Announcing the April Connect Chicago Meetup: Digital Inclusion Asset Mapping

At the next Connect Chicago Meetup we will break into working groups to co-build a better shared inventory of public digital inclusion resources and assets. Unlike other Meetups, there will be no featured speaker. Instead, the focus will be on networking, problem solving, and group collaboration, much like what’s been done in our Connect Chicago working groups

Event: Digital Inclusion Asset Mapping

Where: The Chicago Community Trust

When: Friday, April 28th from 11am to 1pm

RSVP at this link.

Connent Chicago members are invited to join one of three breakout working groups to map out:

  • WiFi & public computing resources — This group will strategize ways to improve + expand + evangelize information about free place-based resources for digital inclusion. Here is an existing inventory to build on. 
  • Local Digital Inclusion Programs — This group will brainstorm all of the great work they know of in our network. They can strategize which types of partners should get more involved in local digital inclusion work & partnerships. One potential starting place can be this existing inventory.
  • Training Resources — This group will compile free online curriculum and digital learning platforms to be shared widely with Chicago’s digital inclusion community. They can build on and identify gaps in this existing collection.

Come join the conversation and co-build digital inclusion content to help fuel an equitable tech ecosystem in Chicago. Meet and network with computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, technologists, community advocates, and fellow residents who care about digital inclusion in Chicago. Please RSVP so we can get an accurate count for lunch. Thank you!

The Connect Chicago Meetup is a monthly gathering of computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, and fellow residents who care about the digital lives of Chicagoans. In 2017, Meetups will be held downtown and some events (called Community Technology Forums) will be held at community learning & nonprofit sites across the city. Email me with any questions, concerns or ideas for future Connect Chicago Meetups:

Health Insecurities: Does Data Show Improvement?

Is There A Backwards Slide?

In a June 2016 GALLUP article  by Jeffrey M. Jones and Nader Nekvasil it was reported that U.S. Healthcare Insecurity was at a  record low as “fewer Americans reported not having enough money to pay for necessary healthcare and/or medicine.”

These findings are based on interviews conducted daily from January 2008 through March 2016 as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Gallup and Healthways classify Americans as healthcare insecure if they report being unable to pay for healthcare and/or medicines they or their family needed at some point in the past 12 months.

Overall, the percentage of U.S. adults with healthcare insecurity has dropped 3.5 percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2013. This drop in healthcare insecurity coincides with the decline in the percentage of uninsured Americans, which has fallen from 17.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013 — just before the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that Americans have health insurance went into effect — to 11.0% in the first quarter of this year.

The increase in the percentage of Americans having health insurance is likely a key reason why fewer Americans are struggling to pay for healthcare. Generally, those without health insurance are at least three times more likely to report not having enough money for healthcare/medicine than their counterparts with health insurance. In the most recent quarter, 41.8% of the uninsured said they had struggled to pay for healthcare costs, compared with 12.3% of those with insurance.

As a certified ACA In-Person Counselor it is quite frightening to consider the cost in lives that an ill-advised, ill-conceived repeal of the Affordable Care Act will cost. This gives me great pause and concern about how the most vulnerable populations will survive.  I worked with hundreds of families between 2014-2015 in Illinois who were able to gain and afford coverage under the provisions of the ACA. Families that otherwise who would have not received emergency and necessary care, including surgeries that saved lives. These changes will not only affect the Black and Brown communities, they will impact all impoverished communities. The buzz words being offered are “everyone will access to healthcare” well you can have “access” to a multitude of services in a free country. However, if you can’t afford them is it really accessible.

As reported in CRAINS Chicago Business, in Illinois, more than 1 million people gained insurance under the ACA, and, of those, 650,000 qualified under a Medicaid expansion that House Republicans appear keen to let bleed. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office project that the ranks of the uninsured would double by 2026, which would mean a step back into the time warp of too many people delaying treatment and then landing in emergency rooms after their problems are critical. For taxpayers, it’s much cheaper to keep tabs on a diabetic than it is to pay for kidney dialysis or limb amputations—two very real outcomes when the disease goes untreated.

What Do We Stand To Lose?

While Medicaid expansion, minimal essential coverage, zero lifetime maximums and free preventative services are on the table to be repealed, another provision of the ACA is the requirement for hospitals to conduct “community health needs assessments” to justify the tax exemptions they receive for providing “charity care”. These community health needs assessments uncovered and confirmed what may sociologists and human service professionals already new. There are other social determinants to health. Health is holistic and includes more than a patient’s medical history. These social determinants include but are not limited to:

  • Access to healthy food (Food Deserts)
  • Susceptibility to violence (Domestic and Community)
  • Housing Insecurities
  • Unemployment
  • Access to transportation
  • Behavioral Health

Many hospitals as a result of the CHNAs developed or grew programs to address these problems in their communities. “These plans will improve population health, reduce costs and result in better quality care. Furthermore, these plans provide new opportunities for hospitals to invest in upstream interventions– working to make policy, systems and environment improvements that will impact the communities in which they serve.”-Bechara Choucair, M.D, Former Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health

“If the ranks of the uninsured or underinsured grow, then charity care will increase. And the ability to do some of these more creative efforts will be hampered.” said -Joan Quinlan VP for Community Health Massachusetts General

Tools We Can Use

The Chicago Department of Public Health will be deploying an updated version of the Chicago Health Atlas which will include the findings, strategies and implementation plan from Healthy Chicago 2.0.  Data from this collaboration is being used to identify and address 10 priority areas to focus community health improvement efforts on over the next 4 years. These priority areas include both health outcomes and social determinants of health, as well as public health infrastructure elements like partnerships and data.

The Chicago Health Atlas is a resident facing Web site for displaying aggregate health-related information on a map so that people can see the prevalence of specific health conditions in their area and find out how they can improve their health and get  information about health care provider options in their communities.

What Now: After The Vote?

So, what now? What next? This is a small victory, a reprieve if you will. This will undoubtedly rear it’s head again before this Presidency ends. We must continue to “Listen.”  Listen to the stories of the residents and Americans whose lives and health was positively impacted by their ability to obtain health care either through the Marketplace or through expanded Medicaid coverage. We listen to the lawmakers from our state and follow their comments and votes on the measure which will change the lives of many Chicagoans. We listen to seek to understand  the elements that do need to be changed; and change them for the good. This is not a partisan issue. Everyone in Illinois who is concerned about the well-being of our fellow citizens should be concerned about the impact of this process on our city and our state.



Equitable 21st Century Information Infrastructure: Thoughts from the 2017 Knight MLS

In February, our team attended the Knight Media Learning Seminar (MLS) in Miami. We spent time with a dynamic mix of philanthropists and journalists discussing civic technology and the battle against misinformation.

Regardless of whether content is accurate, it is still disseminated across a flawed information infrastructure defined by inequitable access and echo chambers. As I participated in MLS, I was reminded of this reality and how it interacts with our digital inclusion work at Smart Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust.


Our information infrastructure has been shaped by concentrated poverty and the lasting impact of segregation in our cities.  Just recently, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance published a report pointing to systemic discrimination and “broadband redlining” in Cleveland. This has brought us to 2017 where, despite the fact that we feel saturated with news and notifications, the human the built systems that create and deliver our civic news are still not built to serve or even reach all Americans.

Access & adoption remains a problem, even in 2017

A talk on the future of media by Amy Webb highlighted some of the most interesting trends in technology today: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics. After the talk an audience member stood up and asked, “How does access/adoption of the Internet impact this conversation on the future of tech engagement?”

About 1 in 5 American households do not have Internet in the home and the same is true for the City of Chicago. Unfortunately, unconnected households are also more likely to be minority, older, and report lower educational attainment. So, at conference like this where the latest and greatest trends are in the forefront of everyone’s mind, it usually becomes someone’s job to ask: “is the rising tide lifting all boats?”


It’s not just about access to the Internet, either. It’s also about access to computers, STEM education, digital learning opportunities, and content creation opportunities. While we work to understand the commercial potential and ethical implications of new technology, we can’t forget that some residents lack  the speeds, devices, and connectivity that a majority of us take for granted. Without that basic access point to information in the Digital Age, will the divides between the haves and the have-nots only widen? This is why work like Connect Chicago, training at the Public Library, and institutions like YWCA, LISC Chicago, Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition, and Blue1647 are vital to our city.

There is a rising literacy bar in an age of misinformation

At Knight MLS several fake new cases were discussed. Each story reinforced how the Digital Age has risen the bar for news literacy. A clear demonstration of this came again in Amy Webb’s talk when she highlighted her recent piece in Mother Jones:

Facebook and Twitter algorithms prioritize posts with high “engagement”—popular ones—and links that their customization code predicts you will click on. All over the web, your past digital behavior results in targeted ads, some of which resemble news stories. Content recommendation companies like Outbrain and Taboola place sponsored links on publishers’ websites for a fee but are only marginally effective in policing fake news and propaganda. On the contrary: All these companies make money off clicks, and they’ve got mountains of data proving we’ll choose provocative headlines over serious ones.


Being an informed, discerning reader also requires us to understand where our stories come from and how technology presents stories to us in the first place. Given these needs, how should we rethink the relationships between basic literacy, digital literacy, and technology literacy? Studies have shown that today’s youth, often assumed to be tech literate based on age alone, have trouble telling when news is fake.

Mozilla’s Web Literacy Framework speaks to this new literacy complexity — wisely pushing beyond basic literacy or basic computer literacy to being a thoughtful consumer of web content. In particular the “Read” portion of the framework requires not only that learners absorb the words on a screen, but also learn how to search, navigate, synthesize, and evaluate content.

Philanthropy has a role to play in addressing this new literacy standard. The Prototype Fund, supported by the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Rita Allen Foundation (deadline April 3, 2017), is a timely example of how philanthropy can help test new ways to fight misinformation. The fund seeks to catalyze new collaborations between media and technologists:

We’re open to diverse perspectives on topics ranging from, but not limited to, the role of algorithms in news consumption, methods for separating facts from fiction, building bridges across ideological divides, and strategies for ensuring journalism organizations are authentic to the communities they serve.

Wynwood Walls of Miami, FL | February 2017

This was my second year attending Knight MLS. Just as it did last year, this conference challenged me to think beyond our field of civic technology and consider its role within the broader media movement. What I think makes this convening so exciting is the specific combination of stakeholders and view points that are brought together. Conversations are solutions-focused and there are many lessons to be learned from other cities. More importantly, when philanthropists, journalists, technologists, and other community champions discuss our information needs together, we increase the odds that the resulting ideas will be valuable and sustainable.

Human-Centered Design Are We Really Listening? Reflections from the 2017 Knight Media Learning Seminar

On Sunday, February 12th I embraced the opportunity to leave a cold, dreary Chicago behind and engage with some pretty amazing folks in Miami, Florida at the 10th Annual Knight Foundation’s Media Learning Seminar. As a first time visitor to the Knight MLS I was excited to take in all that was ahead of me for the next day and a half.

As I sat in plenaries, break-out sessions, networking events and just plain hanging in the lobby a constant and recurring theme was emerging. Listen.

I don’t think the concept of listening is new to mainstream and new school media, I believe it has become a fading art as we become a “Nowist” (Amy Webb) society. We want information now. Sometimes at the cost of truth, yet we consume it wholly in whatever form it arrives as truth, particularly in the social media realm.

The Smart Chicago Collaborative is  frequently engaged with the media community at large in various aspects of our work and all of our work requires us to Listen. We listen to the voices of our communities as we work to continue to safeguard open data, and provide opportunities for skills and access to Chicagoans around technology. During the Knight Media Learning Seminar of the break-out sessions that stood out as it relates to how we listen was “Human Centered Design”.

A Novel Approach to Listening: Human-Centered Design

Judy Lee Haworth, human-centered design strategist discussed how this strategy can help us listen for our communities needs.

Human-centered design is a practical, repeatable approach to arriving at innovative solutions. Think of these Methods as a step-by-step guide to unleashing your creativity, putting the people you serve at the center of your design process to come up with new answers to difficult problems. Human-centered design consists of three phases. In the Inspiration Phase you learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs. In the Ideation Phase you make sense of what you learned, identify opportunities for design, and prototype possible solutions. And in the Implementation Phase you bring your solution to life, and eventually, to market. –

Judy shared how open ended conversations can lead to unexpected insights. Invariably when we are conversational with one another we discover things that would not ordinarily be uncovered or discovered through survey or other means of non-interactional information gathering. She also addressed the fact that we have to be “comfortable with ambiguity” in the initial information gathering stage and let it lead to inspiration. As I sat in this break-out I drew comparisons between Human Centered Design and the Chicago Community Trusts’ Social Lab, The Grove 3547

Social Labs As Model for Human Centered Work

Social Labs are intensive, experimental interventions. They bring together people from across the system to seek root causes behind their problems and then collaborate on devising and testing solutions aimed at key leverage points. This change work continues in the “lab” of the real world—over time and in context.

The idea for The Grove 3547 Social Lab came out of an initiative called “On the Table”an annual forum designed to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and inspire collaborative action, run by the Chicago Community Trust.  Some social labs last for years. The team repeatedly convenes to refine their ideas based on what they are learning, and then heads out again into their field of work for more learning, testing, and acting.

How They Work

Social labs are, first, social.

They require a team that reflects the diversity of people affected by and involved in the problem at hand, and the full multi-layered reality of the system. What does this social aspect accomplish? Among other things, you enable more creativity and avoid the tendency to impose top-down solutions, which rarely take advantage of the full range of knowledge—including local and informal knowledge—that can be brought to bear on the problem. Detailed knowledge of a system comes from living in it.

Social labs run experiments.

Complex problems are not amenable to monolithic, planned “solutions.” Social lab teams devise prototypal solutions and try them out in a cycle of consultation, experimentation, assessment, and revision. This agile process allows a portfolio of promising ideas to be tested and developed before too much time and money is spent on them. When, by trial and error, you have discovered what works, you can then grow it with confidence.

Social labs focus on causes.

What most of us refer to as “problems” are typically symptoms. When we focus on symptoms, we produce at best a temporary improvement. At worst, we inadvertently reinforce the dynamics that are the cause of the problem. Through the active participation of people from every level of the system, social labs identify and act on causes—thereby opening the door to real progress.

Social labs invite dissent.

Dissent can be uncomfortable, but we embrace it as an antidote to groupthink and inertia. The friction of argument and diverse positions unleashes tremendous energy. When skilfully managed, that energy is creative and productive. In addition, the free expression of competing and contested claims in the structured environment of the lab reduces the likelihood of confrontation outside it.

Community Input Is Essential

Processes like Human Centered Design and Social Labs are our opportunity to keep at the forefront the tenets that we espouse; inclusion and equity. If we are to truly impact the social issues that plague our communities is will be essential to continually have  discussion with those who are impacted daily. Here is where we will find ideas to implement, strategies to try and even answers  to  the problems we are facing. This  is how  we will embody of  theory of build with, not for. Listening, when we use this simple concept properly, the impact will be measured by “who” we  listened to.

For more information about The Grove 3547 contact Cheryl Hughes at or “On The Table” contact Jean Westrick at or visit




Smart Chicago Welcomes Graduate Fellow Mark Díaz

Today Mark Díaz joined the Smart Chicago Collaborative as a graduate fellow from Northwestern University. Mark is assisting with Smart Chicago’s collaborative data work, supporting efforts in data-driven journalism and advocacy.

Mark is a PhD student in Technology & Social Behavior and is interested in the use of data and technology to support marginalized populations. Mark’s background is in user experience design, and he has recently turned toward data science and analytics as tools to tackle social problems.

Welcome to the team, Mark!

Follow Mark on Twitter at @markjuliandiaz and see more of his work online at

Announcing the April 22nd Community Technology Forum at Greater Southwest Development Corporation

The first Community Technology Forum, an event hosted in partnership with the Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC), DePaul University, and Connect Chicago, will be on Saturday, April 22nd. GSDC, our local partner for this event, produces the Tech Thursdays workshop series and has been a featured speaker at Connect Chicago Meetups.

Event: Community Technology Forum hosted at the Greater Southwest Development Corporation

Date: Saturday, April 22, 2017

Time: 10am — 1pm

Location: 2601 W 63rd St.

A light breakfast will be served at the beginning of the event and lunch will be served toward the end of the event.

The Community Technology Forums are participatory design sessions aimed at understanding hyperlocal digital equity ideas, assets, and needs. 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. The forums will be facilitated by Professor Sheena Erete, Jessa Dickinson, and other community design experts at DePaul University.

Spread the word!

For all interested in spreading the word and putting this event information on emails and websites (please do!), copy and share the write-up below:

You’re Invited to a Community Technology Forum at the Greater Southwest Development Corporation!

When: Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 10am – 1pm

Where: 2601 W 63rd St.

What: Join community members and local advocates for a civic conversation about the technology in your neighborhood. What do you love about your community and what is working well? ¿Qué te gusta de tu comunidad? What technology resources do you use a lot and appreciate? ¿Qué recursos tecnológicos utiliza mucho y aprecia? You’re invited to share your ideas and help design solutions that leverage what works to improve what doesn’t. This Community Technology Forum is hosted at the Greater Southwest Development Corporation in partnership with DePaul University, the Smart Chicago Collaborative & Connect Chicago. Breakfast & lunch will be provided! Sign up for more information and RSVP at

Here is the flyer for this meeting:

If you are interested in attending the April 22nd Community Technology Forum or would like to receive more information, please fill out this form also embedded below:
Fill out my online form.