Launch: The Chicago School of Data Book

Today the Smart Chicago Collaborative is proud to publish and share the Chicago School of Data Book. We saw this work as an essential first step to understand and convene the mission-driven players leveraging local data for the public good.

The book summarizes the Chicago School of Data project  which included a scan of our local data ecosystem from 2013 – 2014 and a convening we built on top of that scan. Typical with other Smart Chicago projects like CUTGroup and the Array of Things Civic Engagement Project, we also included “meta” sections in the Chicago School of Data book which share specific details about how we executed our projects, what tools we used, and the guiding principles behind our program design decisions.

The Book’s conclusion wraps up the themes from the 2014 Chicago School of Data convening, but does so in current context. Specifically, three themes were brought to light as major gaps identified at the Chicago School of Data Days that are still relevant today:

  1. The need to understand local data training supply and demand
  2. The need for more data support services for capacity-strapped, mission-driven organizations
  3. The need to incentivize and facilitate collaborative data work and data sharing across specialized institutions and research fields

The Book

You can view a PDF of the book below or order a copy on Amazon HERE.

This book adds to Smart Chicago’s list of publications aimed at documenting our work, methods, and lessons. It joins the ranks of the CUTGroup book, Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech, and The Civic Whitaker Anthology.

Gratitude for our Chicago School of Data Collaborators & Partners

This work would not have been possible without a few key players, which we want to call out in this blog post.

Lindsay Muscato: Lindsay is Smart Chicago’s publications consultant. She organized, edited, and assisted with design work for this book and many more of Smart Chicago’s publications.  

Andrew Seeder: Andrew was a consultant with Smart Chicago who assisted with writing for the Chicago School of Data Days blog posts, building a taxonomy around our data ecosystem, and compiling book content.

Smart Chicago Documenters: The Smart Chicago Documenters Program —  now transitioned over to the lauded community news organization, City Bureau — was integral to transforming the Chicago School of Data into lessons and writing that would live beyond the project’s lifecycle. Our Documenters were the boots on the ground note-takers and photographers that memorialized the Chicago School of Data Days.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation: The MacArthur Foundation is one of Smart Chicago’s founders and also provided the support for the Chicago School of Data scan, convening, and book. They have championed many other civic projects across the U.S. that have catalyzed the use of data for the public good.

  • Thumbnail Schematic of Chicago Data Ecosystem with Representative Organizations

What’s Next?

Since the original scan, Chicago’s data ecosystem has only become more sophisticated. New data initiatives have emerged. The City of Chicago’s Open Data Portal has grown and now is visualized on The Array of Things will soon open up new data that can help us understand neighborhood public health and public services challenges. New data players have also emerged —  very notably, Smart Chicago’s new collaborators, City Digital at UI Labs. City Digital has demonstrated an original approach to cross-sector, collaborative problem solving, often involving original data collection or innovative data sharing agreements presenting enormous potential for civic innovation.

Going forward, matchmaking these new data sources and new collaborative opportunities to the right community organizations or data intermediaries will be key. There were 200+ institutions that participated in the Chicago School of Data Days in 2014 and likely 100+ more today that can be engaged. While the Chicago School of Data Days facilitated an important conversation around shared challenges and opportunities, it did not directly catalyze new partnerships or scope new work. Action-oriented workshops could be the future for (1) nurturing this community of practice and (2) ensure that local data work catalyzes progress or change. We need to think about creating clear pathways toward data collaboration for the public good and how our ecosystem can incentivize that collaboration.

More on the Chicago School of Data

To read more about the Chicago School of Data project, take a look at these important links:

Data Convening & Collaboration in Other Cities

We’re also inspired by many other cities convening around data and working to put data in service to the public interest. We learn about a lot of these innovative projects from the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership. Here is just some of the impressive work happening in other cities:

  • Data 101 in Pittsburgh, a series of introductory data literacy and training sessions held in libraries to engage residents with open data
  • Cleveland Data Days, an annual event that gathers local researchers and nonprofits around local data
  • Alamo Regional Data Alliance, a coalition of local data organizations that regularly meets and collaborates


Cook County Forest Preserves Map

Where can I bring my dog? How do I access that trail? Where can I go cross country skiing? Where can I have that big party? The Forest Preserves of Cook County in partnership with Smart Chicago has developed the Forest Preserves of Cook County interactive map. The Cook County Forest Preserves Map shows location and information about trails, points of interest, activities, and groves.

Some special features of interest:

  • Uses GPS to find trails, points of interest, and activities near you and get directions.
  • Users can search by activity, location name, city, and zip code.
  • The page URL updates as you search or view location details. You can bookmark all the best places to fly model airplanes or share with friends that the picnic is at Schiller Woods-East. Because the page URL updates, the browser back and forward buttons can be used to go to the last search or view.
  • Mobile friendly: The map is designed for both desktop and mobile use. On a mobile device, a user can toggle between list and map views.
  • Search and filtering is local making it more reliable out in the field with an inconsistent mobile connection.

On 10/30/17,  we rolled out the alerts functionality. The map will now show any alerts on the map detail panel. There is also a list version that is embedded on the Forest Preserves website under “Construction, Closures & Other Work“.

The web application is built on two pieces of source code: Trailsy and Trailsy Server, both pioneered by Code for America. All of the data used to power the site is open for all and can be followed on the project’s GitHub page. I am a long-time Smart Chicago Consultant and the main developer on the project who is also working closing with Cook County’s Department of Technology to tackle open data processes and policies countywide. This project was made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Healthy Hotspot initiative led by the Cook County Department of Public Health. Learn more at

So what can you do at the Cook County Forest Preserves? Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. Did you know that you can play Disc Golf at Cook County Forest Preserves Rolling Knolls Disc Golf Course in Elgin?
  2. Hike 16 miles through the North Branch Trail System Red Paved Trail.
  3. Check out the Kid’s Corner and Butterfly Garden at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland.
  4. Go on a Treetop Adventure and Zip Line at Bemis Woods.
  5. Rent a boat at the Busse Lake Boating Center and explore Busse Lake.

Let us know what you think! Tweet to us @smartchicago and to me @joshkalov.

Documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting at Association House of Chicago

We’ve compiled documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting on October 18, 2017 at Association House of Chicago. This is part of our Array of Things Civic Engagement project — a series of community meetings and feedback loops to create dialogue around the Array of Things project, collect community input on policies, inform the deployment of the sensors, and introduce concepts around how the Internet of Things can benefit communities.

The purpose of this Array of Things Public Meeting was to educate the public on the Array of Things project and continue a conversation about how Array of Things sensors and research can align with and support hyperlocal priorities around bike and pedestrian traffic, vehicle traffic, air quality, noise pollution, and flooding. Our meeting on October 18th was open, set in the Association House of Chicago, an important institution in the Humboldt Park community that, in addition to being a high school, also provides basic technology training and workforce development services.

As with every tech-related civic engagement event Smart Chicago hosts, we see great value in sharing documentation after the event is over — not only because it’s a good open working practice, but because it continues the conversation beyond the boundaries of the scheduled meeting. Below is a collection of photographs, handouts used at the event, notes capturing the question and answer portion of the meeting, and follow-up material we sent out after the meeting was over. If you have any questions about this work, please email me at


Here is a link to a Smart Chicago album on Flickr with photographs from the event. See a selection of the photographs below:

Array of Things Public Meeting at Association House


Here is the agenda for the meeting:

Below are the table worksheets used at the meeting. Attendees were invited to take notes on these and use the framework to help guide input and questions they wanted to present to the larger group.

Below is a map of Humboldt Park and surrounding areas. Several of these maps were hung up around the space to capture input on sensor placement.


Below are the notes from the Q&A portion of the event. Very important disclaimer: this is an unofficial record of proceedings and not an exact transcript of the event — rather, a summary of the questions and answers exchanged. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please email me at

Event Follow-up

As follow-up the the discussion at the event, we sent out material to attendees who either RSVP’d through Eventbrite or opted to share their email address during event sign-in.

We sent this follow-up message, highlighting several relevant follow-up websites. In particular, the City’s open data resources (like and as well as the online Array of Things feedback form (for sensor placement and community ideas) were the most of interest.

More Reading on Array of Things Civic Engagement & Civic Engagement with IoT

To learn more about the Array of Things and the public feedback process for this project, you can look at:

  1. The Array of Things Civic Engagement Report
  2. Array of Things FAQs
  3. All public questions and responses about the Array of Things Governance and Privacy Policies


Denise Linn Riedl Named Benton Fellow

This week, Smart Chicago’s Denise Linn Riedl was announced as a new Benton Fellow. Benton Fellows are expert researchers, writers, and practitioners selected to speak and write about technology, communications systems, and the public interest. With a background in policy and a portfolio of work at the intersection of civic engagement, equity, and emerging technology, Denise is primed to take on this role!

Adrianne Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation wrote a blog post introducing Denise and Jon Sallet as the new Benton Fellows:

Benton believes that we can improve everyone’s life, if we can connect and engage them in addressing our common problems. Denise and Jon will help ensure that more people will participate in the network revolution that is transforming society – and that traditional American values like access, diversity, and equity are upheld in the Digital Age.

Congratulations, Denise! We’re looking forward to seeing what you do!



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.