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 people – not 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
Smart Chicago Collaborative and Chi Hack Night have teamed up to create a speaking series in celebration of Women’s History Month in an effort to elevate the talented, diverse women in civic-driven technology across Chicago.
Too often in the tech space we hear about what people do or what product they have made and less about their personal narratives. In this series, we encourage our speakers to share their stories as a transformative learning and inspirational opportunity.
Additionally, we acknowledge the lack of diversity in the civic tech community and believe that becoming more community-based with easier opportunities for engagement and gaining experience will spurn interest in the field and potentially serve as an economic solution to fill technology vacancies in Chicago.
This partnership is especially timely considering Smart Chicago is currently an all women team fighting the good fight on behalf of civic technology and engagement and Chi Hack Night has set a priority area of focus on diversifying its thriving developer community.
The Women in Tech Speakers Series will coincide with the four weekly Chi Hack Night events that occur on Tuesdays at Braintree in Merchandise Mart for the month of March.
Additionally, two community events will be held on Wednesday, March 29th in Homan Square and Thursday March 30th at the DuSable Museum.
It’s important to ensure we are not just highlighting women in technology and their respective stories, but also their roles within the field. Further, if we are going to influence a paradigm shift and draw more interest into the field, demystifying roles and types of opportunities is necessary. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue this partnership and related activities on an ongoing basis, as this is important work.
Braintree 222 W Merchandise Mart Plz, 8th Floor Chicago, IL 60654
RSVP – sold out!
Event #2 – March 14th, 6pm
Next week will feature Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c.stars, an innovative nonprofit leadership and technology training program founded in 1999 to prepare inner-city adults for technology careers and community leadership.
Braintree 222 W Merchandise Mart Plz,8th Floor Chicago, IL 60654
On Tuesday, March 28th, we will welcomeRobin Robinson, a longtime Chicago television news anchor turned special advisor on community affairs for the Chicago Police Department. In her talk, Robin will discuss the role she has taken on and the work needed to rebuild trust between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it serves. We also welcome the Chicago Federation for Women as they share theirTalk It Out initiative, a weeklong conversation series designed to spark understanding about gender bias and the ways it affects women and men.
Braintree 222 W Merchandise Mart Plz, 8th Floor Chicago, IL 60654
In a chapter I wrote for Beyond Transparency called, “Building a Smarter Chicago“, I briefly listed some of the key gatherings and efforts in Chicago that helped make us a center for civic tech. With some research help from Christopher Whitaker, I wanted to expand on that and write down what I knew about the history of such gatherings. Do you know something we’re missing? Hit us up at @smartchicago.
There was lots of other activity. In 2005, I launched CTA Alerts to help riders communicate about issues with the CTA. In 2009, Harper Reed (who would later be the CTO of Obama for America) created an unofficial CTA API that set transit apps on fire in this town. There was even more action in the worlds of MCIC and other institutions and private consulting firms.
But this post aims to codify the history of civic technology and open governments groups in Chicago. It’s big, and incomplete, so bear with me and help me out.
One of the first open government events happened in Chicago on August 4th, 2008. The IGOTF Non-Conference brought together CEOs, professors, and nonprofit executives involved in placing case law on the Internet for free access. That meeting was productive in introducing players to each other in a series of cooperative efforts. EveryBlock People Person Dan O’Neil hosted the event and Omidyar Network, Sunlight Foundation, Google, and Yahoo! were sponsors.
OpenGov Chicago – April 2009
The OpenGov Chicago(-land) meetup group was founded in April of 2009 by Joe Germuska, who was an attendee of IGOTF. He asked me to help organize meetings. The group has one of the largest continuities google groups about open government in the country. Its first meeting on Meetup was a social event at Clark Street Ale House. The meetup group was created for citizens who are interested in seeing their federal, state, and local government function more efficiently and responsively. The group is inspired by people who are actively building tools and experimenting with solutions along these lines, like the Sunlight Foundation and GovTrack. The group stated right on the home page that it believes that open source software practices and internet culture provide good examples of how people can work cooperatively on complex problems to produce meaningful results, but you don’t have to be a techie to be part of this meetup.
OpenGov Chicago has always stated flat-out that you don’t have to be a techie to be part of the Meetup. I think that helped set the tone that the community here is open— we got so many different people from different walks of life.
Illinois Data Exchange Affiliates
One of the other early incarnations of open government groups was the Illinois Data Exchange Affiliates (IDEA). a voluntary coalition of government agencies and nonprofit organizations working to improve and facilitate public access to public data through web-based XML data transfer. Led by Greg Sanders and Justin Massa, the group met regularly and focused on institutions that worked with data.
CityCamp itself would also grow into its own brand with dozens of events happening around the world.
On a personal note, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley wrote a letter of welcome to all attendees. That letter constituted my greatest opengov victory of the last mayoral administration— I took the train to get the signed letter from the mayor’s office on the way to UIC.
data.cityofchicago.org, Apps for Metro Chicago and Urban Geek Drinks
With the election of Rahm Emanuel as Mayor of Chicago, and the national acceptance of open government data pretty much a settled matter, the pace began to change quickly. One of the Mayor’s first acts was to sign an Open Data Executive Order that set the city on the path to opening up their data. John Tolva was hired as the city’s first Chief Technology Office and Brett Goldstein was hired as the city’s first Chief Data Officer. The Department of Innovation and Technology not only published data to the portal, but they hooked up their business systems directly to the portal so that data sets would update automatically.
Brett Goldstein recruited people from the OpenGov Chicago meetup and other technologists to form the “Nerd Herd” – an informal group of people who would meet regularly to talk about technology issues affecting the city.
At the time, there hadn’t been many civic apps created in part because there was no data to fuel them. (You had to either get the data through a Freedom of Information Act or just create the data yourself.) As part of the city’s strategy, the City partnered with the Metro Chicago Information Center to run the Apps for Metro Chicago Contest to help kickstart projects that used newly opened city, county, and state data.
The other big event that was happening at this time was an informal monthly gathering hosted by Justin Massa called Urban Geek Drinks. The venue provided an enormous networking opportunity where people with an interest in civic issues and technology could meet and talk.
Code for America Fellowship, Connect Chicago, and OpenGov Hack Night
At the same time, Whitaker joined Smart Chicago as a consultant and was paid to attend hack night and document the movement. At that point, Derek Eder had left Webitects to start his own civic tech development shop Datamade with Smart Chicago being their first client working on projects like the Chicago Health Atlas and Chicago Early Learning.
Several apps that used data to tell stories about the city was featured in the Chicago Architecture Foundation exhibit “City of Big Data” which uses interactive displays to display different aspects of city data.
Over the next few years, OpenGov Hack Night would grow and serve as a model for groups around the country. The space would outgrow even 1871 and move to the offices of Braintree where they are now. As part of the move, they changed their name to Chi Hack Night to reflect caring about more than just open government. Chi Hack Night is now run by Derek Eder and Christopher Whitaker along with a volunteer leadership council with members running their own breakout groups within Chi Hack Night.
As the community has grown there have been other groups that have formed to help bring together people around the intersection of technology and civic lift.Smart Chicago has hosted Data Potluck at our offices at the Chicago Community Trust and early on at 1871 due to their membership there. Other great groups are the City Data Users Group, Maptime Chicago, the Chicago Data Visualization Group, and more.
In dozens of locations, several times a year, citizens get together to make their local parks and schools better, or to better understand the public safety situation in their beat. We’d like to meet the people who are active in these processes, and also people who would like to participate but are not managing to get involved. Maybe there are ways that software can help these groups gather and distribute information, to learn from their peer councils around the city, and to involve citizens who aren’t able to physically attend the meetings.”
Since that meeting, we’ve continued to help gather and maintain info on Advisory Councils. Here’s a mega-spreadsheet. Many people have contributed to this— please add any info you know!
That result of that discussion was the formation of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail – an all-volunteer organization formed to advocate on behalf of the local community around the Bloomingdale Trail Project. Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail then partnered with The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, to help bring together a coalition of groups to make the 606 a reality.
Wednesday at 6:00 PM at the Chicago Community Trust (225 N Michigan, 22nd floor)
At the next meetup, OpenGov Chicago will cover the Chicago Justice Project’s (CJP) ongoing engagement with the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Timothy Evans.
CJP’s engagement is seeking to open access to all the data created by the Court since they started collecting the data in the 1980s (the courts have told CJP they started collecting data either in 1980 or 1988). This means that when approved CJP would receive about 30 years of Court data. CJP requested all the data maintained by the Clerk’s Office on each criminal case filed, appropriately de-identified. CJP is seeking an agreement that would require regular updates of court data be released on an ongoing basis moving forward removing all the current barriers to this data.
Curious what civic tech is all about? General Assembly will be hosting an expert panel on the growth of collaboration between government and technology in Chicago and how these two industries are working together to serve and support the public good. Learn more about the various innovative initiatives happening in the Chicago area, and how you can get involved to support the community, no matter your experience. Whether you’re a techie or not, the panel will discuss how everyone can contribute to civic engagement.