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.

CUTGroup #24 – OpenGrid

Our CUTGroup Proctor, Nathalie Rayter, wrote the final analysis report for this test. The CUTGroup Proctor Program trains once highly active CUTGroup testers to learn more about usability (UX) testing and CUTGroup test processes.

CUTGroup #24 - OpenGridFor our twenty-fourth Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) session, we tested OpenGrid– an open-source interface developed by the City of Chicago that allows residents to search for, interact with and visualize City of Chicago’s datasets.

“OpenGrid has an intuitive user interface that’s highly responsive and efficient. The application is accessible from any devices (e.g., mobile, laptop, tablet or desktop). It’s unique, functional, and an easy to use tool to find city data. It extracts city data and displays it in an illustrative form which makes it easier for a user to search and understand the information.”
– City of Chicago Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT)

The City of Chicago DoIT conducted some user research and testing of OpenGrid before this CUTGroup test, but it tended to be with high-capacity users or City of Chicago staff. The DoIT department wanted to better understand how residents with different levels of data familiarity and digital skills might use OpenGrid.

“Programmers, however, make up a very small portion of the overall population of a city – as a platform grounded in open data, OpenGrid’s mission is to be accessible by anyone who wishes to learn more about their city…

CUTGroup’s process provides a vital link between developer and user that the civic tech world sometimes lacks.  It’s one of the most human crowd-sourced enhancement mechanisms that a civic app developer could have in her toolkit.”
Sean Thornton, Program Advisor for the Ash Center’s Civic Analytics Network and writer for Data-Smart City Solutions


On April 12, we sent out an email to 1,132 CUTGroup testers who live in Chicago. We wanted to know if they would be available for an in-person test on April 20, 2016. When segmenting our testers, we were interested in including testers who described themselves as not being very familiar with using datasets in their personal or professional lives. We also wanted to include testers who had varying degrees of familiarity with what was happening in their neighborhoods. Lastly, we wanted to include testers with different types of devices.

Screening Questions

During our initial call-out for testers, we heard from 98 CUTGroup members. We received a lot of good information just from the screening questions.

  • 38% of respondents used the Chicago Data Portal before
  • 38% of respondents use or work with datasets in their professional lives, but only half of these respondents said they used the data portal in the past

We were looking to include 20-25 testers for this test. We wanted to test with half of them on laptops and the rest on a variety of mobile devices.

Test Format

For this in-person test, each tester was paired up with a proctor who at this time was either a City of Chicago DoIT employee or involved with the project (this test happened before we formalized a proctor program). Proctors guided testers through doing multiple tasks on OpenGrid, observed the results, and took notes on the testers’ experiences and feedback. This test also utilized A/B testing, where 13 of the testers (“A” Testers) began on (OpenGrid’s homepage) and the other 10 testers (“B” Testers) on (the app interface). We also wanted testers to test either on laptops that we provided or their own mobile device. 

"A" testers reviewed this informational homepage

“A” testers reviewed this homepage.

"B" testers began directly within the OpenGrid app

“B” testers began directly within the OpenGrid app


On April 20, we tested OpenGrid with 23 CUTGroup testers at the Chicago Public Library Legler Branch located in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

This presentation was shared with the City of Chicago DoIT team that highlighted top results from the test. 


Through the A/B format of this test, we learned how important the context from the OpenGrid homepage is. Testers who started directly in the app were typically more confused about next steps or misunderstood what OpenGrid does. We did hear, though, that there is a lot of information on the OpenGrid homepage, and parts of the homepage spoke to different audiences (especially technical audiences), which made testers feel that this website was not necessarily targeted to them.

“I wouldn’t understand this unless I was in technology. ‘Open source’ is definitely for the ‘tech folks’ and does not matter to me.” -Yoonie, #A18

7 out of the 13 “A” testers who started on the OpenGrid homepage said this website was targeted to Chicago residents, whereas, there was much less consensus about who the target audience is among testers in Group B.

Testers who started on the OpenGrid homepage typically clicked “Launch” (7 out of 13 testers clicked on this button) as their first step. “B” testers did not have a clear sense of what to do first, and therefore, did more exploratory actions to learn more about what OpenGrid does.

Ease of use

As the test designer, I was not prepared for how difficult some of the tasks would be to complete on both mobile and laptop devices. Test sessions typically lasted over an hour, and the majority of testers said that the tasks were “difficult” or “very difficult” to complete. We were lucky to get great, actionable feedback from our CUTGroup testers, which I translated to open GitHub issues on the City of Chicago’s repository.

Overall, how easy do you think it is to use the OpenGrid website?

Group A
5 – Very easy 0%
4 – Easy 23% (3)
3 – Neutral 23% (3)
2 – Difficult 31% (4)
1 – Very difficult 23% (3)

Group B
5 – Very easy 0%
4 – Easy 20% (2)
3 – Neutral 40% (4)
2 – Difficult 10% (1)
1 – Very difficult 30% (3)

We heard a number of improvements that the OpenGrid team could make to improve searching for, finding, and filtering datasets. 13 testers recommended that changes should be made to the OpenGrid search tools to make it easier for users to find the information they are looking for. 7 of these testers thought that the search bar should respond to addresses/zip codes or tags like “311.” 3 testers commented that the existing search filters are too complicated and that they should be simplified. Paloma (#B8) says, “Commonly used queries was easy; all other filters made it difficult.”

7 testers mentioned that they would improve the descriptions and instructions that orient the user to the OpenGrid interface. 2 of these testers recommended adding instructions that suggest how a user would interact with the page, such as suggesting a search or having sample questions. For example, Cleveland54 (#B3) says, “The advanced search panel should be pushed down with a note at top saying ‘welcome, you can search blah blah here.’ The landing page should have a description of the website and then launch to the site.”

We also saw that there needed to be a stronger connection and responsiveness between the filters and the map. Testers were making changes to their search criteria in the advanced search panel and were expecting to see those changes on the map. We also saw that testers would move the map, not create a map boundary using the tool, and then use advanced search expecting that the advanced search panel was connected to their map view and they would get results in that location.


The biggest theme we saw throughout this test was that testers faced numerous challenges with the language on OpenGrid. From the homepage review, where testers thought that the language was targeted to the tech community, to the search and filtering functionality, the biggest improvement that could be made to OpenGrid is including more accessible language.

“It needs to be user-friendly for all Chicago citizens – terms like ‘geo-spatial filters’ don’t mean anything to most users. It sounds deep, but gets people nowhere. This isn’t Star Trek over here.” -Renee54, #A4

Testers also faced challenges viewing the dataset, and not always easily being able to distinguish what the field types meant. Searching required testers to know the exact field name when filtering down the results to more relevant information.

Our biggest recommendation to the OpenGrid team was to take time reviewing the site, and incorporating plain language to content, datasets, and functions.

Next Steps

Once the CUTGroup test was completed, we updated the City of Chicago’s GitHub repository with all pertinent issues that represented the top challenges our CUTGroup testers faced. The City of Chicago DoIT continues to work in the open– inviting developers to participate in open calls, sharing notes on status updates, and documenting their current and future work.

The recent OpenGrid v.1.2.0 release addressed issues that directly came from our CUTGroup testers:

The newest version contains improvements to OpenGrid to make it easier to use. The latest release contains friendlier language, an improved user interface to highlight more important features while deemphasizing more technical options, and reducing the number of mouse clicks to see data.

We are excited about opportunities through the CUTGroup to do usability testing on more data-focused websites and applications. While a lot of testers found OpenGrid difficult to use, out of 11 testers who said “Yes,” they liked OpenGrid,  appreciated that they were able to access new information and data that they were not aware of before this test. This test OpenGrid is an example of how we can continue to learn about how residents interact with data and their potential needs in using open data and then create better user experiences around understanding and using data.

Final Report

Here is a final report of the results:

Here is the raw test data:

CUTGroup #24 - OpenGrid

The Launch of OpenGrid for Smart Cities

open-grid-for-smart-cities-logoToday our partner, Uturn Data Solutions, launched Open Grid for Smart Cities, with support from Smart Chicago.

Here’s a snip from Uturn’s press release:

Today, Uturn Data Solutions, a Chicago-based Amazon Web Services (AWS) Consulting Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN), in partnership with Smart Chicago Collaborative, launched a new civic tech product in AWS Marketplace: OpenGrid for Smart Cities. Based on an open source project by the City of Chicago, Uturn has optimized and packaged OpenGrid as an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) making it easy for any city to adopt the platform for its own use and quickly deploy it on the AWS Cloud.

OpenGrid AMI on the AWS Marketplace is an interactive, map-based platform to explore publicly-available open data sets in an easy-to-use-interface. OpenGrid enables municipalities to offer residents, businesses and communities a better way to interact with public data. Users can perform advanced queries to filter data and search within custom boundaries or based on the user’s location.

For a monthly subscription fee of $750.00, and by following these setup instructions, you can have a fully-functional map-best website in your city.

Here’s Uturn’s description of this product offering and more information on Open Grid for Smart Cities:

OpenGrid enables municipalities to offer residents, businesses, and communities a better way to explore and interact with publicly-available data about their city or region. It was originally developed for internal use by the City of Chicago as a way to gain situational awareness by viewing information from different city agencies on a single map.

In January 2016, Uturn and Smart Chicago created, the first publicly-accessible version of OpenGrid with data from Chicago’s Open Data Portal. “We wanted to create a new model for open data and civic technology that can be replicated in other cities and organizations,” said Dan O’Neil, Executive Director at Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving residents’ lives in Chicago through technology. “Now, instead of forking code and paying developers for custom implementations, people can just complete a form and put existing software to work immediately.” Funding for the development of was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and through Smart Chicago’s Developer Resources Program, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“The code for OpenGrid is available online but adopting open-source solutions still requires in-house expertise and infrastructure to host the application,” said Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer for the City of Chicago. “The OpenGrid AMI enables any city to start using the platform with a click from AWS Marketplace so they can quickly deploy on a low-cost infrastructure. We hope to move the needle from producing open source software to thinking about how it can be easier to adopt and reuse.”

Increasingly, governments, public institutions, and commercial organizations are looking for ways to be more agile as well as save money. “The AWS Marketplace 1-Click® deployment model gives both commercial and public sector customers the ability to use software running on the cloud, without having to make large capital acquisitions”, said Adam Dillman, Founder and Managing Partner at Uturn Data Solutions. “Uturn Data Solutions will provide technical support including the latest updates and releases to OpenGrid customers as part of their paid subscription. Uturn also offers consulting services to help organizations get the most out of OpenGrid and further expand their data capabilities.”


Wired Magazine on OpenGrid and Open 311

HWired Magazine Logoere’s a great post about OpenGrid in Wired Magazine today: Conquer Chicago’s Mountain of Data With This Powerful Tool. Here’s a snip about the vast amount of data in the City’s 311 system:

Berman explains that most of the data on OpenGrid is administrative data collected from city systems—like 311 City Services—that are already in place. In essence, these systems are pulling double duty as a civic service and a data funnel. Every time someone calls 311 to complain about noise level, that information is passed on to OpenGrid.

Smart Chicago funded and helped run the creation of the Open 311 system back in 2012.

OpenGrid on the Chicago Public Data Blog

WBEZ LogoChris Hagan of WBEZ wrote a good post today on OpenGrid: Chicago launches OpenGrid, latest step in making open data more accessible. Here’s a snip:

Dan O’Neil, executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, which assisted on the project, reminded developers that tools such as OpenGrid are a first step. He pointed out that despite Chicago’s advances in open data, problems such as police misconduct have arguably gotten worse.

“There are no dots on a map that stopped that from happening,” O’Neil said. “There is no set of crime statistics that stopped that from happening. We have to find ways to have communion with people who are not here.”

Maps and tech and data are simply pieces. Communion among humans is what matters.