New story: Chicago seeking ‘smart-city’ tech solutions to improve city life

Today I was quoted in an article on smart cities:  “Chicago seeking ‘smart-city’ tech solutions to improve city life“. (Here’s the complete text). I am currently a skeptic when it comes to believing that smart cities is a path to freedom:

“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.

Here’s a blog post I wrote to expound on that: Smart Cities Have to Serve People and Be Responsive to their Needs.

Here’s the closing of today’s article in the Tribune:

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.”


On The Table Event: Surveillance in Chicago, at the Burger King on South Pulaski Road

Today I hosted an event. Here’s how I described it on the Smart Chicago website:

I have been a member of the On The Table Steering Committee since its inception. I am very proud of my connection to this central community engagement model for The Chicago Community Trust, my employer and the place where Smart Chicago is based.

I believe in the power of bringing regular Chicago residents together to plan our collective future. I also believe it’s easy to have easy conversations— to create a private space among friends to talk about and celebrate our shared work.

But we just can’t afford to do that in Chicago today. We are in the middle of a series of crises around policing, education, the use of public space, and how to pay for the things we need. On The Table is far too important a tool to use for discussions that don’t go to the core.

So we’re hosting a dinner at an important place to talk about important things. Here’s details: Surveillance in Chicago: A Conversation at the Burger King on S. Pulaski Road

The October 20, 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald at 4100 S. Pulaski was a seminal event in this city. The reverberations are still being felt in the publication of recommendations from the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, in the Pattern or Practice Investigation being conducted by the Department of Justice, and in continued protests in the streets and at the doors of power. This conversation will focus on one aspect of power: video surveillance. Our venue will be the Burger King where 86 minutes of recording went missing on the morning after McDonald’s death.

We hope you can join us. If this event fills up, we encourage you to host your own On The Table as well.

On The Table 2015

Meantime, here are some resources to help move the conversation along:

Questions, comments, additions? Write / call / tweet Daniel X. O’Neil (773) 960-6045 @smartchicago  @danxoneil.

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.

Chicago Tech Plan 18 Month Update

Today the City of Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman announced an 18-month update to Chicago’s Tech Plan.


The work of Smart Chicago is deeply represented in this Tech Plan. Here’s an excerpt from the Smart Chicago blog post about the plan:

Civic Innovation

A big part of the city’s strategy around civic innovation is supporting the work of civic technologists here in Chicago. As part of the Tech Plan, Smart Chicago will continue to provide resources to civic technologists like developer resourcesuser testing, and financial support to civic technology projects.

The Tech Plan also calls out our work with the Chicago School of Data. The two day experience was wholly based on the feedback we received from dozens of surveys, months of interviews, and a huge amount of research into the work being done with data in the service of people. If you missed the conference, here are some of the key takeaways.

The Civic User Testing Group also plays a part in the Tech Plan and has recently been expanded to include all of Cook County.

Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman stated that Chicago has the strongest civic innovation community in the country. A large part of that community has been the Chi Hack Night, now in it’s fourth year with attendance now reaching over 100 people regularly.

Here’s the update in full.

Smart Chicago Model Featured in the Chicago Community Trust Annual Report

Here’s a feature on the work of Smart Chicago in the 2014 Annual Report of the Chicago Community Trust.  Here’s a snip:

“We want to help organizations use data and technology to do their jobs, be more effective and make lives better,” explains Dan O’Neil, executive director of Smart Chicago (pictured at left). “Our objective is to pull together all of the great energy we see in nonprofit, government and other sectors in a cohesive way that can support everyone.”

I also talked about how important it us for us to be situated in the region’s community foundation:

O’Neil says Smart Chicago’s location within the Trust headquarters was invaluable to achieving these successes. “The Trust is at the center of all the work that we aim to be involved in, and being here provides us with an ideal vantage point,” he says. “It makes it easy for us to do outreach and build relationships, and that is so important for our long-range goals.”

Here’s the spread and here’s the complete text:

CCT 2014 Annual Report - Chicago School of Data - Page 1

CCT 2014 Annual Report - Chicago School of Data Page 2

And here’s the full report:


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.