Smart Chicago Evaluation, 2016

Smart Chicago has always relied on small teams to get big things done. Now we're doing an organization-wide evaluation of our work. This photo is from November 2014.

Smart Chicago has always relied on small teams. Now we’re doing an organization-wide evaluation of our work. This photo is from November 2014.

Smart Chicago Collaborative is currently engaged with ORS Impact to do an overall organization evaluation. Here’s a look at how we’ve defined the engagement together:

History and Overview of Smart Chicago

Smart Chicago is a funding collaborative devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. Concern about the digital divide was, and remains, at the core of its creation and purpose. The founding partners include City of Chicago, MacArthur Foundation, and Chicago Community Trust. The first Executive Director was hired in 2011. The three primary focus areas for its work for the past five years include:

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

Smart Chicago has a small staff of five with a broad reach across the Chicago metropolitan area. Their impact is felt through a variety of roles that include partner, convener, curator, incubator, funder, direct service provider, and thought partner. The entire body of work of Smart Chicago across all of these focus areas is guided by a set of core principles that it holds close and dear:

  • Technology and the internet have the power to build the economy for all – it is a matter of equity.
  • Open (open source code) and transparent processes allow others “in,” wherever they may be in any particular situation.
  • Everyone is our focus, not a subset of people. In order to create technology of broad popularity and utility that improves relationships between government, institutions and each other, we have to include everyone.
  • Chicago is the place we call home and place that has a unique and thriving ecosystem for our work. From our base here, we serve as a model for others. We are finding ways to be helpful nationally.

Purpose of Evaluation

Smart Chicago has reached a time in its evolution when it is ready to take a step back and think critically about its path forward. A clear evaluation of what has been accomplished from inception to the present, coupled with a robust strategy development process, will help Smart Chicago make decisions about goals, growth, funding, structure, governance, partnerships, and programmatic strategies aligned with the specific outcomes and impact that Smart Chicago wants to achieve.

This document is focused on the first part of this project, which is the evaluation design phase. The evaluation findings will inform a subsequent strategy development process. ORS Impact has been contracted to help with both the evaluation and the strategy development process.

Key Evaluation Questions

The evaluation is designed to answer the following key questions:

  • What roles has Smart Chicago played within the community over the past four years?
  • What contributions has Smart Chicago made in the space in which it has operated?
  • Toward specific goals
  • On other actors in the community
  • On the ecosystem
  • What work has been most effective and why?
  • What has not been working well and why?
  • How has the Chicago-area landscape in which Smart Chicago operates changed over the past four years, and what are the implications for Smart Chicago?

Together, the answers to these questions will inform the strategy going forward.

In this context, consultants from ORS Impact will be kicking off interviews with dozens of Smart Chicago stakeholders.

We’ve settled on a number of representative projects to frame these discussions:

If you are contacted by our friends at ORS Impact, please consider participating in this important work!

Kyla leading a brainstorming session.

Kyla leading a brainstorming session.