Article: “UX testing that works” in GCN

Today I was referenced in “UX testing that works“, a story about the success of the CUTGroup, a user testing methodology I invented in February 2013. Here’s a snip:

The CUTGroup meets both to look for errors in the performance of an app and  to check “classic human interface design in term of the presentation of information and workflows,” said Daniel X. O’Neil, a founder of Smart Chicago and author of a bookabout the CUTGroup project.

The CUTGroup program has become part of a trend in digital systems toward user-centered design and development, according to O’Neil, now director of product development and business strategy at Ad Hoc, LLC, a software development firm with a focus on government apps.

“The move toward user-centered design, user-centered systems and the increase in the number of user researchers in government contracts is profound,” said O’Neil, adding that the “CUTGroup has provided concrete ways for designers to listen to real people for whom they are creating.”

The trend also fits the focus of the General Services Administration’s 18F and U.S Web Design Standards initiatives, which gives developers plug-and-play design and code that GSA claims set “a new bar for simplicity and consistency across government services.”

To support demand for the data and testing necessary to support a user-oriented approach to programming, developers are turning to methods like the CUTGroup.  The group aims to find people whose characteristics make them target users for a particular project. For example, testers can be sorted by the devices they use to access the internet, their familiarity with 311 services, whether they’re veterans, of whether they’re about to lose health insurance benefits.

“That kind of specificity is actually very difficult to get, and the CUTGroup allows for a really good method for recruiting regular people so they can be contacted and segmented on a moment’s notice,” O’Neil said.


News story: Dan O’Neil leaving Smart Chicago for digital government services firm

Today the Blue Sky Originals section of the Chicago Tribune published an interview about my departure from Smart Chicago and my move to Ad Hoc: Dan O’Neil leaving Smart Chicago for digital government services firm


“When you talk about impact — which we all want to have — they’re making impact for millions of people right now, in this moment, on the Internet,” O’Neil said.


The firm is based in Washington, D.C., but O’Neil said he’ll work remotely and remain based in Chicago. He plans to stay involved in Chicago’s civic technology community.

“I will continue to have a voice as a resident of this city in the way things are run and how they go,” O’Neil said. “You can’t build good products for hundreds of millions of people in this country without caring about their digital skills and their access to your tools.”

News Article: Chicago seeking ‘smart-city’ tech solutions to improve city life

Today I was quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune about Chicago’s “smart city” efforts. Here are two relevant snips:

“How do we connect these abstract, big-picture, big-data initiatives to the needs of the residents of Chicago who are struggling under a failure to fund education and under a police force that thwarts the will of the people?” asked Daniel X. O’Neil, executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic group that aims to improve residents’ lives through technology.


Those lessons likely will apply to Chicago as well as it pursues its smart-city strategies. O’Neil, of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, suggests the city and its partners keep their eyes on one overarching goal.

“I find immense value in what they are doing (but) I continue to drive them, and drive all of us and anyone in the smart-cities movement, to work harder at finding out how we can make lives better,” he said. “I continue to have consternation at how all this fits together.”

Smart City Chicago Tribune

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News Article: Justice: There’s an App for That

Today I was quoted in an article in U.S. News & World Report: Justice: There’s an App for That. The article referenced the Smart Chicago project, Crime & Punishment in Chicago.

Smart Chicago, a tech-based organization in the Windy City, tracks information from Chicago law enforcement – “the entire flow, from the commission of a crime to the person going to jail,” says Dan X. O’Neil, its executive director. “The impetus was that the city of Chicago publishes an enormous amount of crime data” that can be used to examine trends, The organization is also teaching computer coding and website development to kids in “neighborhoods most affected by violence and crime,” he adds. “That, we think, is one solution to mass incarceration and hopelessness and crime.”

Justice there's an app for that

News Story: Big Ideas 2016 Wanted: The next big development in civic technology

Today I spoke of the failure of civic tech to keep up with advances in the real world around civic engagement. Here’s a snip:

Dan X. O’Neil ⇒, executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, suggested that civic tech would be improved by its leaders spending more time with activists and organizers to learn about their experiences and draw ideas for new tools and services from those conversations.

“I don’t see a direct connection between the people on the streets and the people making tech tools,” he said.



News Article: The business hug: Do you embrace it or not?

Here’s me in a Chicago Tribune story re: The business hug: Do you embrace it or not?

Collaboration and distance

Dan X. O’Neil ⇒, executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, reserves hugs for close collaborators, and ones he doesn’t see very often.

He partnered remotely this summer with others via Slack, using the messaging platform to design a youth-led tech program. When they met in person after weeks of shared work, O’Neil greeted them with a hug.

“I think infrequency is the biggest thing — infrequency of contact but depth of work,” O’Neil said.

Gottsman, the etiquette expert, noted that virtual work tools and social media can cause a feeling of enhanced familiarity even among colleagues who don’t know each other well. That could make them more prone to hugging earlier in a relationship.

But it takes more than that for O’Neil to graduate beyond a handshake.

He noted that the custom of shaking hands is said to stem from the practice of making sure the other person wasn’t hiding a weapon up their sleeve.

“There’s a vulnerability, an exposure, an accountability” in a hug, O’Neil said. “It does matter, because if you allow someone to get close enough to hug you, they’re close enough to stab you.”

News: Youth-Led Tech on Backchannel

Here’s a story on the Smart Chicago Youth-Led Tech program published today by Susan Crawford on Backchannel: Crossing the Digital Divide on Chicago’s Toughest Streets. Snips:

Dan O’Neil, the spiky-haired, fearless leader of Smart Chicago, told me last week he was often on the phone with parents and probation officers, asking “Can we have this kid?” Juvenile court probation officers referred their charges to Youth-Led Tech. And once the youth started to participate, most of them were hooked: more than 90% of the 140 attendees finished the six-week program.

At the same time, Smart Chicago found church basements and community technology centers in the target neighborhoods that had WiFi and could be used as convening places — and here it’s important to point out that Connect Chicago, another program of Smart Chicago, has made sure that there are more than 250 places in Chicago (libraries, community centers, public housing, etc.) where people can use computers for free. It also pays 1,200 city residents to provide part-time help with digital access and skills in those places. “Everything we do, we try to do with real people in real neighborhoods,” O’Neil says.

Smart Chicago found instructors for Youth-Led Tech by way of Facebook and Twitter and email — the instructors were people from these neighborhoods, and from diverse backgrounds, who didn’t necessarily have engineering training. Dan O’Neil says, “We hired a set of wonder-people.” Here are their pictures. Talk about inclusion: the instructors are truly representative of Chicago. “We’re changing all these people’s lives,” O’Neil says. “These people are in the tech industry now.”

For an executive director, Dan O’Neil is remarkably focused on menus. The program fed these 140 kids two meals a day during the six weeks of the program, at five sites. This was no easy task — Smart Chicago wanted to use local food sources and learned a lot along the way about the real problems of food deserts in Chicago: “The giants and slick newcomers in the industry like Peapod or Instacart aren’t accessible to these neighborhoods in need. Those [neighborhood] organizations that are trying to fill those gaps. . . don’t have a polished organizational structure,” says Smart Chicago.


There were also social-emotional learning elements of the program — peace circles, restorative justice — and talks about power in the city of Chicago. And here’s where Dan O’Neil’s attention to food fits in: O’Neil says the number one message he wanted to get across to the youth in the program was, “”We love you and we’re never going to let you go.’” He’s emphatic. “That’s what matters more than anything,” he says. “You can learn WordPress, that’s fine, but we’re never going to let you go.”


The first pilot summer went well. “Now we’re expanding the program, thanks to Get IN Chicago,” O’Neil says. Smart Chicago is going to scale up Youth-Led Tech and add drop-in centers during the week during the school year. O’Neil is staying in touch with his graduates, all 140 of them. Smart Chicago is never going to let them go. “We are building our tribe, and it’s legit,” O’Neil says.

News Story: Chicago police misconduct records published online

Today marks the publication of more than 56,000 complaints alleging misconduct by Chicago Police Department by the Invisible Institute.  Crain’s Chicago wrote a story: Chicago police misconduct records published online. Here’s the framing:

Chicago has championed using technology to present granular civic information on everything from towed vehicles to food inspections, in ways that improve citizens’ lives. But starting today, the public can easily access one data set the city had fought hard to keep secret.

And here’s what I had to say:

One of the leaders of Chicago’s open data movement, Dan O’Neil said he was eager to see the new database. O’Neil currently heads the Smart Chicago Collaborative and was a co-founder of Everyblock. While Chicago has positioned itself as a leader in publishing civic data, citizens still have “a right and a responsibility” to request data from the government. Some of Smart Chicago’s own initiatives highlight gaps in the information available on the criminal justice system.

“It just goes to show you that we’re certainly not in an era of default transparency,” he said.

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:

News article: Proposed Illinois budget threatens digital literacy program

Here’s an article from today in the Chicago Tribune about funding for community technology centers. Snip:

Dan O’Neil, an advisory committee member who also is executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative, whose mission is to increase Internet access, said at the meeting that he believes funding should be doubled.

See also this post I wrote on the Smart Chicago blog: This Morning: Eliminate the Digital Divide Advisory Committee Meeting. Snip:

Since inception, this program has invested circa $30 million in the digital lives of Illinois residents. All the way up and down this state, these funds have led to tens of thousands of people (page 254) getting trained in digital skills at Community Technology Centers.

If you believe in the power of technology to improve lives, if you think we should support the essential work of front-line trainers in this state, if you care about equity in opportunity for all residents of Illinois, this is something that matters to you.Proposed Illinois budget threatens digital literacy program