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.