Community Technology Forums: Objectives & Model

In partnership with DePaul University and various Connect Chicago Meetup partners, Connect Chicago will be engaging directly with residents through Community Technology Forums.

The Community Technology Forums are participatory design sessions aimed at understanding hyperlocal digital equity needs, assets, and ideas. Hosted in partnership with nonprofits and community anchor institutions in Chicago’s neighborhoods, these sessions will give residents an opportunity to articulate a vision for technology in their community. We hope the ideas and needs identified by residents in these sessions inform future work and community investments.

Community Technology Forum Objectives

There are several objectives to these Forums:

  • Understand what residents see as the main challenges or gaps for their community/neighborhood when it comes to technology, Internet access, and training
  • Discover in what ways, both big and small, people would like to see technology improve their daily lives and the quality of life in their communities
  • Find out how people have participated in conversations about technology in their communities in the past, and how they would like to in the future

About the Community Technology Forums

The forums will look like a guided community brainstorming meetings. They will be facilitated by Professor Sheena Erete, Jessa Dickinson, and other community design experts at DePaul University. The Forums will include introductions/icebreakers and about 2-3 interactive group activities for attendees. We will release session schedules for each Forum.

The Forums will amplify hyperlocal opinions and ideas about technology. We recognize that there are many nonprofit and anchor institutions already leading the way in community technology resources and training. Their work is featured at Connect Chicago Meetups and the whole ecosystem benefits from their lessons. By partnering with these institutions as hosts, we hope to not only shine a light on their leadership, but also utilize their position in the community to recruit residents and capture local perspectives.

The Forums will be welcoming & inclusive. All will be welcome at these events, including walk-in participants. Food will be provided and we will schedule the timing of the event in consultation with our nonprofit or community anchor institution host who knows best about the scheduling preferences of their patrons and their community.

The Forums will be well documented. The messages and lessons from each Community Technology Forum will be synthesized and circulated after the events. As with other Smart Chicago engagement events, the work will be shared broadly. We will also be open about meta lessons — what went well, what could be improved, etc. —  for others interested in adapting the work.

Check back on the Smart Chicago blog as Community Technology Forum events are announced. If you are interested in getting involved, volunteering, or hosting a Community Technology Forum later in 2016, please email Program Analyst Denise Linn at

Inclusive Innovation for Smart Cities: HUBweek 2016

unknownThis September I had the opportunity to attend HUBweek and participate in the roundtable “#Tech4Democracy: Meet the Change Makers.” The event, hosted by the Harvard Ash Center, explored the potential and pitfalls of digital technology in realizing democratic values such as participation, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and equal representation. I was honored to join amazing leaders in the field: Seth Flaxman from DemocracyWorks, Rey Faustian from One Degree, and Tiana Epps-Johnson from the Center for Technology and Civic Life right here in Chicago.

One of the major themes of HUBweek was inclusive innovation. That theme is certainly worth discussing within the context of smart city work. Inclusive innovation in smart cities could mean everything from building usable tools, building equitable technology infrastructure, or having ethical data collection practices. During the roundtable conversation our moderator asked me the question below which has sit with me ever since:

What would be a “home-run” in the smart city space: an innovation that the city could adopt that would make a big, positive difference in the lives of Chicagoans?

Though it would have been tempting to brainstorm a cool, hypothetical “home-run” piece of technology on the spot, my mind gravitated toward innovative processes, not tools. This might be because here at Smart Chicago, we just wrapped up the Array of Things Civic Engagement Project which challenged us to create an inclusive process for gathering feedback on Chicago’s newest “smart city” project.  Of course, if things happen the way we think they will, cities will only get smarter. Array of Things is unlikely be the last “smart city” innovation deployed in Chicago’s public spaces. Given that, perhaps a lasting, valued innovation would be the creation of a values-driven smart city process — a framework we can follow to ensure that current and future smart city projects are deployed with residents and for residents. After all, these projects — whether are they sensors, fiber networks, or Wi-Fi kiosks — shouldn’t just be innovative or new. We should also expect these smart city technologies to be accessible, welcoming, relevant, and usable.

You can listen to the whole event on soundcloud. The roundtable begins on 4:50: