As civic technology innovation built in part on open data and commitments to digital-age open government is taking off in forward looking cities and regions, Minnesota needs to scale up what works from there. Efforts like the Smart Chicago Collaborative, BetaNYC, Code for America and the Sunlight Foundation’s Labs inspire us. (Read more about what inspires us.)
In it’s first year, bootstrapping via Open Twin Cities has delivered great momentum with E-Democracy playing an incubation host role. However, this is the year, right now, where Minnesota has an opportunity to be a national, even global player in civic technology and not just a quaint little house on the prairie.
The Civic Innovation Ecosystem in Chicago
The summary of Chicago’s “ecosystem” was prepared for us by by Christopher Whitaker, Code for America Brigade Captain for Chicago. Chris is also a consultant on Smart Chicago projects.
The civic innovation ecosystem in Chicago is comprised of three parts: The city’s open data, the civic innovator community, and the infrastructure surrounding civic innovation efforts. Below is a quick overview of these parts and how they spur civic innovation.
The City of Chicago’s Open Data Policy
The City of Chicago’s open data policy has resulted in almost a thousand data sets being published on the city’s data portal at data.cityofchicago.org with subjects ranging from crime, energy usage, service requests and financial data. The city’s open data policy is one of the keystones to the city’s technology plan. The data provided by the city is fuel for civic innovation powering apps such as civic startup Spot Hero, city service transparency websites like Clearstreets.org, and ChicagoWorksForYou.com. The City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology is analyzing city data to make smarter decision about city services. As an example, the City of Chicago is currently analyzing data to find a way to bait for rats before they become a problem. The City of Chicago recently released a data dictionary to open up the metadata behind the city’s data.
OpenGov Hack Night
Chicago’s OpenGov Hack Night is a weekly gathering of civic-minded web developers, designers, data scientists, subject matter experts, and activists who build civic web apps that either solve problems or help educate about a civic issue. The OpenGov Hack Night has several tracks including a weekly Civic Hacking 101 sessions to help onboard new volunteers. These nights have resulted in several civic apps including SchoolCuts.org, SecondCityZoning.org, and the legistlative tracking site ChicagoCouncilmatic.org.
Smart Chicago Collaborative
The Smart Chicago Collaborative is a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. Smart Chicago Collaborative supports development of innovative civic applications in many ways. In some projects, such as We Connect Chicago and Chicago Early Learning, Smart Chicago acts as a fiscal agent, managing development and funding sources. This arrangement allows Smart Chicago to hire top development talent, such as DataMade and Azavea, to tackle challenging civic problems. In other projects, Smart Chicago supports development by donating infrastructure resources. Smart Chicago maintains infrastructure on Amazon Web Services, Heroku, and Google Apps for Business. Additionally, the Smart Chicago Collaborative conducts user testing for civic apps to aid in the development of these apps.
Related: 2 hour audio interview of Chris Whitaker by Steven Clift with E-Democracy/Open Minnesota