The teams school us on how to build a civic app (even after launch)

Since first launched two months ago, the team has been working around the clock to add new features and information to the site.

One of the weakness of the civic hacking movement is a tendency to launch a new civic app based on some newly released data set and then never touch the app or the issue again.

It is a rare instance when a civic problem can be solved by one simple app release – particularly when the civic problem is something large and complicated like crime, sustainability, or education.

So while the schoolcuts team launched their app two months ago, they have continued to add more information and features to the site as questions continued around the issue of school closings in Chicago. (Most recently, they’ve translated the site into Spanish.)

The team presented how they went about building the app in three separate acts.

Act One: The Problem

The team started with the problem. (Not the data set) In this case, the team was hearing from Chicago Public School parents who wanted more information about the impending school closing. CPS had released data about each school on the closing list, but the information was scattered across different websites and PDF documents.

The problem was compounded when Chicago Public School announced the list. Not only were certain schools closing, but some schools were having their locations changed. For parents, this meant that even if their school wasn’t closing – their routes to school would still change.

Additionally, the school attendance boundaries were not matching what Chicago Public Schools had designated to be the receiving schools. In effect, your oldest child may be going to a different elementary school that your youngest when they reach school age.

Further, the criteria used to closed schools used an additional value added system that further confused parents and community members.

Act Two: Opportunity

The team saw an oppurtunity to use build a site that clearly displayed the data around the school closing issue in a way that was easy for parents to understand.

Because team members already had connections to concerned parent groups, the team was able to understand the needs of the community and build the site around their needs.

Act Three: Solutions and Challenges

To help parents, they decides to try and ensure that the user experience was very localized to their school.

The site not only displays the data around school closings, but also does a good job of explaining what the terms mean.

Since their launch, the team has continued to add features such as a simple way to compare closing schools with receiving schools and has translated the site into Spanish.


The schoolcuts team shows the right way to approach civic apps. They address a community concern using open data and educate the public about the issue.

The schoolcuts team will continue to work on this project even after the final school closing list is announced by creating a website that displays data for all schools called schoolcircle.

The site was also just nominated for a Moxie Award for best civic app.