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.

Issue Primer: Health

Health Datapalooza CodeathonFor this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, we’re writing up primers on different civic issues to help people get a better understanding of the issues as they start working on projects.

Below, we’ve listed out places where you can data on health, some examples of projects centered around health and human services , and some resources online to help you with your project.

Health and Human Services 

Healthcare and the social services that are often connected to it is an extremely complicated and expensive issue. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the United States spent about $2 trillion dollars on health care.

In addition to regular healthcare, state and local governments spend a tremendous amount of funds on social services. The effects of the recession, pension crises in multiple states, and cuts from Congress have caused state and local governments to make drastic cuts to social services. This happened at exactly the time that more people required social services putting significant strain on the social safety net.

Aside from the big picture, the experience of those receiving social service is an innately human one – and an experience that most Americans don’t have. Most Americans at some point have to go to the DMV and the experience is often portrayed as downright in pop culture as downright terrible. The experience of being on social services often is worse – not in just the big picture sense, but in small ways. The social safety net is managed by a multitude of government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Technology projects, such as mRelief, center around health and human services often try and help residents better navigate and understand the resources available to them.

Data Resources

The federal data portal contains over 800 datasets on health. We’ve highlighted some key ones:

  • Hospital Charge Data: Data are being released that show significant variation across the country and within communities in what providers charge for common services. These data include information comparing the charges for the 100 most common inpatient services and 30 common outpatient services.  Providers determine what they will charge for items and services provided to patients and these charges are the amount the provider’s bills for an item or service.
  • Community Health Status Indicators (CHSI): to combat obesity, heart disease, and cancer are major components of the Community Health Data Initiative.
  • CDC Cancer StatisticsThe United States Cancer Statistics (USCS) online databases in WONDER provide cancer incidence and mortality data for the United States for the years since 1999, by year, state and metropolitan areas (MSA), age group, race, ethnicity, gender, childhood cancer classifications and cancer site.

County Government Data 

Many county governments administer their own health and human service systems – some of which release this data to the public.

Cook County, IL ( 

San Francisco, CA [City and County] (

  • Child Care Subsidies, San Francisco, CA: Data illustrate the total number of state and non-state child care subsidies available as well as the number of children (0-12 years old) that are eligible for subsidies and the difference between these two numbers by zip code in San Francisco.
  • HSA 90 Day Emergency Housing Waitlist: Provides the seniority list for entry into HSA 90 day emergency shelter waitlist. The list will be generated on 2/24/14 and updated twice daily.

State Government Data 

States administer Medicare, Medicaid and often provide funding for local health and human service programs. Below is a highlight of some state data sets.

Illinois ( 

New York ( 

City Government Data

Cities are also releasing data on health and social services. Here’s some highlights from different cities.

Chicago ( 

  • Food Inspections: This information is derived from inspections of restaurants and other food establishments in Chicago from January 1, 2010 to the present.
  • Neighborhood Health Clinics (Historical): Former neighborhood health clinic locations, hours of operation and contact information. These clinics were closed or transferred to private management in July 2012
  • Infant Death Mortality in Chicago: This dataset contains the annual number of infant deaths annually, cumulative number of infant deaths, and average annual infant mortality rate with corresponding 95% confidence intervals, by Chicago community area, for the years 2005 – 2009

Boston (

New York City ( 

Potential Partners

The best civic apps are built through partnerships between technologists, residents, and the people who work on the front lines. Here’s a list of potential partners you can work with in your own cities to help build projects that can make an impact.

Health Data ConsortiumThe Health Data Consortium is a public-private partnership working to foster the availability and innovative use of open health data to improve health and healthcare. This organization is particularly useful for government agencies looking for help opening up health data.

Code for America Health Focus Team: The health focus area works to improve the health of people and their communities. Code for America works with the wide variety of teams that contribute to these outcomes—including city health departments, public health agencies, state offices, and non-profit organizations.

Smart Chicago CollaborativeSmart Chicago’s multiple health initiatives provide equipment, training, and information that allow residents to take action to improve their own health. We are strong advocates for promoting open data practices in the healthcare field. Smart Chicago is always happy to talk and share our work.

Local Health Departments: Local health departments are in the trenches on a daily basis working to make their communities healthier and can make great partners.  The Chicago Department of Public Health was one of the first city agencies to jump into civic hacking with the Chicago Flu Shot app.

Examples of Health Related Projects


mRelief is a site that simplifies the social service qualifying process with an easy-to-use form that can be accessed online and through SMS. Residents can check to see if they’re eligible for a variety of programs including food stamps, medicaid, WIC, and more.

EBT Near Me 

EBTNearMe is the easiest way to find stores and surcharge-free ATMs where you can use your EBT card in California. It was build by the Code for America Health Team because California welfare recipients pay nearly $20 million per year in ATM surcharge fees partially because there isn’t an easy way to find the free ones.

It’s an open source project built with public retailer data from the USDA and ATM data graciously shared by the CA Office of Systems Integration.

Foodborne Chicago

Foodborne Chicago uses computers & code to search Twitter for tweets related to food poisoning in Chicago. The system does as much as it can to automatically zero-in on the tweets Foodborne thinks are really about a possible food poisoning case and really coming from Chicago. Then real humans from the Chicago Department of Public Health review the tweets and @reply back to people with a link back to this page where Foodborne asks for additional information. When they fill out the online form, it becomes a 311 service request to inspect the suspect restaurant.

Chicago Health Atlas

The Chicago Health Atlas a place where you can view citywide information about health trends and take action near you to improve your own health. The site displays large amounts of data from sources like the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, and local hospitals so you can get big-picture views of health statistics in Chicago like hospital admissions, uninsurance rates, cause of death, birth rates. and drill down deep into neighborhoods to see specific information and how it compares to the city overall.

People to follow on Twitter

@lippytalk: Jake Solomon is a member of Code for America’s health focus team and spent time on SNAP benefits so he could better understand the challenges that users face.

@reedmonseur: Raed Mansour works on #publichealth tech innovations for @ChiPublicHealth like @FoodBorneChi, BU #HealthComm Faculty, APHA Member, @PurdueAlumni & @BUalumni.

@PublicHealth: Official account of the American Public Health Association: For science. For action. For health.

@CDCgov: CDC’s official Twitter source for daily credible health & safety updates for Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.



Issue Primer: Transportation

US Department of Transportation in DC

US Department of Transportation Building in Washington, DC. Photo by Flickr user Marabuchi

For this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, we’re writing up primers on different civic issues to help people get a better understanding of the issues as they start working on projects.

Below, we’ve listed out places where you can data on transportation, some examples of projects centered around transportation, and some resources online to help you with your project.


Transportation policy impacts many different aspects of city life. Transportation policy impacts economic development,  the environment, and overall quality of life. Transportation is also something that cities, states, and the federal government spend a lot of money on. In 2009, total transportation expenditure by State and local governments reached the record level of $270 billion. Despite these expenditures, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the country’s infrastructure a grade of D+. Specifically, the ASCE is calling for additional investments to repair roads, bridges, and rail infrastructure.

Data Resources:

The US Department of Transportation has over 1600 transportation related data sets at along with several developer resources. These developer resources include:

At the local level, Chicago also has several sets of data related to transportation including:

The State of Illinois’ Department of Transportation also publishes data on transportation including:

Potential Partners 

The best civic apps are built through partnerships between technologists, residents, and the people who work on the front lines. Here’s a list of potential partners you can work with in your own cities to help build projects that can make an impact.

  • City Transportation and Transit Agencies: Chicago Department of Transportation, New York’s MTA, or Boston’s MTBA.
  • Regional Planning Authorities: Regional planning authorities are responsible for helping to plan major transportation projects across wide regions. This is often a requirement for these projects to receive federal transportation dollars. Because of that, these agencies often have data useful for transportation projects or experts who can help with projects. Some examples of these agencies are the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council, Association of Bay Area Governments, and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commision.
  • Cycling Groups: Cycling groups try and advocate for policy reforms to promote cycling in cities. These groups may be familiar with current city policies, popular bike routes, and trouble areas.   These groups include Critical Mass, San Fransisco Bicycle Coalition, and Bike Austin.
  • Bikeshare Systems: Many cities are now installing bike share systems to increase cycling in their cities. Many of these bike share systems regularly release data about ridership and usage that can be used to power apps.

Examples of Transportation Related Apps: 

SpotHero: SpotHero is a civic startup that efficiently connects parking demand and parking supply. SpotHero allows parking spot owners to earn income by renting their spot when it’s unoccupied.

SpotHero was the winner of the Apps for Metro Chicago Challenge in 2012. Since then, they’ve graduated from TechStars/Excelerate , raised 2.5 million in VC funding,  expanded to seven cities and has hired twenty people.

Chicago Bike Crash Map: Crash data for Chicago in 2005-2012 where a bicyclist or pedestrian was the first point of impact by a driver’s automobile, as collected by responding law enforcement and maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

TextMyBus – Built by Code for America for the  the Detroit Department of Transportation. This app lets riders text a number to see when the next bus is.

Other resources on the web

StreetsblogStreetsblog is a national network of blogs that cover transportation issues on a daily basis.

People to follow on Twitter

@SteveVance – Transportation reporter for Streetsblog Chicago and one of the co-organizers of the Transportation of OpenGov Night Night.

@Gabe_Klien – Former transportation chief for DC and Chicago.

@Anthony_Foxx – Current US Secretary of Transportation

@JoesphKopser – CEO and Founder of Ridescout, a transit app that aggregates data from multiple transit agencies

Issue Primer: Safety and Justice

screenshot-expunge.io_For this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, we’re writing up primers on different civic issues to help people get a better understanding of the issues as they start working on projects.

Below, we’ve listed out places where you can data on safety and justice, some examples of projects centered around safety and justice, and some resources online to help you with your project.

Safety and Justice

Safety and Justice is a relatively new broad term that used to describe the subject areas of criminal justice, public safety and reform efforts. The term is also used to try to bridge the tension between the need to keep our communities safe while ensuring that the mechanisms used to do that are equitable and fair.

While the topic may be broad, there are some very specific challenges that are on the forefront.

Overcrowding at Jails 

When people get charged with a crime, they are sent to jail. If they can secure a bond (a payment made to the court to secure their appearance at trial), then they are released on bail. If they can not, then they are placed in jail to await their trial at a cost to the government that’s often greater than the amount of their bond. (By contrast, Prisons are where people are sent after they have been convicted of a crime – they are not the same thing.)

According to the Vera Institute for Justice, even as crime has gone down the population of jails has increased nationally as economically disadvantaged people fill the prisons because they are unable to make bail. According to the study, 75% of people currently in jail awaiting trial are there for nonviolent crimes like property, traffic, or drug crimes. The overcrowding of prisons largely impacts people in low income neighborhoods and communities of color. Per the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

The other element is that some jails have become dumping grounds for the mentally ill.

Tom Dart is the sheriff of Cook County, where he oversees what he calls the largest mental health facility in the State of Illinois. In 45 states, the largest mental health provider is a prison or a jail.

There are a number of things that governments like Cook County are trying to do to address the issue including electronic monitoring and alternative sentencing (often where the inmate is diverted to a treatment facility instead of incarceration.) However, impending budget cuts may stem progress.

This trend of more people in the system is also occurring at the same time overall crime is trending down nationally.

Juvenile Justice 

Another big challenge that people in this area tend to focus on is juvenile justice. Convictions for criminal convictions tend to skew young – particularly in economically depressed areas. The problem is often exacerbated by cuts in school funding and youth programs designed to keep youth away from gangs. In addition, the victims of gun violence are also disproportionately young and male.

Once a person turns 18, there are ways to have a juvenile record expunged. This doesn’t just mean the case is removed from a criminal record – expungement means that in the eyes of the law the incident never existed.  So, for example, if a person is asked on a job application if they’ve ever been arrested for a crime they can legally answer “No” if that incident was expunged.

However, in many states this isn’t automatic. The resident has to go through a legal process that can be complicated. Even if the resident wasn’t found guilty or had their case dismissed, they may still have a criminal record which can prevent them from getting a job, joining the military, or getting into college.

Even when an expungement is successful and in the eyes of the law didn’t happen, the Internet has a long memory. In some cases, news stories about an arrest still exist and come up first in google searches even if the person wasn’t convicted. In worst cases, nefarious businesses make money by scraping mugshot pictures from government websites then charging people to remove them. Google has recently changed the search algorithm to push mugshot sites down the results list and the FBI has asked victims of these schemes to file a complaint.

A complex system 

Tackling problems in the criminal justice system can seem daunting simply because of the complexity of the system. The criminal justice systems is made up of many government entities at the local, state, and federal level that each handle a different aspect of the system. From a data perspective, each agency has it’s own data system and very little of it is handed off from one part to the other. (So, you couldn’t take one incident report number and trace it all the way through to somebody being sentenced to prison.)

Data Sources

We’ve highlighted some data sets that pertain to the area of safety and justice below. However, because the criminal justice system is complex it may be of use to check out Crime and Punishment in Chicago to get a better sense of the different aspects of data available. You can also check out the Sunlight Foundation’s excellent coverage on the topic – including a Google Doc that showcases a list of known data resources nationwide.

National Crime Victimization Survey (US Department of Justice)This research helps the justice department measure how many people are victims of certain kinds of crimes, or the victimization rates.

Dallas Police Department Call of ServiceThis data release stands out because it identifies the units responding to each event, a link to map that will display the block from where the call originated, and the status of the call, among other included data fields. However, the data can’t be downloaded.

Chicago Crimes 2001 – PresentThis dataset reflects reported incidents of crime (with the exception of murders where data exists for each victim) that occurred in the City of Chicago from 2001 to present, minus the most recent seven days.

Henrico County (VA) Arrest Reports: Arrest data is searchable, but not downloadable in bulk.

Cuyahoga County Office of the Prosecutor (Ohio): Includes a performance dashboard that includes dispositions statistics, juvenile dispositions, cold case rapes, heroin deaths and prosecutions, incarceration statistics, and charging statistics.

King County (WA) Adult Bookings: The Jail Bookings Open Data dataset is provided by the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. The dataset contains adult jail bookings which have occurred within the last twelve months; specific dates are indicated on the web site.

Maryland State Courts: Website lists what occurs in every court hearing while also detailing information regarding the officer that arrested the defendant, the prosecutor(s) prosecuting the case, and the judge presiding over the case. (No bulk download)

Oregon Prison Population: Dates and the count of inmates in the State of Oregon’s prison system for the date. Based on a DOC report for 1980 -1993. Based on query of DOC data for 1994-current

Potential Partners

Legal Aid: Legal aid foundations and societies offer free legal services to clients that may not be able to afford these services on their own. Many of the apps that focus on expungement, have legal aid foundations as partners.

Code for America Safety and Justice Focus TeamCode for America partners with local governments to build and grow digital safety and justice services focused on increasing public safety and reducing costs, helping governments transform themselves along the way.

Neighborhood Organizations: Neighborhood organizations play a vital role in building relationships between residents, public officials, and other non-profit organizations.

Examples of Safety and Justice Related Projects is a website designed for people with juvenile records in Illinois to kick of the process of expunging, or erasing, those records. It is a youth-led project run by Smart Chicago and controlled by the Mikva Challenge Juvenile Justice Council.

Jail Population Management DashboardJail Population Management Dashboard helps judges and other stakeholders understand the conditions in the metro jail and use this data to visualize how their decisions affect program, facility and inmate outcomes.

Convicted in Cook: Convicted in Cook is a project that analyzes five years worth of conviction data received through the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County by the Chicago Justice Project.

CourtbotCourtbot is a simple web service for handling court case data. It offers a basic HTTP endpoint for integration with websites, and a set of advanced twilio workflows to handle text-based lookup. It’s been deployed by Atlanta to help people pay their traffic tickets online instead of waiting in line at traffic court.

People to follow on Twitter:

@TomDart: Sheriff of Cook County. Bringing an innovative approach to law enforcement in the second most populous county in the US.

@MarshalProj: The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom covering America’s criminal justice system. Tweets usually from @.

@PublicSafetyThe Coalition for Public Safety is working to reform our criminal justice system to make it more just, more fair, and more effective.