Primer for Experimental Modes Meeting

Here at Smart Chicago, we’ve always had three areas of focus:

  • Access to technology and the internet
  • Digital skills for all
  • Meaningful products from data

This focus keeps us on the right path— one that requires us to lay practical groundwork before delivering cool apps— to put people first. We’ve done this since day one.

On a personal note, I’ve been a worker in community technology for a long time. I love it. In the early 2000s, I started a side business to help people get an internet life. I learned that nearly no one goes beyond default configurations, or even knows they can.

Internet Life Services

In 2004, I conducted bilingual computer training at my church to teach people how to post to our blog. I learned that everyone has a thirst to express themselves.

Bilingual computer training

In 2006, I taught a 6-week course in websites for small businesses. I learned that people love certificates.

Websites for small businesses

I’ve also been a part of a parallel path, which started taking off right about this time: the open data and civic tech movements. As a co-founder of EveryBlock, one of the earliest examples of a site that sought to use civic data in communities, I helped shape and build things like the 8 Principles of Open Government Data and  Open Gov Chicago, a gathering of technologists in the field started in 2009.

EveryBlock Launch Screenshot

We like to think these worlds— those of community technology, grounded in the needs of the people, and civic technology, driven by the most technical people, are aligned. When we’re at our best, they are. Very often, however, they are worlds apart.

This is why Smart Chicago exists. Our mission, grounded in our areas of focus, situated directly in the community (as we work here at the region’s community foundation), based in community technology research (lead by the MacArthur Foundation), and fully engaged with the governments and institutions that serve the people (including the City of Chicago, one of our founders)—this is us. This is why we’re here today.

We designed this project to fit under a larger area of work that Smart Chicago: the Knight Community Information Challenge grant awarded under their Engaged Communities strategy to the Chicago Community Trust “as it builds on its successful Smart Chicago Project, which is taking open government resources directly into neighborhoods through a variety of civic-minded apps”.

Materials for today:

There is no other organization in the country that is more qualified to lead this thinking. I am proud of where we are, and steeled for the work ahead.