Smart Chicago Collaborative helps launch three civic innovation projects

communities / Article

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.

Over the past few months, the Smart Chicago Collaborative has launched (or helped others launch) three new projects as part of our CivicWorks Project. The CivicWorks Project is funded by Knight Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust to spur and support civic innovation in Chicago. Our goal is to create 200 pieces of content that explain civic data to regular people, five apps that solve government problems and five apps that solve community problems.

We are far surpassing these project goals, in large part because of the hard work and dedication of people who care about these issues already doing great work.

Smart Chicago consultant Christopher Whitaker manages this program. One of the reasons we’ve been able to succeed is because of his endless energy in finding and connecting with talented and dedicated people. Here’s an update on our work in Chicago.

Chicago LocalWiki

Chicago’s LocalWiki is an online hyperlocal encyclopedia that anyone can edit. There are already several cities with LocalWikis, including Ann Arbor, Mich., and Oakland and Santa Cruz, Calif.

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To launch LocalWiki in Chicago, we partnered with the Chicago Public Library and local writer Mairead Case. As you explore the wiki, you’ll definitely notice a literary bent.

Right now, the Chicago LocalWiki is seeded with information about local writers, places and books that have a Chicago connection. However, this is only the beginning for LocalWiki. Because LocalWikis can be edited by anyone, there’s a huge opportunity for people to write about the rich history of their own neighborhoods. Signing up is easy and you’ll be helping people learn more about our great city.  LocalWiki also has an API. We’ll also be hosting write-a-thons at Chicago Public Library locations to help fill out the LocalWiki.

Roll With Me

Another app that Smart Chicago recently launched is Roll With Me – an app that gives transit directions for people who use wheelchairs.

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The app was built and designed by Mohammad Ouyoun. We first met Mohammad while he was a student at the Starter School, a coding school in Chicago. For one of his Starter School projects, he and his team had created a prototype of the Roll With Me app.

After Starter School, Mohammad contracted with Smart Chicago to help him to finish the app as part of the CivicWorks Project.  The app is now live and will be undergoing user testing in the near future.

The app is simple to use. You enter in your current location, your destination and when you want to leave. The app then routes you and gives you accessibility alerts right up top.

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The app then gives you a number of options on how to get to your destination.

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The app is responsively designed and works on any Web-enabled mobile device. Currently, the app only works in Chicago. However, because the app is open source the app can be deployed to any city that has published data on which transit options are accessible.


Finally, Smart Chicago helped provide seed funding and Twilio support to mRelief,  a site that simplifies the social service qualifying process with an easy-to-use form that can be accessed online and through SMS. Residents can check to see if they’re eligible for a variety of programs, including food stamps, Medicaid, the WIC nutrition program and more. Here’s the press release by mRelief creators from launch day.

mRelief is made by an all-woman team hailing from different backgrounds and walks of life dedicated to making an impact with technology.

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mRelief is already deployed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Services Center. The Community Service Centers are run by the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services. The Community Service Centers help individuals and families in need access a wide range of resources from shelter, food and clothing to domestic violence assistance, job training/placement and services for the formerly incarcerated. Staff members are using mRelief to help streamline the process of evaluating their eligibility. The mRelief team has also partnered with Purple Binder to refer residents to other useful local resources if they are ineligible for public assistance.

Video: mRelief solves social service challenges with technology

mRelief works by having users fill out a quick form to see if they are eligible. Eligible users are then connected to the appropriate office. If the user isn’t eligible, the system will try to find alternative programs using Purple Binder.

mRelief will continue to work with Smart Chicago post launch to conduct user testing and enable SMS messaging for the site so that those without access to a computer can take advantage of the site.

If you’d like more information on Smart Chicago’s Civic Works Project, you can visit our webpage at

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