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.

Collaborative Project Management

mRelief at Hack NightCollaboration is at the heart of the Smart Chicago Collaborative and is essential to achieving the goals of the civic technology movement. The hard problems that need to be solved can not be solved in isolation.

There is an art to collaboration. Being in a collaboration means that you’ve agreed that your partner or partnering organization is already highly capable at what they do. It means that you’ve agreed upon a common goal and a plan of action to achieve that goal. Being in a collaboration means that you’ve opened up the lines of communication for the duration of the project.

Working collaboratively isn’t always easy – particularly when the project involves multiple partners or complex problems. Things can get exponentially more complex each time you add a moving part.  Here’s some thoughts on how I’ve approached collaborative project management in my consulting practice and in my work at Smart Chicago.

Building a plan

One of the most difficult things about project management the natural tension between sticking to a plan and the need to be able to adjust the plan if something doesn’t go according to plan. This is important because things never go perfectly according to plan. The planning process is important for working on collaborative projects because you’re going to have multiple parties running activities that are independent of each other in order to accomplish the goals of the project. If there’s not a well defined plan, the project could steer off course. Here’s our workflow for planning projects.

Step One: Gut Checks –  Define the goal, ensure the activity matches the goal, and ensure the goal is in line with your organization’s mission statement

The first part of taking on a project is establishing the goal and ensuring it the activity being proposed will get the results you want. You’re essentially asking the question, “At the end of the day, what do we want to be the result from this project?”

This is a different than saying, “We want to run a hackathon.” If the goal is to have an app that gets resident feedback, then you don’t need a hackathon. There are already existing products that do that. If the intended results are, “We want to engage the civic tech community around environmental data we just released”, then a hackathon would accomplish this. It’s perfectly OK to have one idea about how to get something done and then change tactics once you review it. Once you determine that the goal will achieve the objective you can move on.  

The other thing that you will need to check for is that the project goals are in line with your organization’s mission. Would getting these results also help your organization achieve its mission?  Is your organization’s mission to help with FOIA requests? Does taking the time to write, print, and distribute a newsletter help you achieve this? Is your organization in the business of creating technology tools to help store data? Does running a event help with this? If the answer to the question is no, then it may be advisable to say no to a project. It isn’t always easy to say no, but performing this ‘gut check’ before you begin is a good way to ensure the resources of your organization are being spent wisely.

Once you perform these ‘gut checks’ and everything checks out, you’ll be ready to begin constructing the plan.

Step Two: Work backwards from the goal and make a list of everything you’ll need

Think about the activity that you’re setting out to do. For example, you want to host a hackathon helping an environmental agency engage with the developer community about new environmental data. What does that look like?

At the end of the event, you’d have people presenting on prototype projects to all event participants after a day exploring the data sets. (Needs: Venue, microphones, projectors)

You would then work backwards through the day and mark down items that come up. For example, before the presentations the hackathon would have teams working with the data and coming up with prototypes. (Needs: Wifi, power strips, things to write down brainstorming notes on, lunch, breakfast.) They’d also need an orientation into the data and the problem set. (Speakers for the morning, links to different data sets)

You would continue to work backwards until you get to your current point in time. For our hackathon example, this means going over getting people to come to the event. (Needs: RSVP page, blog posts, invites, social media outreach).

Working backwards helps ensure that you don’t forget anything in the planning process. At the end of the exercise, you’d have a list of items that you would need to have ready as well as a draft of a possible timeline.

Step Three: Take inventory of resources and identify gaps

The next thing you want to do is to ensure you have the right resources to achieve the goal of the project. This often means taking stock of the resources all the organizations have at their disposal and matching them with the needs of the project. This is often the very reason to work on projects collaboratively. It allows two organizations with different strengths and resources to combine them into achieving a goal.  There might be times when you check the list of needs and resources and discover that you’re lacking in an area. At that point, you have the option of hiring a vendor or reaching out to an organization with resources you’re looking for and partnering up.

For our hackathon example, I have lots of experience running hackathons. However, Smart Chicago doesn’t have any subject matter expertise working on environmental issues.  This would be a gap to fill.

As you work through matching needs with available resources, you’ll also notice a list of items that nobody can really provide – but can be easily purchased or ordered through a vendor. (For our hackathon example, this is food and flip charts.) This help with our next step.

Step Four: Determining a budget and harmonizing the plan with the budget

Once you determine the project needs and what resources you have on hand, it becomes easier to establish a budget. Depending on your project, you can price out some things pretty easily. (For our hackathon example, it’s a simple process to start calling up different catering companies and getting estimates for food.)

If your project involves hiring a developer, designer, consultant or other freelance position, then additional steps may be involved. You may need to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) that include the deliverables you need and how soon you need it. We’ll get into the details of writing good RFPs in a later chapter. For right now, understand that it may take some time for vendors to put together responses to an RFP depending on what you’re requesting.

A final thing you should account for when making a budget is taking into account the cost of your own time. Even if you’re volunteering, you should account for the hours you spend working on the project.

As the costs of the project begin to shape up, you’ll get a sense of if your organization has the resources to pull off the project or if the organization needs to obtain outside funding through grants or sponsorship. Alternatively, your organization may have been awarded a grant to fund a project – and you have to ensure that your project plans fits into the budget.   

Step Five: Writing out Scope of Works and Memo of Understanding (MOU)

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to do, what it’s going to cost, who is doing what, and a general timeframe. Now it’s time to get those thoughts down on paper. The most common ways to do this for collaborative projects are Scopes of Works and Memos of Understanding (MOUs).

Scope of Work

A Scope of Work is a document that’s written in the planning stages of a project. They’re often written in the context of one person or organization hiring another. If there’s more than one partner that’ll be doing the work, there’ll be more than one scope of work. Scopes of Work lay out what work is to be done, how quickly it’s to be done, what report backs need to be done in connection with the work and (in the case of a vendor/client relationship) what the estimated compensation will be. Good scopes of work are flexible enough to allow the person or group doing the work to best decide how it gets done, but strict enough to say what the result will be. (Good example, I need a website that helps people find public computing locations. Bad Example: I want a website written in Python that let’s people find public computing locations by searching a Google Fusion table.)

Scopes of work can either be written by the client or the vendor as a response to an request from a client. It doesn’t matter so much who starts the process, but rather that both parties agree on the final scope of work. Even if both parties have a pretty good understanding of what needs to be done, going through the process helps to make sure everything is crystal clear.  It also helps set limits on the work to be done in case the project turns out to be much more complex than first realized.

Once the scope of work is finalized, they can often be turned into contracts that organizations can use to pay vendors or consultants.

Memo of Understanding

A Memo of Understanding (MOU) is similar to a scope of work on that it sets up what work is to be done, who is doing it, the expected timeframe, and what report backs are needed. The main difference between a Scope of Work and a Memo of Understanding is that a MOU Is used between two parties when no money is being exchanged.

The MOU is important because it sets up exactly who is doing what at the very beginning. If there’s ever a disagreement on who is supposed to be doing what, both parties can refer to the MOU.

MOUs and Scopes of Work are essential to collaboration because they establish a clear understanding of the project. Once these are signed and agreed upon – or turned into contracts if needed – you can then start on the project.

Step Six: Iterative Process: Checking in on progress and making adjustments

One of the drawbacks to technology projects is that they take a lot of time and effort to create. Given the costs of hiring developers, technology projects can also get expensive very quickly if projects are not managed correctly. Additionally, if project managers wait until something has been delivered it and it comes out wrong, it can take a significant amount of time to correct.

An iterative process favors a short cycles of work, check-in, and adjustments. During the check-ins, the expectation is not to have made progress in leaps and bounds – but rather to have made smaller updates. Because the progress is in small increments, it’s much easier to make adjustments than it after a team has spent several weeks working on a product.

It also means that you can catch blockers early so that they can be resolved quickly. Does the team need more resources? An extra team member to get it done? Is one of the vendors not up to the task and need replacing?

There will be some cases when the blocker is large enough that the time and effort it would take to resolve it outweighs the cost of doing something else entirely. For example, your team is working on an app to analyze a dataset that was received from a Freedom of Information Act Request. It turns out that the data is far more dirty than first anticipated with missing data, misspelled entries, and obvious typographical errors. The amount of time that would be needed to clean it up far exceeds the timeline first established. The question that you would face as a project manager is do you continue the course and accept a longer timeline?  Do you narrow the scope of the project and drop the data that is the most difficult to clean up? Or do you add additional resources to help with cleaning up the data? There’s no specific right answer, but these are the kinds of challenges that may pop up as managing collaborative projects. (For reference, when Smart Chicago was faced with a similar problem we narrowed the scope.)  

In addition to discovering blockers early on, working iteratively also allows for testing of products in front of real users. When the team has something that’s somewhat close to the final product, they can have the project undergo user testing to ensure it’s going to work for the user like it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, then rather being a failed project, the team runs through another iterative cycle and makes improvements before launching.

Check-ins with partners

You should also schedule regular check-ins with partner organizations. This lets everyone know where everyone is at, what the current blockers are, and if there’s any adjustments that need to be made to the plan. By keeping everyone well informed, it also helps work more collaboratively. Surprises are great for birthday parties, but not when managing collaborative projects.

Step Seven: Once it’s done

Once you’ve completed the activity that you had planned out before, it’s time to let people know about what you did. Whether it’s a new app launch, successful hackathon event, or a new guide on how to run civic technology projects – you should tell people about what you did. You can do this through blog posts, social media, or email campaigns.

It’s important to tell people about the project so that people can learn from your actions. The more people learn about your actions, the more it advances the field.

CitySDK Demo

The US City SDK was created by the US Census Bureau to be a user-friendly “toolbox” for civic technologists to connect local and national public data  The creation of the CitySDK came out of the desire to make it easier to use the Census API for common tasks that their developer community asked for. For the past two years, the Census Bureau has been engaging with the developer community to see how they use the API. After seeing the most commonly used functions being built out of the API, the Census Bureau has now built those functions into the SDK to make it easier for developers.

These features include:

  • Entering a lat/long location or a zipcode to get a FIPS code (A FIPS code identifies counties and county equivalents)
  • Use a single call to get American Community Survey (ACS) 5-yr 2013 values and Census geographic boundaries
  • A modular architecture which makes for use with third-party data.
  • The ability to pull down Census Bureau geographic boundaries by sending your own custom geography in the request. (For example, if you wanted to get information about a specific neighborhood.)

The CitySDK has the same data as the Census API, but the wrapper makes it easier to manage. The Census module can access the Census’s ACS 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year surveys.

To get started, you can request an API key through the census’ website.

The Census has made a number of guides available for developers interested in using the SDK. Jeff Meisel, a Presidential Innovation Fellow with the Census Bureau, stopped by Smart Chicago to give a demonstration of the software to help orient people to the new SDK.

For more information, visit the main City SDK page here.

Tech Tools for Civic Organizations

Tim-Allen-Home-Improvement-630x348One of the problems that we sometimes encounter in the technology space is that we say things like, “Oh, just use this piece of software that I assume you know about.”

It’s the digital equivalent of watching a home improvement show and they get out a circular saw. The show says, “Oh, just make a few cuts here.”

The problem is that it assume the viewer even has a circular saw – and the clamps, goggles, saw horses, the working space, and the know how to actually use the expensive piece of hardware that can seriously hurt you if you don’t use it correctly.

Which is kinda crappy.

The good news is that there are a number of tools that are easy to use and won’t break the bank. We tend to favor lightweight tools because they’re 1) easy to use 2) not expensive and 3) we can use them in solutions that are repeatable.



WordPress is the backbone of our digital communication strategy. It’s what runs not only our website, but the website of many other organizations as well.

WordPress is easy to set up and with a few additional changes you can have the site point to your own domain name. There’s two options to do this. The first is that you can use to set up a custom install on your server. However, we recommend just using (which does all the setup on the thier side.) Initially, you’ll have a site. You can then pay to upgrade to have the blog point to your own homepage site once you buy a domain name.

Once your site is set up, you can choose a template for your website. Feel free to experiment to find one that fits your needs. WordPress also has a number of plugins that can be used to improve your site. For example, there’s a plugin to show tweets from your social media accounts.

More in-depth:

Google Drive

thisisagoogledocGoogle Drive is a set of office tools where the documents live on the internet rather than your hard drive. It includes Google Docs (Word), Sheets (Excel), Slides (Powerpoint), and a few other applications. Having documents that live online means that you can access them from anywhere including your phone.

However, the real reason that we use Google Drive is that it makes it super easy to share documents and edit collaboratively. Instead of emailing revisions of the same doc twenty different times and having to rename the different versions, you can simply share one link to the team. You can also post comments and have running conversations using the embedded chat feature. During OpenGov Chicago Meetups and Chi Hack Night, we tweet out a link to a doc anyone can edit and take collaborative meeting notes.

Google Drive is also pretty easy to use if you’re already used to working in Microsoft Office.


thisisaslackSlack is an internal chatroom. It’s a more modern version of IRC with many more additional features including being able to integrate with everything from Google Drive to social media channels. Slack allows you to add different channels in addition to the standard “General” and “Random.” When we use Slack, we have a separate channel for all of our projects. Slack also has a powerful search feature that can be useful when trying to remember something that the group was talking about from weeks ago. If your organization ends up sending a lot of small two sentence emails, this may help cut down on that.

Slack can just sit there in the background while you work. If you need to get somebody’s attention, you can mention them by adding a @ to their username (like Twitter) and it’ll send them a notification.

Slack also works well on mobile devices. While Slack has an app for Mac and Windows, you can also just use the browser.

Slack also allows for a lot of customization. It’s still a fairly new product, so the company is also still adding features.

More in depth: Getting started with Slack (SlackHQ)


thisisamailchimpEmail is still one of the biggest ways that organizations communicate with their communities. Mailchimp helps organizations by first helping to craft well designed eye-catching emails, but also by helping organizations manage email campaigns. You can pick customized lists of recipients, monitor opens/reads, and even conduct A/B testing of different email campaigns.

More in depth: Getting started with Mailchimp (From Mailchimp)


At it’s core, Wufoo is an online webform builder. You can login and create a form in a matter of minutes, then embed it on your blog or just link to it. It’s a very simple way to get resident feedback, run a contact us page, or run surveys. When people complete the survey, you can have it send you an email to notify you. Wufoo can also export responses in a CSV file too.

What really makes Wufoo our preferred tool is that it has an API that we can plug into other apps. When we run the Civic User Testing Group, we use a combination of Wufoo and Mailchimp to manage our signups.

More in depth:


CDOT Textizen Poster

CDOT Textizen Poster

Textizen is a survey tool that uses SMS messaging to get people’s feedback.You can create a survey within a few minutes, but the team at Textizen can help you craft a survey so that you get the best results possible.

The way textizen works is that you set up a survey and it assigns you a phone number. You then create signage that lists the phone number and the first question.

It then will text survey questions back and forth. As the owner, you can see responses in real time and then export them to whatever format you need.

Smart Chicago Collaborative offers the use of Textizen for free to any civic developer – just fill out the form here.


Meetup is a tool to help run meetings. We use Meetup extensively to run OpenGov Chicago and Connect Chicago. Meetup is more than just an RSVP system. Once somebody joins your Meetup, they’re considered part of the group. This means that you can communicate with group members anytime – such as when you host your next event.

Meetup also lets people posts messages to the group during events so that you can keep a running conversation about what’s going on. (We usually use it to post links to the meeting notes or livestreams).


We love apps that text. As an organization that cares about digital access, we’re all too aware that not everyone has access to the internet. So, allowing our apps to text ensures that everyone can use it.

Twilio is the equivalent of giving your app a cell phone. When you sign up for Twilio, Twilio will assign you a phone number to use. You can then use the phone number to send and receive text messages. If you’ve ever order pizza or an online delivery and gotten a text message right after, then you already have an idea of how this works. Certain actions will cause your app to send out a text.

One of our favorite uses of this is the humble CTA bus tracker app. If you go to any sign in the city, you’ll see a short code and a number.

While you do need a developer to use Twilio, we wanted to include it because of the utility of texting. Twilio’s API is easy to use if you’re a developer with some experience using APIs.

More in depth: Twilio Quickstart Guide

Have a tool that you think we should feature? Reach out! 

Glossary of Civic Tech Terms

gloss-bot-demoOne of the quirks of both working in technology and the civic sectors is that both sectors tend to use a lot of jargon and abbreviations that makes perfect sense in context, but can baffle outsiders.

As an organization that believes in collaboration, we end up doing spending a lot of time translating and explaining the jargon. Christopher Whitaker’s Civic Hacking 101 is specifically designed to do exactly this.

Our partner, Code for America, has developed a tool for Slack called Glossbot. Glossbot is a simple web app designed to be used as a Slack integration.  Code for America uses this to define the jargon it comes across as they work so when they’re discussing their work everyone can be caught up on the definitions.  Of course, this information is also useful for other civic technologists who run across these terms as well.

We’ve take a data dump from the bot and edited it to exclude some California things and add some Chicago things. You can see the raw information here. If your team uses Slack, you can also deploy your own Glossbot by forking the code on Github. If you’re looking for something in particular, you can also search by hitting (Ctrl+F on Windows or Command+F on a Mac)

  • 18f –  A group within the U.S. General Services Administration that builds digital services for government.
  • ACCDB – A Microsoft Access database format.
  • ADA – American with Disabilities Act; a set regulations regarding hiring practices, building codes, and other regulations aimed at reducing discrimination towards disabled people.
  • AFDC –  Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a federal assistance program in effect from 1935 to 1996 created by the Social Security Act and administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provided financial assistance to children whose families had low or no income. Replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
  • AMD – Asynchronous Module Definition; a mechanism for defining JavaScript modules such that the module and its dependencies can be asynchronously loaded.
  • ANT  -Actor-Network Theory, an approach to social theory and research, originating in the field of science studies, which treats objects as part of social networks.
  • API – Application Programming Interface, an interface that exposes the data and functionality of an application to other applications.
  • AWS  – Amazon Web Services. People can use AWS to host their website on Amazon’s cloud servers instead of their own physical ones. Smart Chicago also provides free hosting to Chicago civic apps.
  • bikeshedding – Parkinson observed that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant may spend the majority of its time on relatively unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bikeshed, while neglecting the design of the power plant itself, which is far more important but also far more difficult to criticize constructively.
  • BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front, a paragraph where conclusions and recommendations are placed at the beginning of the text, rather than the end, in order to facilitate rapid comprehension.
  • Broadband – Commonly referred to as High Speed Internet; The FCC has recently updated its definition of broadband to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.
  • CBO – Community-Based Organization or the Congressional Budget Office
  • CFPB Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent agency of the United States government responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector.
  • City Analytics Dashboard – A CfA app that displays live activity on a web site via Google Analytics
  • Clean – An app built by Code for America’s Health Lab to simplify and accelerate the process of applying for CalFresh.
  • CMS – Content Management System used by websites which publish a lot of content. A good example of this is WordPress or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • CRM – Customer Relationship Management used by organizations that have a large sales function or non-profits that deal with a lot of funders or grantees. Salesforce is an example.
  • CUTgroup – Civic User Testing Group, a set of regular Chicago residents who get paid to test out civic apps. This program has been duplicated in other cities such as Oakland.
  • Digital Services Census –  The Local Digital Services Census surveys the quality and usability of the 10 most searched-for city services, as identified from research by the Code for America Tech Team.
  • DSL  – Domain-Specific Language
  • EBT – Electronic Benefit Transfer, the system used in by states for the delivery, redemption, and reconciliation of issued public assistance benefits. EBT cards go by different names in different states.
  • EHR – Electronic Health Record
  • eRegs eRegulations, a web-based application that makes regulations easy to find, read and understand, developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • ESL – English as a Second Language
  • ETL –  Extract, Transform, Load. The process that developers and data scientists use to extract data from one system, transform it, and load it into a different system. Cities like Chicago use this to take data from their business systems and load it into the data portal automatically. For a complete guide on ETL, click here.
  • FEC – Federal Election Commission, an independent regulatory agency which regulates campaign finance legislation.
  • FPL – Federal Poverty Level
  • FOIA – Freedom of Information Act Request; Legal method used to get information from governments. Can be time consuming.
  • GDS –  Government Digital Service; An agency in the United Kingdom, the Government Digital Service is leading the digital transformation of government, making public services digital by default, and simpler, clearer and faster to use. The GDS provided the inspiration for the US’s 18F and USDS.
  • GIS – Geographic Information Systems; Software used to display geographic data such as ArcGIS. This term used to reference software made by ESRI, but now can refer to everything from Google Maps, to OpenStreetMap, to CartoDB.
  • GitHub – A web service used to host repositories of code and make it easier for developers to collaborate using open source.
  • GovDelivery – A marketing and communications firm that works with federal, state and local governments on email marketing campaigns and mailing list management.
  • Govtech Fund – A venture capital fund dedicated to government technology startups.
  • GSA the U.S. General Services Administration, an independent agency of the United States government, established to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies.
  • HIMSS  – Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
  • HIPAA-  the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, U.S. legislation that ensures a person’s right to buy health insurance after losing a job, establishes standards for electronic medical records, protects the privacy of a patient’s health information, and gives patients the legal right to access their own health data.
  • IPHI –  Institute for Public Health Innovation
  • Javascript – Javascript is a programming language used by web browsers. It is not the same as Java which is a whole other language.
  • LAF / Legal Aid Foundation – A non-profit organization that often does pro-bono work representing clients who can’t afford legal counsel. See LAF Chicago.
  • LEP – Limited English Proficient
  • MindMixer –  A platform allowing local governments to solicit ideas from their communities and support a process for implementing the best ones. A CfA 2012 Accelerator company.
  • MOE – Maintenance Of Effort, often refers to requirements that a government must meet to continue participating in a federal program.
  • Meaningful Use – Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs provide financial incentives for the “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology. To receive an EHR incentive payment, providers have to show that they are “meaningfully using” their certified EHR technology by meeting certain measurement thresholds that range from recording patient information as structured data to exchanging summary care records.
  • NDoCH – National Day of Civic Hacking
  • NNIP –  The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a collaborative effort by the Urban Institute and local partners to further the development and use of neighborhood information systems in local policymaking and community building.
  • NSTIC – National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, a White House initiative to work collaboratively with the private sector, advocacy groups, public sector agencies, and other organizations to improve the privacy, security, and convenience of online transactions.
  • Ohana API  – An API that provides any city or county with an open-source framework for opening up a dataset of community-based organizations, and keeping the information up to date. A 2013 San Mateo Fellows project.
  • ONC –  Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, purpose is to support the adoption of health information technology and the promotion of nationwide health information exchange to improve health care.
  • Open Data – Open data refers to data often released by governments that adheres to the 8 Principles of Open Data.
  • Open Source – Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition.
  • OSTP – White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • PIF – Presidential Innovation Fellows <>
  • R – R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. It’s used by data scientists to analyze data.
  • Ruby – A dynamic, open source programming language with a focus on simplicity and productivity. Often used in conjunction with Ruby on Rails
  • Ruby on Rails –  Ruby on Rails is an open-source web framework written in Ruby. It was created in Chicago from work that David Heinemeier Hansson was doing for Basecamp.
  • SMS – Short Messaging Service, a text messaging service component of phone, Web, or mobile communication systems. It uses standardized communications protocols to allow fixed line or mobile phone devices to exchange short text messages.
  • SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This program is sometimes known as food stamps or by the name of the card that people use to get benefits such as LINK or CalFresh.
  • SSI – Supplemental Security Income, a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues.
  • Streetmix – An interactive street section builder that helps community members mockup the streets they’d like to live on and offer these mockups as future plans for city officials and planners. Built by 2013 fellows.
  • Streetsblog – A transportation blog covering transportation and bike issues.
  • TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program providing cash assistance to indigent families with dependent children through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
  • Twilio – A web service used to give apps the ability to send and receive texts.
  • USDA –  United States Department of Agriculture
  • UI – User interface; the parts of the website or app that users use to get the information or results they want.
  • UX – User Experience; Generally referring to designing website and applications to make the user experience simple and easy to use. Often means getting apps in front of real users.
  • WIC – Women, Infants and Children Program, a federally-funded health and nutrition program that helps families by providing checks for buying healthy supplemental foods from WIC-authorized vendors, nutrition education, and help finding healthcare and other community services.
  • WordPress – WordPress is a blogging platform that can be used as a content management system for websites. It’s ease of use makes it a popular platform.

Using Twitter to boost your event

Twitter Analytics account overview for SmartChicagoAt Smart Chicago, use social media significantly to help spread the word at our events as well as to share what’s happening at different civic events throughout Chicago.

We’re going to go over a few tips and tricks for using social media to boost your event.

You’ll usually have two goals with social media. The first is to get people to attend your event. The second is to add followers so that when you have future events or news you can spread it more easily.


We use Twitter when we’re covering live events. Twitter’s ability to post rapid real time updates makes it perfect for things like this.

Our strategy for events is to write up a blog post advertising the event. If we know the hashtag already, we’ll start using that when we tweet the event out.

We use the hashtag so that people can start following other accounts that are also using the hashtag. This also lets our followers know there’s an event going on and that’s the hashtag we’re using.

We’ll also retweet other accounts that are using the hashtag. Sharing is caring.

Just before the event starts, I’ll try and ensure that we’re following all the speakers and organizers. Once the event starts, we begin our livetweeting.

When we’re live tweeting, I’ll normally have an aftermarket tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck so that I can tweet from both my personal account and my organization account. I’ll have one column set up just for the hashtag so I can quickly RT relevant tweets.

I’ll also have a phone in my hand and logged into Twitter as my organization account. Tweets with pictures tend to get more engagement. I normally do a photo when we start, when a new speaker comes on stage, or there’s a particularly interesting quote. Whenever we take any photo or mention something somebody said, we almost always tag the person if they’re on Twitter.

For national events like Code Across and National Day of Civic Hacking, I’ll also use the national hashtag as well as mention the @codeforamerica and @civichackingday account. If they retweet your tweet, then that amplifies your tweet by a factor of 20.

After the event, we’ll use the twitter stream as notes for when we blog about the event.

A note about trending and gaining followers

A lot of times, particularly on television networks, you’ll see people encouraged to ‘make something trend’ as if it’s a game you can win. We do not advise this.

Trending doesn’t measure popularity, it measures velocity. It tries to show what ‘new’ topic people are ‘now’ talking about. Once a lot of people have started talking about something, it loses it’s trending topic. That’s also why you don’t see Justin Beaver or any of the other boybands trending all the time. That’s also why during television shows, you’ll see the networks make up hashtags on the fly. They know that the odds of trending go way down over time. It’s easier to get a new hashtag trending rather than an old one. If they tell people to tweet at a hashtag for an upcoming episode, they lose the needed velocity to make something trend. Once it starts trending, it’s tough to get it to stay trending because it relies on ‘new’ people tweeting the hashtag. No points are awarded for the same people tweeting the same thing a bunch of times.

Which brings us, why try to get something to trend in the first place?

For television shows, it’s about advertising. They want people who are just cruising twitter to see the trend and think “Oh wow, a lot of people are watching this – maybe I should tune in.”

For this community, it’s not as important. Your goal isn’t to trend, but to build your audience. This is particularly true if you’re running your Code for America Brigade twitter account. You want people to start following you and learning what you’re about and how you can get involved. That means that buying followers won’t do you any good.

Getting Twitter followers takes time and consistently producing content worth tuning in for.

Analytics for Twitter

It used to be that you had to pay to get stats for Twitter. That isn’t true anymore. You can access Twitter analytics for free by going to and see how you’re doing.

For more tools, check out the Code for America Brigade Toolkit!