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 October 18th Array of Things Public Meeting at Association House

Continuing the Array of Things Civic Engagement Work from 2016, we’re pleased to announce a new public meeting on Wednesday, October 18, 2017:

Event: Array of Things Public Meeting

Date: Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Time: 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Location: 1116 N Kedzie Ave –Association House. Note that the meeting will take place in the 1st floor cafeteria.

RSVP: Learn more and confirm your attendance at

This is an open meeting. Everyone is invited and no knowledge of technology or sensors is required to be a welcome, meaningful addition to the event. Though we’re collecting RSVPs online, not that walk-ins are very welcome — we’re just asking for RSVPs to assist us with estimating food.

This meeting is hosted by the Association House, a vital community anchor institution and local leader providing essential educational and workforce development services everyday. According to their website:

Since 1899, Association House has worked with Chicagoans who seek tools to lead more productive lives. It is one of the oldest “settlement houses” in Chicago originally designed to provide relief and guidance to new immigrants. Today, Association House is a vital resource to under-served, multicultural communities, providing collaborative programs in English and Spanish. We promote health and wellness, educational advancement, and economic empowerment. With a staff of over 200 professionals, Association House impacts the lives of nearly 20,000 children, individuals and families each year in the neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, West Town, Logan Square, Avondale, Hermosa, and beyond.

Given Association House’s leadership and history, we’re so pleased that they are hosting this important civic conversation about how new technologies can be informed by residents and advance local goals and quality of life. The Array of Things project is a collection of multi-purpose sensors that will collect data about the livability factors in our city like air quality, noise pollution, and flooding. These data will fuel new research about Chicago neighborhoods.

Here is the flyer for this meeting:

The purpose of the 2017 Array of Things Public Meetings is educate the public on the Array of Things project and host neighborhood level conversations about hyperlocal research priorities and partnerships. This engagement work began in 2016 with resident-driven conversations about how smart city technologies can be governed and leveraged to improve our communities. You can read more about our goals and model for this civic engagement work here.

If you are interested in attending the Array of Things Public Meetings or would like to receive updates about the projects as well as information about future events or trainings, please fill out this form:

Fill out my online form.

The Array of Things Project is also soliciting community suggestions and ideas about sensor placement. If you would like to submit your idea, make sure to fill out this form on the Array of Things website.

Photo from the 2016 Array of Things Public Meeting at the Lozano Public Library

Structural Success in Civic Tech

This blog post is also published on Data-Smart City Solutions and is by Glynis Startz — Smart Chicago’s 2016 Harvard Ash Center Summer Fellow. Glynis is assisted with Smart Chicago’s Array of Things Civic Engagement work, among other smart cities-focused projects. Glynis is a Master in Public Policy Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School.

As a Harvard Ash Fellow this summer, I spent 10 weeks working at the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization dedicated to improving lives in Chicago through technology. I was brought on to work on Smart Chicago’s resident engagement for Array of Things, a series of environmental sensors being installed around the city. In addition to assisting with the day to day aspects of that project, I got to step back and think more closely about the Internet of Things and civic engagement. You can find the resulting blog posts here. In addition to this more tangible work, I also was able to learn about the breadth of projects Smart Chicago works on, and see how they, as an organization, function.


Glynis, our 2016 Summer Ash Fellow, greets Pilsen residents at our Array of Things Public Meeting in Lozano Library

Smart Chicago has a unique structure, functioning between the governmental and non-profit spheres. It was founded jointly by the City of Chicago, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Chicago Community Trust, and sits within the latter. This structure puts Smart Chicago in a privileged space. They have both stability and a lean, agile structure difficult to maintain in a government office. From this position Smart Chicago has prioritized reaching out to communities while maintaining ties to the government, philanthropy, and tech spaces — being a bridge between these communities in addition to their specific project work. Sitting at Smart Chicago this summer, I was exposed to many different aspects of the civic tech sphere as well as the wider community, but it also made me aware how rare that position was. Most cities are without a Smart Chicago, and many may never be able to create a similar model.

Smart Chicago is very open about its successes, lessons, and individual project information. It’s also open to spreading their unique model, but it’s hard to see how to export that to cities or areas who cannot provide that stable foundation. How do you take success in one arena and hack it together to work in in areas with less (or different types of) local support? It’s something I thought about more generally this summer, watching the civic tech ecosystem in Chicago. How can we export all these successes in major urban centers to small cities or counties that operate under even greater financial and expertise constraints?

To some extent this is already being done. Areas and organizations who want to prioritize civic tech aren’t waiting for a perfect solution or someone to give them resources, they’re figuring it out. But there are many more areas that don’t have the internal drive or knowhow to push through new projects but which could benefit just as much. Smart Chicago has been working to help adapt some of their successful projects to other cities. A great example of this is their Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) which brings residents in to provide user feedback for civic technology projects. This summer Smart Chicago helped Detroit adopt the model.

Not everything can be exported in this way, however. Some innovations are simply too expensive or complicated to run, or may not work the same way in a new location. Smart Chicago’s government-philanthropy model may be one of these goods, not feasible for every city at present, but an innovation with outcomes to try for. I think what we all need to strive for is the ability to disentangle the essential from the fluff in any venture. When you strip it way down, what are the wires that hold a project or organization’s value? Can these be achieved by a different method or set of founding partners? For Smart Chicago, the essentials seem to be the smarts and dedication of the people who work there, and the little extra freedom to test things out and experiment. Smart Chicago strikes me as an exemplar of what most of us internally understand works, but still struggle to create, particularly within government: a place where people are supported enough to be comfortable going out on a limb and stable enough to spend time spreading their successes.


Thank you for join us this summer, Glynis!

Inclusive Innovation for Smart Cities: HUBweek 2016

unknownThis September I had the opportunity to attend HUBweek and participate in the roundtable “#Tech4Democracy: Meet the Change Makers.” The event, hosted by the Harvard Ash Center, explored the potential and pitfalls of digital technology in realizing democratic values such as participation, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and equal representation. I was honored to join amazing leaders in the field: Seth Flaxman from DemocracyWorks, Rey Faustian from One Degree, and Tiana Epps-Johnson from the Center for Technology and Civic Life right here in Chicago.

One of the major themes of HUBweek was inclusive innovation. That theme is certainly worth discussing within the context of smart city work. Inclusive innovation in smart cities could mean everything from building usable tools, building equitable technology infrastructure, or having ethical data collection practices. During the roundtable conversation our moderator asked me the question below which has sit with me ever since:

What would be a “home-run” in the smart city space: an innovation that the city could adopt that would make a big, positive difference in the lives of Chicagoans?

Though it would have been tempting to brainstorm a cool, hypothetical “home-run” piece of technology on the spot, my mind gravitated toward innovative processes, not tools. This might be because here at Smart Chicago, we just wrapped up the Array of Things Civic Engagement Project which challenged us to create an inclusive process for gathering feedback on Chicago’s newest “smart city” project.  Of course, if things happen the way we think they will, cities will only get smarter. Array of Things is unlikely be the last “smart city” innovation deployed in Chicago’s public spaces. Given that, perhaps a lasting, valued innovation would be the creation of a values-driven smart city process — a framework we can follow to ensure that current and future smart city projects are deployed with residents and for residents. After all, these projects — whether are they sensors, fiber networks, or Wi-Fi kiosks — shouldn’t just be innovative or new. We should also expect these smart city technologies to be accessible, welcoming, relevant, and usable.

You can listen to the whole event on soundcloud. The roundtable begins on 4:50:

Smart Chicago Ash Fellow Glynis Startz featured on Microsoft Chicago’s Civic Chat

This year at Smart Chicago we were pleased to host Glynis Startz, a Harvard Ash Center Summer Fellow in Innovation. As an Ash Fellow hosted by Smart Chicago, Glynis assisted as a writer, thinker, and strategist on the Array of Things Civic Engagement Project.

More about the fellowship:

The Ash Center’s Summer Fellowship is designed to prepare students for careers in the public sector. Students work with some of the most creative and effective public officials and policy advisors in the country, not only to learn but to add value by sharing cutting-edge trends and ideas explored at the Kennedy School.

Glynis was featured on Microsoft Chicago’s Civic Chat on Watch the video linked below to learn more about Glynis and Smart Chicago’s 2016 civic engagement work with data and the Internet of Things.

Here are all of the blog posts that Glynis wrote while she was working with us:

To learn more about the civic engagement process behind Array of Things and its privacy and governance policies, read our Array of Things Engagement Report.

Release of the Array of Things Civic Engagement Report

On August 15th, Array of Things released the final version of the project’s governance and privacy policies as well as responses to public feedback collected in June through the Array of Things Civic Engagement Project.  Alongside this release, Smart Chicago shared The Array of Things Civic Engagement Report.

Here is an excerpt outlining the purpose and content of the Report:

As smart cities embrace and deploy innovative technology embedded in public spaces, residents voices need to be represented. To prevent disconnect between residents and their city’s technology, broad engagement is key — not only to inform residents of innovations, but to take inventory of public concerns and questions associated with them.

The purpose of this report is to describe the civic engagement and resident feedback collection process associated with a new Internet of Things (IoT) initiative in Chicago: The Array of Things. This report outlines the methods, decisions, and philosophies that went into this effort to increase Chicagoans’ engagement and involvement with smart city technology. Since the deployment of Internet of Things is so timely for cities around the world, we’ve shared the lessons we gleaned from our work. We hope this information can be of service to similar projects in other cities.  

This civic engagement work was accomplished alongside Array of Things operator UrbanCCD as well as the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation & Technology. Smart Chicago’s Documenters played a key role in promoting and recording public meetings. Additional partners who participated include the Chicago Public Library (CPL), The OpenGov Foundation and the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance & Innovation. CPL provided welcoming community spaces to host public meetings, the OpenGov Foundation worked with us as we utilized Madison to collect resident feedback, and our graduate fellow from the Harvard Ash Center, Glynis Startz, helped execute and write about this work.

The Internet of Things and the data which will emerge from it have great potential to advance research and community priorities. Involving residents in these projects early and regularly ensures that technology is relevant, not just innovative.

Smart Chicago continues to seek new ways to engage residents with emerging urban technologies. As we do, we are committed to writing about and sharing our successes, challenges, and best practices. If you have questions about this report, please contact us.