Panel: Big Data & the Public Good for the Illinois Humanities

Today I moderated a panel for Illinois Humanities about how big data can serve the public good. Here’s how they described it:

What is the relationship between information technology, urban space, and the public good in the age of big data? Where do “smart cities” initiatives like the Array of Things – which doesn’t collect any information about individuals – fit into contemporary conversations about privacy and surveillance? How can the arts and humanities help our society think through these issues?

Alongside the discussion, we’ll also release the second issue of a chapbook set accompanying the Data, Democracy and the Human Story program series, featuring contributions from Chicago-area artists and writers.

Here’s a pic from the stage:


Here’s a Smart Chicago blog post covering the event. Snip:

Dan O’Neil shared some of the best practices that Smart Chicago has gleaned: do engagement work as openly as possibly, document your process and planning, invite everyone, and “fetishize the outputs.” One recent example of model of engagement is Smart Chicago’s work with the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Community Forums.

PANEL: Social Media and Digital Tech in Service Development

Today I participated in this panel: Social Media and Digital Tech in Service Development

Social media provides us with a unique opportunity to listen to and understand citizen needs and to launch innovative programs and services that address them. While social media commentary is often overlooked when programming decisions are made, social good organizations can gain significant insight from community residents by paying attention to what they’re saying online, and by analyzing the data gathered from this medium.  This panel will focus on examples of social and digital media projects that work to address issues within the community and will touch on digital strategies and tactics your organization can use to both engage and serve constituents.

PANEL: Looking at Infrastructure: Smart Cities & Smart Government

Today I participated in a panel discussion about Smart Cities. We covered a lot of ground, including equity.

Looking at Infrastructure: Smart Cities & Smart Government – Embark on a panel discussion regarding the issues associated with smart city projects ranging from infrastructure considerations to imperatives regarding privacy, ownership, and stewardship of data, to funding issues and policy issues which can detract or enhance the outcomes of these initiatives.

  • Moderator: Sol Salinas, Managing Director, Accenture Digital-Mobility
  • Mohamad Nasser, Sr. Director of M2M Product, Platforms & Marketing, Sprint
  • Dan O’Neil, Executive Director, Smart Chicago
  • Karen Weigert, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Chicago
  • Paul Steinberg, CTO, Motorola Solutions
  • Omar Elrafei, Business Development, Eluminocity

Panel: Mind Bytes— Current and Future Urban Challenges: The Role of Big Data and Technology

Today I participated in a panel for Mind Bytes. Here’s a description:

Projections show that urbanization, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population, could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050. Exponential growth in urban density and cities brings numerous challenges and opportunities, both in the short and long term. Various types of data are being collected and analyzed today that may provide answers to the big questions faced by cities in the 21st century. This panel will discuss current and future urban challenges, and how big data and technology is being used and can be used in the future to overcome them.

I covered the need for more focus on social science, in addition to data science, in efforts to help cities grow in equity.

I also got a lot out of a question from the audience about data, tech, privacy and Hollywood— we should do more to engage with audiences of Criminal Minds, CSI, and Person of Interest, and other such shows about the ramifications and reality of the plots and devices.

Panel: “Design Thinking and Learning Together”

Today I participated in a panel discussion with Susan Patterson, co-director, KCIC, Knight Foundation; Kelly Ryan, CEO, Incourage Community Foundation;  Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., CEO, Silicon Valley Community Foundation;  and Chris Daggett, president & CEO, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

We talked about the work our organizations have done together in the Knight Community Information Challenge deep dive cohort.

Here’s video:


Panel: The Future of Story Telling in a Data-driven World

Today I participated in a panel in the Tech Breakfast Club: The Future of Story Telling in a Data-driven World. Here’s a description:

Experts from Narrative Science, the Smart Chicago Collaborative and Nuveen Investments will share examples of how marketers are marrying data and natural language technologies to automate routine reports and craft stories that haven’t previously been told.

Panelists were Katy De Leon, Vice President, Marketing, Narrative Science; Daniel X. O’Neil, Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative; and Andrew Champ, Vice President, Marketing Services, Nuveen Investments. Facilitated by Dan O’Brien, Chief Executive, Tech Image.

I talked about the raw info that is tossed off all the time by municipalities— building permits, restaurant inspections, and other daily detritus of the city. This stuff can be used as nodes of knowledge for those who are paying attention.


Presentation: The Promise of People in Civic Tech and Moderator: The Intersection of Technology and Civic Life at Treefort/ Hackfort

Today I presented at Hackfort, the technology focus of Treefort Music Festival, in Boise, Idaho.

The presentation was “The Promise of People in Civic Tech”:

I also moderated this panel discussion:

Discussion around creating heroic, and at times disruptive, outputs with technology that have civic impact. Moderated by Daniel X. O’Neil with panelists: Brandon Zehm, TSheets; Michael Hollenbeck, Proskriptive; Jason Hausske, One4All and Treefort’s own Lori Shandro Outen.

Panel: “Real Talk About Civic Tech” at SXSW

Today I participated in this panel at SXSW:  “Real Talk about Civic Tech

“Civic tech” attempts to apply the benefits of the Internet to government. It has begun to grow into being a force impacting national and local policy. As it becomes more mainstream, critics question how impactful these tools and approaches are for citizens. Does civic tech produce more responsive governments and stronger communities? Or does it widen the gap between the digital haves and have-nots? This panel will discuss tools and approaches that have and have not worked and what needs to happen next.

Real Talk About Civic Tech SXSW 2015 Event Schedule

Panel: Opening Government: From data to action

Today I participated in the closing session of the 2014 Knight Media Learning Seminar. Here’s complete video of the panel, and a summary.  And here’s complete text of my opening remarks:

Remarks at Knight Foundation Media Learning Seminar
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Opening Government: From data to action

Hello. I’m Dan O’Neil, and I run the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology.

Smart Chicago is a project of The Chicago Community Trust, and that’s where I work, under the direction of Terry Mazany. We have two other founding partners: the City of Chicago, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. So with two of the leading philanthropies devoted to Chicago and the municipal government itself guiding our efforts, we can do big things fast.

Our focus is on Access, Skills, and Data. Access to the Internet, skills once you’re on the internet, and data so that there is something meaningful to use on the Internet. These are the necessary components of civic engagement through technology.

The fact that I am employed at the region’s community foundation is key to our work. With their hundred-year view, and their grounding in the place itself, they are the perfect house.

The topic for our lunch discussion here is “opening government: from data to action”. So I want to talk in broad ways about how you might approach this and give you some specific examples of how we don it at Smart Chicago.

In the technology industry, open is critical. It’s not just a word. The network doesn’t work unless it’s open. We have some issues with that currently, because people are trying to make the internet less open. We can’t let them do it. But that’s a topic for another day.

We’ve heard a lot about failing fast and changing course. In order to do that, you have to know if something is actually failing. The way to do that is to be open. Truly open.

We use for our convening. I never heard the word “convening” until I started working at a community foundation. Then I realized everybody was just talking about a meetup group. I helped start a meetup group called OpenGovChicago in 2009. Joe Germuska, another hugely effective Knight News Challenge grantee, is the founder of OpenGovChicago. We convene in the open, in public. It makes sense to us.

So now that I’ve been at the Trust, we host monthly meetings there. For those of you who run community foundations, you know what that means— people love showing up at funder offices (the reverse “site visit”).

So now we have 150 open government advocates, government officials, and civic hackers showing up at a Thursday night at The Trust. Convening in the open.

People in the philanthropy world sometimes ask, “how do I get invited to that group?” or “can you send me an email” or “I didn’t get the email on that”

And I tell them— and this is one of my favorite stock phrases— “It’s on the internet”. Very freeing. There is no secret list to be on. It’s on the internet, in the open.

So we’ve formed community on the Internet— there are 1,200 Chicagoans in this group— that meets in person, in a particular city, in the offices of a particular community foundation, to talk about how to open data and how to make use it to remove barriers and create meaningful opportunities for human advancement. To make lives better.

It’s easy to say you’re open. It’s harder to actually be open. We livestream all meetings via Google Hangout, and have live meeting notes to which anyone can contribute with Google Docs. Public platforms like meetup, google docs, and google hangout let you live your principles.

So that’s a specific implementation of something that can be used by everyone here— convening in the open.

You can’t do something that’s really difficult to do unless you actually try to do it. For me, direct engagement with people is where it’s at. And doing it in the context of a broader mission is required. Our mission is focused on access, skills, and data, so we devised a program that allows us to directly engage with people in this context.

The CUTGroup — the Civic User Testing Group— is our deliberate, structured attempt at this. We start by recruiting residents to test civic apps. They fill out a simple profile, and they get a $5 VISA gift card. In a year months, we’ve signed up 782 people from every ward in the city. We work hard for that kind of coverage by recruiting in traditionally under-represented neighborhoods. Going where people are and asking them to join us.

We segment our list to find the most relevant residents to test a particular app. If they do a test, they get a $20 VISA gift card and bus fare. We address all aspects of the civic technology system in this comprehensive model.

For ACCESS: we conduct all of our tests in the open– in libraries, health centers, community rooms. One third of Chicago residents do not have broadband internet access at home. We believe this towering fact should inform our work. We also do remote access testing, but getting in close matters to us.

Our motto is, “if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work”. This way, we’re *all* developing SKILLS. The resident, the developer, me, everyone. Everyone learning from everyone else, in public.

And all of this is about DATA and how the resident will use it. And we’re all focused on the app, a shared interface. Literally and figuratively on the same page. I’ve found that this focus on the screen is freeing— it allows people to talk about difficult things in ways that are constructive.

So this is my second broad concept: the creation of very specific instruments for engagement. To take data into action, you have to apply these principles deliberately.

Last thing is the concept of being driven by the people we serve. In my work, I hear a lot from organizations who say they’re youth-driven, or senior-driven, or community-driven.

The story of is an example of letting others lead. During our #CivicSummer program last year, we met the youth and listened to what they had to say. Our partner Mikva Challenge organizes youth all year long around policy matters like health, education, and juvenile justice.

The site, helps start the process of erasing juvenile arrests and court records, is pretty much why Smart Chicago exists. For us, it grew naturally out of work we did over our CivicSummer, interacting with youth on the JJC about what interested them, where their research took them, and what issues mattered most to them.

Then, as summer became autumn, I talked on a regular basis with the Mikva staff about the need for an app that helped sort out the essential but obtuse process of expungement. “I need an app”, “you gotta make me an app”. He never gave up.

We kept at it. We connected him with an awesome developer who wanted to do something that mattered. We gave them free server space and technical support and training on how to make it. We told the Legal Aid Center sign up for a free wufoo account to collect their inquiries.

The data here is clear: 25,000 people are eligible in Cook County for expungement every year. There is meaningful harm in their having a juvenile that need not exist. Only 300 people applied for expungement last year. It’s an inscrutable process that is decidedly not open. Now we have a foothold— a piece of technology— that is designed to help remove a concrete barrier in the way of thousands of Chicagoans.

I didn’t even really know what “expungement” meant a year ago. I have no expertise whatsoever. I couldn’t possibly tell you what information is required to begin the expungement process. I’m am literally not smart enough to make

Everybody else is smarter than you about almost everything. To take data into action, we need everybody else.

So I’m excited about talking with you all about how we can do that.