civic technology community in Chicago is closing the digital divide in every neighborhood.

Much of the work in the coming months will focus on Connect Chicago. This citywide effort, led by Smart Chicago in partnership with LISC Chicago, Chicago Public Library, World Business Chicago, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology aligns citywide efforts to make Chicago the most skilled, most connected, most dynamic digital city in America.

Here’s more from the Tech Plan about the program:

As part of this initiative, program partners are creating a profile of a fully connected digital community that can be used as a benchmark and will provide best-practice toolkits and other resources to help all Chicago communities reach this benchmark.

If you’re interested in getting involved in  – you should reach out or join the Connect Chicago Meetup!

Another big part of the City’s strategy to close the digital divide in Chicago involves the Chicago Public Library. Libraries around the city already function as public computing centers and now they provide Internet to Go – a program where residents can check out laptops and 4G modems so that they can access the internet at home.

The City of Chicago and the civic tech community is also heavily focused not only access, but on digital skills. The Chicago Public Library’s Cybernavigator Program is set to be expanded and Chicago Public School is working on implementing computer science curriculum at all schools.

On our end, Smart Chicago is working with Get In Chicago to run a youth-led tech program this summer. The conceptual model for this program is “youth-led tech”, which means teaching technology in the context of the needs & priorities of young people. Youth will learn how to use free and inexpensive Web tools to make websites and use social media to build skills, generate revenue, and get jobs in the growing technology industry. They will also learn about all sorts of other jobs in tech— strategy, project management, design, and so on.

Effective Government

The City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology is also making great progress in using data to help city government be more efficient and effective. One of their first projects, WindyGrid, is a geospatial Web application designed by the City’s Department of Innovation and Technology that strategically consolidates Chicago’s big data into one easily accessible location. WindyGrid presents a unified view of City operations—past and present—across a map of Chicago, giving City personnel access to the city’s spatial data, historically and in real time, to better coordinate resources and respond to incidents.

The City of Chicago will be open sourcing the project later this year on their Github page.

That’s not the only open source project that the city has on the books. Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk Jr recently spoke at Chi Hack Night to talk about their new system to predict the riskiest restaurants in order to prioritize food inspections. The system has found a way to find critical food safety violations seven days faster. Aside from the important aspect of less people getting sick from foodborne illness in the City of Chicago, there is another very important aspect of this work that has national impact. The entire project is open source and reproducible from end to end.

Since the release of the Tech Plan, Smart Chicago has been working with the Chicago Department of Public Health on the Foodborne Chicago project. Foodborne listens to Twitter for tweets about food poisoning and converts them into city service requests.  The Tech Plan update has some results from the project.

A study of the system, published by the Centers for Disease Control, found that during March 2013 – January 2014, FoodBorne Chicago identified 2,241 “food poisoning” tweets originating from Chicago and neighboring suburbs. The complaints identified 179 Chicago restaurant locations; at 133 (74.3%) locations, CDPH inspectors conducted unannounced health inspections. A total of 21 (15.8%) of the 133 restaurants reported through FoodBorne Chicago failed inspection and were closed; an additional 33 restaurants (24.8%) passed with conditions, indicating that serious or critical violations were identified and corrected during inspection or within a specified timeframe.

Chicago’s open data portal is also getting expanded as part of the updated Tech Plan having grown by more than 200 data sets over the last two years. Chicago was the first City to accept edits to select data sets through the City’s GitHub account.

Open311 is also getting an upgrade with the city undergoing a procurement processes to build a new 311 system. As part of the process for upgrading 311, the new system will go through user testing through the Civic User Testing Group.

Civic Innovation

A big part of the city’s strategy around civic innovation is supporting the work of civic technologists here in Chicago. As part of the Tech Plan, Smart Chicago will continue to provide resources to civic technologists like developer resources, user testing, and financial support to civic technology projects.

The Tech Plan also calls out our work with the Chicago School of Data. The two day experience was wholly based on the feedback we received from dozens of surveys, months of interviews, and a huge amount of research into the work being done with data in the service of people. If you missed the conference, here are some of the key takeaways.

The Civic User Testing Group also plays a part in the Tech Plan and has recently been expanded to include all of Cook County.

Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman stated that Chicago has the strongest civic innovation community in the country. A large part of that community has been the Chi Hack Night, now in it’s fourth year with attendance now reaching over 100 people regularly.

Technology Sector Growth

One of the most thorny issues for civic technologist is the issue of government procurement. One of the things that the city has been doing is meeting with different groups to talk about ways the city can make it easier to buy products and services from smaller business and startups. (You can see Brenna Berman’s talk at the OpenGov Chicago Meetup here.)

As part of the Tech Plan, the City of Chicago is taking this on directly. Here’s the quote from the Tech Plan:

This summer, DoIT will release a Request for Qualifications for start-up and small-sized companies to join a new pool of pre-qualified vendors eligible for future City procurement opportunities. Companies who are deemed qualified will be placed into a pool and receive access to City contract opportunities in the areas of software application development and data analytics.

To further decrease the barriers facing smaller-sized companies in competing for City business, the City has modernized its insurance requirements to allow for pooled insurance plans. Start-ups that are members of an incubator, such as 1871, or smaller companies that come together for a group insurance plan, may now meet the City’s insurance requirements as a group. Insurance requirements were identified as a barrier to conducting business with the City in a series of listening sessions conducted over the past year with these companies.

This is a huge opportunity not only for civic tech companies, but it will enable the city to take advantage of the innovation coming out of these companies.

You can read the full tech plan here.

Foodborne Chicago is a Top 25 Innovation in Government

Foodborne Chicago Twitter characterToday our product, Foodborne Chicago, was recognized by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Here’s their writeup:

FoodBorne Chicago
City of Chicago, IL

On March 23, 2013, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the SmartChicago Collaborative launched the FoodBorne Chicago web application with the goal of improving food safety in Chicago. FoodBorne Chicago tracks tweets using a supervised machine-learning algorithm that identifies the keywords of “food poison” within the Chicago area. This tool allows residents to report a food poisoning incident through 311 after the program identifies tweets with possible cases of food poisoning. The team then tweets back a link to submit an online web form where residents can identify where they ate, the date and time they frequented the restaurant, their symptoms, and send it through Open311. The information is sent directly to the Department of Public Health and, if warranted, an inspection team visits the restaurant in question and then lets the resident know the status of the investigation via e-mail. The algorithm gets smarter at identifying related tweets as the team replies to residents that are suspected to have a potential case of food poisoning to report. If several complaints occur together, these clusters can be investigated to prevent further illnesses from developing.


And here’s a snip from a press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has been recognized as a Top 25 program in this year’s Innovations in American Government Awards competition by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University for its FoodBorne Chicago program.

Two years ago, CDPH and the SmartChicago Collaborative launched the FoodBorne Chicago web application with the goal of improving food safety in Chicago.

“The Department of Public Health and the Department of Innovation and Technology used social media and technology to create a tool that makes food consumption in Chicago safer,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “It is innovative thinking like this that enhances and leverages available resources to make the most impact.”

The value of small wins in building the civic innovation community

One of the most common pieces of advice I give to civic innovation communities that are just starting up is to start with small wins.

Chicago’s civic innovation ecosystem has been up and running for awhile and we’re currently working on some big, substantial, and complicated projects. The ecosystem here has launched companies, startups, conferences, and boasts one of the largest hack nights in the country.

Even though it seems like Chicago is far far ahead, these efforts didn’t come out of nowhere fully formed. It’s taken time, investment, and effort to get the civic innovation engine running at full power. It’s also a process that’s repeatable. What’s helped to build the ecosystem here has been a series of small wins that grew into bigger ones. With each small win, we spread the news of what we can do with civic innovation – and that gives the community members more credibility to do bigger things.

A good example is the work surrounding the Chicago Department of Public Health. The Chicago Department of Public Health was one of the first government agencies to engage in the civic technology community. (September 11th, 2012 at OpenGov Hack Night to be exact!) That session at hack night resulted in the Chicago Flu Shot app by Tom Kompare. That app quickly spread and was hailed as a great way to for civic hackers to help their cities fight the flu.

Now, the Chicago Department of Public Health is working on advanced apps like Foodborne Chicago and working with Smart Chicago to run an entire Smart Health Center program.

But it started out small.

The small wins strategy isn’t just a Chicago phenomenon. In Philadelphia, a lawyer named Corey Arci was attending his first Code for Philly meetup when he found a derelict bike tracking app from Austin. He worked with others to redeploy the app to Philadelphia. He then worked with Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to launch a regional study using CyclePhilly data.

Small wins turn into bigger wins.

When first starting out, a small win can ease the fears of those in government who may see the ‘civic hacking’ term and freak out a little. An example of a small win can be something as simple as putting dots on a map. (Like the flu shot app) or redeploying an existing app (like CutePetsDenver).

It doesn’t matter how small the project is. The point is to show what’s possible and then turn around and go. OK, with this static list of flu shots locations we could do this. With a little more open data and support we could do this! 

The other major part of this is that after you get the small win – you have to tell the story. Telling your story not only builds your group’s credibility, but it also helps attract people to come join your group. If you don’t tell your story – nobody else will. Don’t be afraid to brag after you get your wins.

From there, you can use that momentum to help work on other projects which will yield bigger wins. Powerhouses take time to build, but they all start small and the steps are all repeatable. None of this is magic.

If you’d like help in getting your first small win – consider checking out the Organizing Resources page on the National Day of Civic Hacking website.