Civic Works Project translates data into community tools – Knight Foundation

Civic Works Project translates data into community tools

Daniel X. O’Neil is executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a winner of the Knight Community Information Challenge and recipient of a grant from the Knight Prototype Fund. Below, he writes about the Civic Works Project, which is funded through the challenge and the Chicago Community Trust. Photo credit: Smart Chicago Collaborative.

The Civic Works Project is a two-year effort to create apps and other tools to help increase the utility of local government data to benefit community organizations and the broader public. w

This project looks systemically at public and private information that can be used to engage residents, solve community problems and increase government accountability. We believe that there is a new frontier where information can be used to improve public services and community building efforts that benefit local residents.

Through the Civic Works Project, we’re seeking to improve access to information and identify solutions to problems facing diverse communities. Uncovering the value of data—and the stories behind it—can enhance the provision of public services through the smart application of technology.

Here’s some of what we’ve accomplished.

Partnership with WBEZ Public Data Blog

The WBEZ Public Data Blog is dedicated to examining and promoting civic data in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. WBEZ is partnering with the Smart Chicago Collaborative to provide news and analysis on open government by producing content items that explain and tell stories hidden in public data. The project seeks to increase the utility, understanding, awareness and availability of local civic data. It comprises blog postings on the hidden uses of data and stories from the data, while including diverse voices and discussions on how innovations can improve civic life. It also features interviews with community organizations, businesses, government leaders and residents on challenges that could be solved through more effective use of public data.

Crime and Punishment in Chicago

The Crime and Punishment in Chicago project will provide an index of data sources regarding the criminal justice system in Chicago. This site will aggregate sources of data, how this data is generated, how to get it and what data is unavailable.

Illinois OpenTech Challenge

The Illinois Open Technology Challenge aims to bring governments, developers and communities together to create digital tools that use public data to serve today’s civic needs and promote economic development. Smart Chicago and our partners worked with government officials to publish 138 new datasets (34 in Champaign, 15 in Rockford, 12 in Belleville, and 77 from the 42 municipalities in the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association) on the State of Illinois data portal. Smart Chicago has worked with developers in meet-ups all over the state—in six locations in four cities with 149 people. The project has also allowed Smart Chicago to conduct outreach in each of our communities to reach regular residents with needs that can be addressed through data and technology.

LocalData + SWOP

The LocalData + SWOP project is part of our effort to help bridge technology gaps in high-capacity organizations. This effort helps the Southwest Organizing Project collect information about vacant and abandoned housing using the LocalData tool.

Affordable Care Act Outreach App

With the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, community organizations such as LISC-Chicago have been hard at work providing navigators to help residents register through the site.

Currently, LISC-Chicago organizers are in neighborhoods contacting residents and encouraging them to go to their closest Center for Working Families. Using a combination of software, such as Wufoo and Twilio, Smart Chicago is helping LISC with its outreach by building a tool that enables organizers to send text reminders to sign up for health insurance to residents.

Texting Tools: Twilio and Textizen

Smart Chicago is expanding the Affordable Care Act outreach project to engage residents in other ways using SMS messaging.

Smart Chicago is also a local provider for Textizen,  an SMS-based survey tool that civic organizations can use to obtain resident feedback. Organizations can create a survey campaign and then place the survey options on posters, postcards or screens during live events. They can then receive real-time feedback as people text in their answers.


WikiChicago will be a hyper-local Wikipedia-like website that anyone can edit. For this project, Smart Chicago is partnering with the Chicago Public Library to feature local authors and books about Chicago, and to publish more information about Chicago’s rich history.

Future Projects

Chicago now has a maturing developer community that is leading the way in the innovative use of public data. Through the Smart Chicago Collaborative we have also developed relationships with technology and venture capital leaders who want to create and invest in new technology solutions. Wherever possible, this project will support the creation of information innovations based on dual design principles: improving community conditions and being supported by the marketplace.

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