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.

Designing Meaningful Civic Interactions with Data

This blog post is by Mark Díaz, the Smart Chicago Collaborative’s graduate fellow from Northwestern University’s Technology & Social Behavior PhD program. Mark is assisting with Smart Chicago’s collaborative data work, supporting efforts in data-driven journalism and advocacy.

Many tools aim to synthesize large amounts of data into engaging and digestible forms. Flashy infographics and interactive data tools can be found in advertisements, in news, and in educational settings. They bring to life static visualizations by letting users manipulate what they see— from zoomable geographic maps showing detailed landscapes and terrain to bubble charts summarizing data breaches, users can discover more information and rich stories  in a single, interactive data tool.

Introducing interactive elements to a data tool, however, risks potential information overload. With more data to digest, highlighting the most important components and allowing the user to step through information at a comfortable pace becomes a challenge. Because interactive visualizations can take many forms, there is no single way to design an elegant user experience. One way to counteract information overload is to construct a narrative within an interactive data tool. These engaging tools are designed for specific users and designed for those users to leave with specific takeaways in mind.

Given my background in design and my emerging interest in civic tech and data engagement, I wanted to highlight a crop of tools that I think offer engaging experiences driven by both interactivity and narrative flow.

Tools that check our assumptions

The New York Times regularly puts out interesting charts and infographics on a variety of topics. In particular, their You Draw It series features interactive graphs depicting various trends, including the effect of Obama’s domestic policies and the relationship between family income and children’s college prospects.

What sets these interactive data tools apart from others is the fact that the user has to complete unfinished graphs with their own guess before they can see the real data. The tools do a great job of forcing the user to take a few seconds to think about their perception of the world and, in doing so, check their understanding. The graphs then present the real data in comparison with user’s guesses.

Some of the You Draw It graphs will even tell you how your guesses compared to other people’s guesses. It might be tempting to give the facts of an often misunderstood story upfront, but hooking users by leveraging their own perspective can help them think carefully about the data they are seeing.

Tools that address the “so what?”

A lot of data tools and visualizations out there are interesting and fun because of unexpected or funny data. Maps showing regional slang terms or the richest person in each state can offer some fun surprises, but, not all data will seem equally personal or relevant to all people. More importantly, sometimes it can be difficult to connect the data in a visualization to what it means for an individual and their community. The Use of Force Project features extensive information about use of force policies in different police departments along with a 12-page report on the relationship between these policies and police violence. Before getting to the data tool, the site presents the user with a thesis statement and concise bullet points framing why use of force policies deserve attention.

The website has a plethora of information, yet it’s easy to walk away with the main idea and argument. Online, the most valuable currency is attention and a compelling “so what” can hold attention a little longer.

Tools that address the “what now?”

Our States is a nifty site created by StayWoke, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting data, design, and policy-related projects pursuing equity and justice. The OurStates website leads with a mission of challenging policies endorsed by the Drumpf administration. When first landing on the page, the user is met with why the tool exists and is presented with an expansive interactive map. The map is rich with information about policies both in harmony with and opposed to President Drumpf’s political platform.

The tool foregrounds civic engagement and gives information on specific action that users can take to support or challenge legislation. The tool gives an overview of legislation across the country while simultaneously allowing users to home in on their own state. A downloadable guide sits just below the map and complements newly learned political knowledge with political action. The site makes it straightforward for the curious user to take next steps toward channeling energy into civic response.

The tool foregrounds civic engagement and gives information on specific action that users can take to support or challenge legislation. The tool gives an overview of legislation across the country while simultaneously allowing users to home in on their own state. A downloadable guide sits just below the map and complements newly learned political knowledge with political action. The site makes it straightforward for the curious user to take next steps toward channeling energy into civic response.

Designing with a narrative in mind

Ultimately, each of the data tools above communicates clearly to the user. These aren’t just standalone tools. They are imbued with different perspectives and, just as an essay helps you think through arguments and ideas, so do compelling data tools. Rather than simply display new information to the user, they compel the user to learn, reflect, and sometimes act. When thinking about advocacy and civic engagement, strategic design starts with a few simple questions: Who do I want to use this? Why do I want them to use this? What do I want to happen when they use this? What do I want to happen after they use this? Great data tools will, in one way or another, supply users with the answers to these questions. Data tools offer an informal space for civically engaging users and helping them become better social critics.


Launch of Array of Things

This week Array of Things project launched, installing the first of its sensors in Chicago.

Here is an excerpt from the official announcement:

Array of Things is designed as a “fitness tracker” for the city, collecting new streams of data on Chicago’s environment, infrastructure, and activity. This hyper-local, open data can help researchers, city officials, and software developers study and address critical city challenges, such as preventing urban flooding, improving traffic safety and air quality, and assessing the nature and impact of climate change.

In the first phase of the project, 50 nodes will be installed in August and September on traffic light poles in The Loop, Pilsen, Logan Square, and along Lake Michigan. These nodes will contain sensors for measuring air and surface temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and ambient sound intensity. Two cameras will collect data on vehicle and foot traffic, standing water, sky color, and cloud cover.

Smart Chicago partnered with Array of Things operator, UrbanCCD, and the City of Chicago to manage a civic engagement process in June of 2016. This process included collected public feedback on draft governance and privacy policies and hosting public meetings in two of the areas of the city that would see nodes first: Pilsen & the Loop. See documentation from the public meeting in Pilsen in this blog post and see documentation from the public meeting in the Loop in this blog post. To read more about these civic engagement efforts, read Smart Chicago’s Array of Things Engagement Report.

Here is a video about Array of Things featuring Brenna Berman, the Chief Information Officer for the City of Chicago, and Charlie Catlett, the Director of UrbanCCD and lead investigator for Array of Things:

Below is a video describing the technology in the Array of Things sensors. It also touches on the engagement process and the privacy policy feedback collection.





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.


Documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting at Harold Washington Library

We’ve compiled documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting on June 22, 2016 at Harold Washington Library. This is part of our Array of Things Civic Engagement project — a series of community meetings and feedback loops to create dialogue around the Array of Things project, collect community input on privacy, and introduce concepts around how the Internet of Things can benefit communities.


The purpose of the Array of Things Public Meeting was to educate the public on the Array of Things project and help facilitate community feedback on the Array of Things Governance & Privacy policy. These were open meetings in Chicago Public Library Branches. No knowledge of technology or sensors was required to be a welcome, meaningful addition to the event.


Here is a link to a Smart Chicago album on Flickr with all photographs from the event. See a selection of the photographs below:

Social Media

Here is a Storify of the meeting created by Smart Chicago:


 Below is the flyer used to the promote the event. Smart Chicago documenters tasked with outreach distributed flyers and event information around the city, focusing on community spaces like churches, computer centers, libraries, small businesses, etc.

Lavelle_Dollop Coffee
Here is an agenda that was distributed at the meeting:

Here is a map distributed at the meeting that showcases the possible Array of Things Sensor node locations:

Here is the full text of the privacy policy that was distributed during the event also found online here:

Here is a one-pager distributed to meeting participates describing how they can provide feedback on the policy:


 Here are the slides that Charlie Catlett of UrbanCCD used at the event:

Here are the slides that Brenna Berman, CIO for the City of Chicago, used at the event:


Below are the detailed notes from the event which we continue to compile and improve. Very important disclaimer: this is an unofficial record of proceedings and not an exact transcript of the event — rather, a summary of the conversation. We are certain that there are errors and omissions in this document. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, contact Smart Chicago here.

This documentation is made possible by our Smart Chicago Documenters Program. Our Documenters program is an essential tool for us to add new thinkers, generate ideas, and expand the field for civic tech. The Program played an important role in other Smart Chicago Projects like the Chicago School of Data and the Police Accountability Meeting coverage. Leah Lavelle, Liz Baudler, and Veronica Benson assisted with event outreach. Liz Baulder assisted with notes. Angel Rodriguez took pictures. Lucia Gonzalez and Veronica Benson provided general event support.