Writing: OpenGov Voices: The Smart Chicago model for community in civic tech

Today I wrote about our unique, comprehensive approach to civic tech. Here’s a snip:

What we’ve learned at Smart Chicago is that direct service to regular residents beats any technology that any single developer can make by slogging along alone. We’ve learned that direct action — being in rooms with real people, working together, sharing our money and our food and our love — works.

We’re more proud of our Americorps health navigators who teach people how to connect to their own medical records and find reliable information about their own conditions. We love working with the people in the more than 300 nonprofits and community groups who care about how to use data more effectively in their jobs. We dig meeting periodically with people in libraries to test existing apps and websites that help us live together in our region. We’re excited when we gather dozens of teachers toshare how to teach financial literacy online. We’re ecstatic about our youth-led tech program, where we hired 16 instructors — many of whom had never been in tech — to teach 150 youths how to use WordPress. Our motto? “We love you, and we’re never going to let you go.”

Smart Chicago is a civic tech outfit. But we are rare — and we shouldn’t be. The reasons we’re able to do this work are structural, not incidental. We were made this way. Planned and prepared for, not just out and about.

I implore you to care about the masses, to actually include them in your work and share their methods. Talk to poor people. Go to public meetings. Look up other people’s lingo. Drive to and walk through other neighborhoods than your own. Teach someone how to copy/paste, or back up their photos automatically to Facebook or turn them on to Chrome. Read a help file, make a tutorial. Teach someone how to use Socrata.

In short: more community, less tech.

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Press: Ventra Testing

Today the Smart Chicago work on testing the Ventra app was referenced in a number of places. Here’s one: First-Ever Ventra App for Riding CTA, Ventra, and PACE Makes Strong Progress During Development Phase

“In order to get the best experience for our customers, we placed a heavy emphasis on testing from a diverse group of users,” said Pace Deputy Executive Director Mike Bolton. “We received great feedback from all of our testers, resulting in an app that we are excited to launch and that will make Ventra even more convenient to use.”About 25 individuals with the CUT Group who have experience with using apps and gauging functionality and the quality of the user’s experience were selected to test the app.

“We were happy to be a part of the development of the region’s first-ever transit app, which will change how hundreds of thousands of commuters travel each day,” said Smart Chicago Executive Director Daniel X. O’Neil. “Our testers gave a lot of suggestions for improvements to the Ventra app as well as noting what worked well, and we’re glad that that feedback could contribute meaningfully to the app as it nears release to the public.”

Here’s a pic:

Ventra CUTGroup Test

And here’s all the photos I took of the actual testing: