April 2015

Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods — Taryn Roch, Director of Program Assessment at LISC Chicago

Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods — Taryn Roche, Director of Program Assessment at LISC Chicago

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest episode of Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods, she highlights Taryn Roch, the Director of Program Assessment of Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago (LISC) in Chicago. LISC is a nationwide non-profit corporation seeking to transform distressed communities. LISC Chicago constantly works to provide communities with the necessary resources they need to thrive.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Taryn Roch live on MeetAdvisors.

A Look Ahead: Security in the Cloud

Last month I participated in a Microsoft Live Virtual Event at Microsoft’s Production Studios in Redmond, Washington called “A Look Ahead: Security in the Cloud” where I was asked various questions that are top of mind for customers as they consider acquiring cloud solutions. Here’s a link to that event where you can view my session and the sessions of other participants: http://aka.ms/sec_ondemand.

One of the primary questions that I addressed during my session is how a customer can identify a “trusted” cloud provider – which is of critical importance as customers entrust cloud providers to properly secure their data.

The key point is that customers need to engage in thoughtful due diligence when selecting a cloud provider. However a customer first needs to identify its team of professionals within its organization that will conduct such due diligence. That team may include an in-house lawyer, a representative from the chief privacy officer team, a representative from the chief security officer team, and a member of the risk management/compliance team. Once those folks are engaged, a customer can begin its cloud provider evaluation process and should focus its evaluation on these four considerations:

  1. How transparent is the cloud provider?
  2. How does the cloud provider protect data?
  3. How does the cloud provider embrace compliance?
  4. Does the cloud provider enable a customer to control its data?

Best of luck in your journey to the cloud!

Chicago City Data Users Group on Census Data

We all know the U.S. Census. Once a decade, on the “zero” years, we fill out a form.  But what do we really know?  The decennial census has been conducted since 1790, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 2 states that:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers . . . The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

Then there is the American Community Survey, an ongoing survey that provides a way to collect data every year.  It is sent out to roughly 3 million US addresses yearly.  According to the ACS web site, information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.  But beyond investment allocation and congressional reapportionment and redistricting, census data is also a staple of civic tech projects.  Census data is used to source common denominators, it is used for benchmarking, and is key for determining trends.  Think about how many civic tech projects or community organizing efforts rely on the basic knowledge of where the country or state stands in terms of income, education, health insurance, transportation, etc.

Currently, there is a proposal on the table to de-fund the long-form survey.  Budget cuts and amendments and concerns about constitutionality and privacy are being brought up as a counter to the argument that defunding portions of the Census will degrade data quality and make it less accessible.

So…let’s learn more about it on May 6th at 6:00pm at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago!

First, we will have Knight Lab’s Joe Germuska will discuss the CensusReporter.org project. Census Reporter was created to make it easy for journalists to write stories using US Census data. Census Reporter greatly simplifies finding and using data from the decennial census and the American Community Survey. He will also give you a sneak peek at a project called CitySDK (being rolled out in the US in Chicago first!).  CitySDK helps integrate city data and federal data, starting with US Census data.

Then, we will hear from Joan Naymark from Minnesotans for the American Community Survey. She will talk about why Open Data needs census data, will and will define the risk and resolution.  Joan will also give us her organizations views on funding for the 2020 Census, and how you can join the discourse, and make your opinion known.  It will be a great discussion and I hope you will join us.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem Normal

In the evolution of computing, technology has been at the intersection of many fields. Now there are both the need and opportunity for the intersection of community development and technology. This “emerging technology” will, in no uncertain terms, have a positive effect on commerce and social attitudes in distressed communities and the broader public.

I believe disparate but interrelated doses of technology at the community level will eradicate the distress of many urban communities. Just like a human body suffering from an illness, the distressed condition of a community should not be considered normal, and the illness eradicated. To that end, I’ve been able to collaborate with communities, brands, and organizations to use technology to promote normalcy. But why would anyone believe this is even possible?

From Whence I Came:

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalI never forgot how technology, my old TRS-80 computer, served to bring people together when I was a kid and still dream of one day making that happen in our more distressed communities. I believe this was so very possible that, in 2002 I decided to quit my job. I’d watched major companies use technology to create many of the things we take for granted today, but were considered impossible back then. So I left corporate America after coming up with an idea – New Media for Community Development. But what would that look like?

The Starting point: Looking Different to be seen differently

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem Normal

In 2004 I created a series of performances in small local venues. There was no Facebook or YouTube at the time, so I designed an online channel, YouAspire, which showed performance segments a couple of days after the events and a monthly online music album with songs from local artists.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalThe community embraced the concept and these shows, in the ‘hood’, became a hot item. I was inundated with CD’s and cassettes from artists hoping to perform each month. People came from around the country to check out the shows.

Venues that hosted the events had to increase staff on the nights of our events Soul Café and Ecclectic Rhythms. From 2004 – 2008, people used computers more to stay informed and access the content, spent their money on entertainment and dining in the neighborhood, and additional dollars came from the general public into the community. The model had proven a socioeconomic success. But we needed more.

Rebranding and the Distribution of Hope

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem Normal

Mayor Emanuel’s Chief of Staff Felicia Davis announcing the 2012 Violence Stops Here scholarship winners.

Disinvestment in distressed communities is a serious problem. And the media’s focus on youth based violence isn’t exactly enticing anyone to put their dollars into communities on Chicago’s south and west sides. I wanted to give youth a voice to creatively express themselves and represent their communities for the sake of rebranding “normal” for themselves and the world.

In 2010 I worked with Chicago Beverage Systems, 51st Street Business Association and aldermen from Chicago’s south and west sides to produce the first Violence Stops Here campaign, an annual 6-month online competition where Chicago youth submit poems and songs about their views on stopping violence or what their community would be like with no violence.

The late Hon. Alderman JoAnne Thompson stated, “The Violence Stops Here campaign affords our youth an opportunity to speak freely and creatively on issues that directly impact their lives.” The idea is that the competitors and supporting communities spend at least six months thinking about the notion of stopping violence and that would result in the reduction of violence. Additionally, the general public would experiencing a more relevant perspective of our youth, viewing online entries, voting, and experience the collective message of the competition.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalLater that year I was invited to be co-deviser on Collaboraction Theatre’s CrimeScene: A Chicago Anthology, a play derived from stories of real issues and solutions occurring in Chicago communities and a community discussion that served as a catalyst for action.

Collaboraction seeks to manifest and redistribute Hope in distressed Chicago neighborhoods by creating communal artistic experiences and opportunities to eradicate ignorance and uplift inspiration, allowing Chicagoans to see, hear and feel the history and current issues while spotlighting the stories of peacemakers who are working everyday to increase the peace.

The following summer Chicago Park District commissioned Collaboraction to perform CrimeScene monthly through parks in Chicago neighborhoods. Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalThe show was reformatted as a two day event featuring a cookout, classes teaching residents to create their stories and performance of the show now rebranded Let Hope Rise.

Let Hope Rise is now an annual variety show featuring performers, animation, food, fun and community discussion. We run the show monthly at several Chicago neighborhood parks January through August.

When it’s Broken, Fix it! (or build an App)

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalIn September 2012 a Northwestern Medicine report concluded “a person near a liquor store or tavern on the West Side or South Side of Chicago is up to 500 times more likely to be shot than others in these neighborhoods.” A month later, I again teamed up with Chicago Beverage Systems, Reyes Holdings, several liquor suppliers, and aldermen from Chicago’s south and west sides to architect Chicago’s Responsible Retailer Initiative.

We created the RRI as an alternative to closing the stores, and to reduce a unique and growing set of problems arising out of the operation of these businesses. Chicago’s mayor lauded the effort saying, “We are asking liquor establishments to do what is right in their communities, to be responsible retailers, to become more involved in the communities they serve, to improve the area and quality in and around their stores.” Store owners complied and even came together to fund the Violence Stops Here campaign.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalMany of the store owners expressed a major concern – vacant and abandoned buildings in their retail corridors. To address this issue I designed the Urban Property Portal, an app that uses predictive analytics to help crowd source the development of those properties. The app is prototypes stage with the goal of deploying a 2016 beta version in partnership with local aldermen.

The idea of deploying low-cost, high-impact apps was intoxicating. In 2014 I joined the advisory board for Jail Education Solutions, a tablet based app for education, inspiration and motivation for inmates of correctional facilities, including juvenile detention centers, jails, prisons and post-release programs.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalThere is a void in community production that occurs when people are behind bars. “….that’s a lot of wasted idle time that makes facilities less safe and leaves individuals unprepared,” Brian Hill, CEO Jail Education Solutions. “It’s arrested development and it’s doing a lot of damage in the long term.” My hope is that communities will begin generating additional relevant content for the tablet as well as apps that can augment the process of reducing recidivism and subsequently improving citizenry.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalAs program director for the 2015 Urban Sustainability Apps Competition, I wanted to give people the opportunity to transform from consumers of technology to producers of technology. With the support of Microsoft, the Center for Neighborhood Technology is producing the annual competition to bring together community minds and technologists to initiate the creation of apps that offer significant civic impact, attract users, and are relatively inexpensive to design code and deploy.

The competition connects the potential of technology to the talented visionaries in our communities and help to deploy solutions at the grassroots level. Since January, I’ve been speaking with several community organizations to spark the notion that anybody, can come up with ideas to solve problems from within the community. My hope is the resulting apps will continue to illuminate the cross-section between the advances in technology and potential to rebuild communities.

No Limitation

I am devoted to this time where, greater than any other moment in human history, groups of people can digitally converge on ideas and issues and ask “What if?” and then democratize the creation solutions – quickly and inexpensively – often for free. This has to be the era to devote sheer brain power and will toward this purpose – eradication of the distress on our urban communities. We have the tools, the technology, and the ideas. I am confident we can create for tomorrow those things that are seemingly impossible today – and maybe make our communities and the world just a little more normal.

Community Development: Technology Makes the Impossible Seem NormalSteven C. Philpott, Sr. is the Founder of XtraMedium Communications, Social Ventures Fellow at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, executive board member of Collaboraction, and Advisory Board member of Jail Educations Solutions. 

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

How many of you are aware that 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act?

I wasn’t until a few months ago, when I received  a call from United Cerebral Palsy. They were interested in hosting a hackathon for 100 people in May, and were looking for space to hold the hackathon. Fortunately, the Microsoft Technology & Innovation Center is ADA-compliant, and we are now thrilled to be hosting this wonderful program on May 19-20, when developers will be creating apps to help people with disabilities. At about the same time, I received a call from Chicago Public Schools to see if we could host a job shadow day for CPS students with disabilities. Those two calls sparked my interest, and  I also started to pay more attention to ADA 25 and to how meaningful technology can be to those who have a disability. To recognize and celebrate the important strides for people with disabilities, 2015 will be celebrating ADA 25 all year long and Chicago will be celebrating ADA 25 Chicago. This blog is the first in a series recognizing ADA 25 and its impact.

Our mission and social responsibility at Microsoft is to enable people throughout the world to realize their full potential with technology. To that end, we invested in creating an environment that capitalizes on the diversity of our people, and the inclusion of ideas and solutions, that meets the needs of our increasingly global and diverse customer base.

And that means developing technology that is accessible to anyone – regardless of age or ability. Technology has the potential to become our sixth sense.

People with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in the world. People with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.

Microsoft has a long history and commitment to accessibility. For more than 25 years, Microsoft has focused on creating technologies that make devices easier to use for individuals with a wide array of difficulties and impairments. Microsoft has listened, gained insights, and applied what it’s learned. The result is an increasing momentum toward the goal of making devices accessible and useful to all people. Today we empower hundreds of millions of people of all abilities around the world to use technology to enter the workforce, stay connected with friends and family, get things done and take full advantage of a digital lifestyle. We’ll spend more time in May looking at how apps can positively impact the lives of people with disabilities.

Today, I want to share with you how impressed I am with the teachers and students at CPS who visited us last week.

Making Technology Accessible for EveryoneLet’s start with CPS teachers like James Taylor. First, you just have to love his name! But more importantly, James spends his time focusing on all the students with disabilities at CPS, and one small part of his day is putting together field trips for the students to businesses, so the students can experience the corporate world. Originally, James thought we would have 2 or 3 students sign up. We had 27! Everyone arrived early and we began our day with a wonderful presentation by Paul Edlund, Chief Technology Officer – Microsoft Midwest, about the future of technology. It was a highly interactive session, with lots of questions and student engagement.

We then had a full tour of the Microsoft Technology & Innovation Center, led by Beth Malloy, Director, Microsoft Technology Center – Chicago and Bradley Trovillion, Technical Solutions Architect. The students examined our Internet of Things Fishtank, played Xbox and used the Kinect to understand motion capture of movement and worked real time on our PPI.

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

After lunch, we had a terrific presentation via Skype by Patrick Maher, Director of Civic Engagement, SPR Consulting. SPR is a Microsoft Partner and Pat suffered a spinal cord injury during college. In addition to his very motivational personal story, Pat emphasized the great opportunities for careers in technology for people with disabilities. Pat runs a meet up group called ITKAN, which supports people with disabilities in the Technology field.

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

He also showed an amazing video which I highly recommend:

The entire staff of the Microsoft Technology and Innovation Center were honored to support these wonderful teachers and students at CPS. It’s most rewarding when we received the following thank you note from James, which told us that our message hit home and that we have helped to fill the pipeline of students who are interested in careers in technology:

“Pat and Shelley I want to say thank for participating and hosting the students.  Overall the students enjoyed the experience and I’m hoping to get a few involved with ITKAN in the next few months.  A majority of the students are gearing up to graduate and after this job shadow day, some are being swayed over to the computer field.  Pat I want to say thank again for sharing your experience with us, and giving motivation to the students.  And again, thank you and the rest of the team for being great hosts.  Hopefully we can do this again later this year or next year and open some doors for upcoming graduates.  I will share these videos and get some feedback, hopefully this will generate some questions for opportunities and get the students more involved with the IT world.” 

To learn more about Microsoft’s investment in accessibility, see how our products have built-in accessibility features.

Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods — Christine Poorman, Executive Director at NFTE Chicago

Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods — Christine Poorman, Executive Director at NFTE Chicago

Shelley Stern Grach’s latest episode of Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods highlights a leader in education and entrepreneurship, Christine Poorman. Christine is the Executive Director at NFTE Chicago, formally known as Networking for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a local organization that offers entrepreneurial education to Chicago Public Schools. NFTE, which is a national YouthSpark partner, encourages innovative education for all — its goals are to engage and empower youth, lowering dropout rates and providing students with the skills they need to excel in their futures.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Christine Poorman live on MeetAdvisors.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Congratulations to the 2015 Divvy Data Challenge Winners!

Congratulations to the 2015 Divvy Data Challenge Winners!

Transportation and data: two fields in which Chicago excels. So it only made sense for Divvy, Chicago’s leading bikeshare program, to challenge Chicago’s data scientists to marry the two in their latest data visualization competition. Designers, developers, and scientists were encouraged to visualize over 3.2 million Divvy trips in an insightful, beautiful, or creative way, spurring dozens of submissions that were delightful, helpful, and unique. Entries ranged from visualizing the easiest and safest bike routes to the most common routes taken to just being able to follow the path of one specific rental bike.

Submissions were categorized into Best Overall Visualization, Most Comprehensive, Most Beautiful, Most Creative, and Most Insightful. After being reviewed by Divvy judges, the top submissions were hosted on RedEyeChicago.com to be voted on by the public.

In addition to entries being featured in a full-page ad in RedEye and on the Divvy Website, winners received gift certificates for two Divvy Memberships, a Divvy t-shirt and five 24-Hour Passes to share with friends and family. Microsoft was also pleased to award each winner with an XBOX One, an XBOX Kinect, Windows Phone, and a BizSpark software package including full-featured software development tools and server products.

Divvy Data used for the challenge can be found here.

See all the winners here and test out some of the visualizations yourself!

Microsoft and City Year: A Shared Belief in the Power of Young People

Microsoft and City Year: A Shared Belief in the Power of Young People

To provide under-served youth with learning opportunities, Microsoft launched its YouthSpark Initiative in 2012.  To date, YouthSpark has helped over 227 million young people in over 100 countries.  As part of this partnership, we work with over 350 nonprofits on over 30 programs including CityYear, with whom we’ve worked for over 15 years.

CityYear and Microsoft are two organizations looking to achieve results through the use of data. For instance, CityYear recently analyzed national Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) data and discovered that students working with the organization in grades 3-9 improved their literacy and math skills by 1.4 times what was expected. We continue to work with City Year on finding innovative ways to improve its math curriculum. As a result, an expected 14,000 students will benefit from the new math curriculum this year.

For more information, read about our partnership with CityYear on the Microsoft New England Blog here.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods — David Hiller, President of the McCormick Foundation

Civic Chat—Networking our Neighborhoods: David Hiller, President of the McCormick Foundation

Shelley Stern Grach’s latest episode of Civic Chat: Networking our Neighborhoods features David Hiller, President of the McCormick Foundation. This episode celebrates the McCormick Foundation’s 60th anniversary of doing great things for the people of Chicago — alongside McCormick, David Hiller has helped provide community programs for low-income families, encouraging and promoting the education of the people of the State of Illinois.

Watch Shelley’s chat with David Hiller live on MeetAdvisors.

The Illinois Corporate-Startup Challenge: Accelerating Corporate Innovation

Microsoft and the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) have enjoyed a productive relationship over the past several years. We work in the same circles and share many of the same values on increasing STEM programs and STEM skills, improving educational outcomes and ensuring a stronger economy through entrepreneurship.. Recently, the Technology and Civic Engagement team in Chicago and the ISTC developed a deeper relationship, focusing on their Corporate-Startup Challenge program and looking at specific ways to identify and match startups with Microsoft’s needs. We have also engaged one of Microsoft’s civic partners and one of the City’s premier resources—the Chicago Public Library (CPL). Candidly, this is an experiment on all sides; it’s a way for CPL to gain clarity around how technology can enable them to extend their reach in their 80 locations, and it’s a way to see how Illinois startups with an education or digital media notion can connect with the public at large. It’s great to see how large public institutions like CPL are willing to invest time and talent to try new things, and we appreciate the curated “matchmaking” of the ISTC staff in bringing emerging startups to our attention. We’re looking forward to our formal Demo Day later in April and appreciate the creativity and the partnerships on all sides.

— Shelley Stern Grach

We often hear about Illinois’ depth and diversity of global corporations, as well as our growing entrepreneurial community over the last few years – but some might not know about the powerful results that can occur when we mix them together. At the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) – a member-driven nonprofit focused on growing the state’s innovation economy – we are leading an effort to better bridge the state’s most promising startups and university spinouts with major corporations that are looking to innovate with partners outside their walls.

Developed in 2013, the Illinois Corporate-Startup Challenge assembles a class of Fortune 1000 corporations on a semiannual basis to facilitate a rapid, go-to-market strategy that gives companies a window into the rapidly emergent innovation ecosystem in Illinois.  To date, we have worked with 12 corporations, including Microsoft, which is participating in our current cohort. As a technology and civic leader here in Chicago, the Microsoft team was a natural fit for our partnership model.

How it works

The Corporate-Startup Challenge accelerates corporate innovation through highly curated engagement with entrepreneurs, disrupters, and emerging-growth companies from across Illinois. In November 2014, we kicked off the Microsoft partnership with a discovery session that allowed us to learn about Microsoft’s unique innovation interests – from “digital work” applications that envision software and cloud-based solutions for future workforce needs, to wearable technologies with a focus on the enterprise. Given Microsoft’s Civic Engagement team is pursuing meaningful, innovative impact partnerships here in Chicago, we were excited for the first time to also engage a government agency in our discovery process by incorporating the needs of Chicago Public Library (CPL) – with whom Microsoft has worked on a number of initiatives.

Once our priorities were developed for both Microsoft and CPL, our project team – which also includes program manager David Machajewski, and project consultant David Weinstein of Freshwater Advisers – tapped our statewide network of more than 50 referral partners, including research universities, tech parks, accelerators/incubators, and the angel/venture community to submit companies for potential partnership matches. Based on these referrals, we interviewed more than 75 new companies and drew from our existing portfolio of over 150 companies to select 45 companies for Micosoft and CPL to consider for possible strategic collaboration.   The process will culminate in a demo day showcase on April 22nd where Microsoft and CPL have identified a subset of startups to share their work with their leaders and identify potential opportunities to collaborate.


To date, 72 startups have presented at eight corporate demo days (Allstate, Walgreens, John Deere, Molex, Motorola Mobility, Exelon, ADM, and Hyatt Corporation, with Microsoft, State Farm, UL, and Danfoss coming up this spring). Of these, 40 have forged connections with one or more of the corporate partners, with at least 26 currently exploring mentorship, joint development agreements/pilot engagements, strategic partnerships and collaborations, contracts, or investment opportunities. Meanwhile, corporate partners have accelerated their own new products, services, and business competitiveness by gaining insight into the entrepreneurial community’s brightest innovations.

We are excited to be providing companies with the opportunity to understand how innovation can come from every corner of our state while bringing efficiency to what could otherwise be a highly inefficient process.

Mark Harris ISTCMark Harris has served as the President & CEO of the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition and Institute since June 2012. He has more than a decade of experience working in government, economic development and higher education. This includes serving as deputy chief of staff for the State of Illinois, working as associate director for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and serving in senior positions at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Mark holds a BS from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an MA from the University of Chicago. He is an appointee to the Illinois Smart Grid Advisory Council and Energy Foundry Board, serves on the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition Steering Committee and is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. Mark is Chilean-American and is fluent in Spanish.

Alya Adamany ISTCAlya Adamany has joined the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition after seven years with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where she most recently served as the Assistant Director for Studies, and prior to that as the Interim Director for the Global Midwest Initiative. As the Managing Director for the Illinois Innovation Network, she works closely with the Illinois Innovation Council to develop, manage, and support programs that advance the Illinois economy through innovation-based strategies.

Alya previously held internships at the U.S. House of Representatives and Amnesty International. She has been a member of Teach For America’s auxiliary board since 2009, and volunteers with PAWS Chicago. Alya received her MA from the University of Chicago’s Committee on International Relations and a BA in political science from Yale University.