Documenters for the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force meetings

This month I conceived, led, and participated in the documentation of the four community forums hosted by the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force.
The work, centered at Smart Chicago, is a part of the Documenters program. Here’s a snip from a blog post I wrote, kicking off this particular work with the CPATF:

We care about justice and we care about accountability, so we have sent text documenters, videographers (Community TV Network), and a photographer (me) to these convenings under our Documenters program, which “an essential tool for us to add new thinkers, generate ideas, and expand the field for civic tech.”

We show up at public meetings and document the proceedings because we’re interested in paying as much attention as we can to what others are saying, what their concerns are, and how they interact with official government structures. These community forums give us a great opportunity for this. We have a number of goals for this series:

  • Document the actual proceedings, with special attention, in this instance, to the speakers from the public— exactly what questions were asked, what documents were referenced, and what answers were offered by the task force
  • Research the questions and answers to the greatest degree possible. This includes learning more about the speakers, many of whom have decades of experience in their communities. Research and link to their organizations, their work, and the external documents, cases, and other matters that they reference
  • Aggregate the information and draw some rudimentary conclusions. This means simple things like counting attendees and speakers as well as some more sophisticated analysis like grouping comment types and themes.

My role was to manage the project— hire the videographers, writers, and photographers. I also attended most of the meetings and did all of the photo documentation for meetings 1, 2, and 3.

Presentation: CUTGroup at Open Gov Hack Night

Today I gave a presentation at Open Gov Hack Night. Description:

Daniel X. O’Neil of the Smart Chicago Collaborative will talk about theCivic User Testing Group, a set of regular Chicago residents who get paid to test out civic apps.

Dan and his colleagues will give a brief presentation about the impetus behind the program and cover its three essential components: UX testing, digital skills, and community engagement. They’ll also talk about how the Civic Tech community here in Chicago can get involved in this program which is being implemented all over the country.

Here’s the full presentation:

And a writeup, including full video:  Dan O’Neil Talks CUTGroup at OpenGov Hack Night

City Council Resolution: Recognition extended to Smart Chicago for efforts to promote digital democracy

Today in City Council, Chicago City Clerk Susana A. Mendoza sponsored a resolution that was moved by Edward M. Burke, seconded by John Pope, and passed by the full City Council which resolved that “the Mayor and members of the City Council of the City of Chicago gathered here this tenth day of September 2014, do hereby recognize and congratulate Smart Chicago for all of its valued efforts in the move towards a digital democracy”.

Here’s the full version:

Remarks at Adler Planetarium on the National Day of Civic Hacking

Adler PlanetariumToday I kicked off the National Day of Civic Hacking at the Adler Planetarium. Here’s remarks:

Hi everybody.

It’s great to see you here at one of the premier places for science in Chicago, the Adler Planeterium.

This morning, you are joining thousands of colleagues— and they are your colleagues— in more than 100 cities in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The National Day of Civic Hacking joins technologists, entrepreneurs, developers and other people like you to improve our communities and the governments that serve them.

Let me ask you now— how many people consider themselves to be developers? How many want to be technologists or web developers when you grow up? How many just want to hang out on the Internet and do stuff? I’m with you.

This is the second annual event, and the Adler has played a unique and critical part from the get-go. They have deliberately included young people in this day.

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

One of our core words— our founding principles that we endlessly abide by— is everybody.

It’s super-important because when you’re trying to make technology that serves people, and don’t include people, bad things happens. Things go off the rails.

It happens all the time.

So I’m really happy that the Adler has such great programs to include youth like you in technology and to teach you real skills. It is a missing link in the chain of everybody, and they’re doing a great job in filling it, and I’m proud to say that we work together with them at Smart Chicago to do that.

Every culture has their stories, their tropes, their narratives of self-identity. One of the great stories we tell ourselves here in the United States is that every young person can be anything they want when they grow up.

We sometimes have trouble delivering on that as a country. Class lines get hardened. Simple geographic markers in neighborhoods become impenetrable barriers to individual progress. Lack of meaningful opportunity leads to decades of piled-on trouble.

The Internet, and the technology industry, is one of the great pathways in the ideal that we hold dear. In the technology industry, you really can grow up to be anything you want.

And I want you to help me. Help the Adler Planetarium, and the Smart Chicago Collaborative, and the dozens of huge organizations that are a part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Help build our little part of this world— the civic innovation sector of the technology industry.

The part where we try to make new apps that make living together better, that allow us to make our government more accountable and effective, the part where the goal is to improve lives.

Thanks for showing up today. Get to work.

News story: Finding ‘real people’ to test civic apps

Here’s a story about the CUTGroup in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Harris: Finding ‘real people’ to test civic apps

July 7. 2013

Daniel O’Neil of the Smart Chicago Collaborative aims to engage city residents in the process of building civic-minded technology

Daniel O’Neil is one of the founders of Everyblock. The now shuttered hyperlocal news website was among the first to exhume government data sets — reams of building permits, for instance — and publish them online for the curious and skilled to investigate.

O’Neil knows the curious and skilled type. His type. Often white and male. A city-dweller who’s great with computers and numbers. Mature enough to care about his neighbors, his city — yet a tad skeptical of authority. Usually sporting jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and a collared button-down shirt featuring some sort of L.L. Bean-ish checkered pattern.

O’Neil, 46, now runs a nonprofit group, called the Smart Chicago Collaborative, whose mission is to help this community of hackers and journalists do better work. For instance, it hosts websites that do really clever and helpful things with data from City Hall. (

The collaborative’s newest initiative is the civic user testing group. The group has recruited 400 “real people” — O’Neil’s words — to test new civic apps. Every person who joins the group gets a $5 gift card. And test participants receive a $20 gift card and bus fare.

“The big picture is to get residents engaged in the civic technology process — because currently they’re not,” O’Neil said immediately after a recent test of Tom Kompare‘s almost-finished app,, at a public library in Uptown. “There’s a sort of practical goal — for this to happen right there. That’s an actual developer who usually goes to Open Gov Hack Night on Tuesday nights at the Merchandise Mart and interacts with 25 white, male specimens and tries to make decisions about what the next app is that they’re going to try to get somebody to write about.

“It’s a process I find maddening because I’ve been at this for a while. And I’ve done that before. I’ve been the app-of the-day guy. It feels great. And then that’s it. … It’s not of any use.”

Kompare, 43, of Rogers Park, has a full-time job at the University of Chicago. He builds civic apps for fun in his free time. (See Kompare’ for a map pothole complaints near you that haven’t been addressed.) For his most recent project — an app that helps people find the quickest, safest way to get their kids to school — Kompare needed specific testers: Parents who take their kids to and from Chicago public schools and have two hours to spare on a weeknight to give the app serious thought.

Kompare asked the three women who showed up for a recent test to describe their typical morning.

“I look at the stove clock. If it says 7:43, I know I’m on target,” said Melissa Sanchez, 43, laughing.

“I like your very specific time, that’s good,” Kompare said.

“And then we get in the car. So as I pull out of the alley, I’ll look. If the Kennedy Expressway is moving, then I’ll jump on the expressway.”

“Oh, you can see it?” Kompare asked.

“Yes. If I know it’s not (moving), then I’ll head toward Diversey (Avenue). If Diversey is packed, then I go toward Logan Boulevard to cut out Diversey. If I take Diversey and I make it to Diversey and Ashland (Avenue) at 8 o’clock — 8:07 is tardy — so if I’m at the red light at 8 o’clock then I know I can make it in four minutes, blind. Then it all depends. I’ll open the door and, if they have one minute, I’m like, ‘RRRUUUNNNN!'”

It doesn’t get more real than that. After sharing their stories, each participant tested the app in a one-on-one conversation with Kompare, O’Neil or a member of the Smart Chicago Collaborative’s staff.

Sanchez suggested that Kompare change the wording on a few buttons for clarity. She said she liked Kompare’s clean design and that he had pre-programmed the addresses of all of Chicago’s public schools. But she wanted the app to do more — to supply her with a reverse route home; to store her home address; and to speak the route to her like a GPS device.

“You’ll use this because you’re in a rush and in a crunch,” said Sanchez, who lives in Logan Square and works for the schools’ head start program. “I’m not going to memorize the route because I’m already stressed and panicked. I’m going to need somebody to coach me, guide me.”

On their way out of the library at 8 p.m., O’Neil asked Kompare what he thought of the test. “A home run,” Kompare replied. “The woman I was working with. Faaantastic. She gave me at least three (improvements) that are doable.” Kompare said the app suggested the woman’s son take the Cermak bus to school, but she told Kompare that wasn’t an option because that route crossed through unsafe gang territory.

“A better build-out of this is having the option to pick the bus stop where you want to start,” Kompare said. “That way you can choose a bus stop you can logically use. That was something I picked up today.”

O’Neil was relieved. Only six people had signed up to attend, and he had a reporter coming. Worried about how the small group would look, he almost opened the test to all 400 testers rather than limit participation to parents of children in Chicago Public Schools.

“I have this desire to have like a big raucous, big meeting,” O’Neil said. “That’s my nature. But we got three incredibly qualified, incredibly articulate people to give this guy feedback. Now (after two tests), he’s got seven people. We’ve had geographic diversity. Two men. It was mainly African-Americans, come to think of it. That’s worth it.”


Chicago Tribune - Harris  Finding 'real people' to test civic apps

Harris: Finding 'real people' to test civic apps

Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative

Today marks the end of my first week as the first Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative. Here’s  a snip from a blog post I wrote about the change:

There is much work ahead on the Smart Chicago Collaborative. I go to work every day at The Chicago Community Trust, where the collaborative is housed. I get to work with some of the sharpest and most energetic people focused on improving the quality of life in Chicago. My most immediate tasks are to build a strong advisory committee, work with donors, fund projects, and hire an Associate Program Officer. If you see yourself in these tasks, please contact me at Let’s get to work.

And here’s a draft strategy I’m working on: