October 2015

Join Us For Chicago City Data User Group — Chicago Public Schools Data



There are very few data sets that elicit are more personal and emotional response than those that revolve around education. Education systems are a foundational component of urban life, and they pump out valuable data. Education data can help inform (where is our elementary school? ), guide action (how are the reading scores at my school?), and inspire (what are teens reading these days?).

Chicago is rich in education data. There are over 50 data sets on education in the city’s data portal alone. Recently, a colleague in another major metro asked me to help him pull together a number of school performance metrics. He didn’t know where to access things like attendance data, suspension data, math score data, and overall performance rankings. His goal was to get this together in a single query.

I told him just to go to his city’s data portal and pull down the school performance report. His response was “well, that is what I am trying to create”. I was confused, so I fired up Skype and showed him Chicago’s Chicago Public Schools – Elementary School Progress Report datasets. I could hear him seethe with jealousy on the other end of the Skype. So suffice it to say, again…Chicago is rich in education data.

Now the questions become: what data is actually out there and how is it being used? That is what we will answer at the Chicago City Data User Group meet up on Chicago Public Schools Data. On November 4th, at 6:00pm at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, we will host three speakers who have done some incredible work around education data:

  • John DiCello: John is the Director of Data Solutions for CPS, where he has served for over 7 years. John will talk about data-driven initiatives out of CPS that are being used today, as well as some projects that they are working on to support the future of our schools.
  • Josh Kalov: Josh Kalov is well known for his work with county data and data visualizations. He became a focal point in the civic tech community with his work around school cuts data, which he will discuss. He will also discuss his more recent budget and school utilization visualizations.
  • Tom Bunting: Tom is a Data Associate with Ingenuity. Ingenuity is the only organization out there collecting and tracking data on arts instruction within CPS. They combine that data with data around arts institutions in and around the neighborhoods to bring arts education back to the schools in an integrated way.

We look forward to seeing you there.

STEM Degrees on the Upswing in Illinois: Innovation Index Talent Report

Supporting Workforce Development and STEM education have always been, and will always be key missions for Microsoft. Through initiatives like our YouthSpark program, we strive to bring computer science and STEM education to youth and all schools across the globe. One of the key highlights of representing Microsoft in the community is my role as member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC). Microsoft has worked closely with the ISTC and its Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) on STEM initiatives, such as the wonderful STEM Challenge last year with Lake View High School, one of the five Early College STEM Schools at CPS.  Recently, the ISTC released their 2015 Innovation Index on STEM Talent, which discusses where Illinois stands in the STEM field compared to other parts of the nation. It’s exciting to see the report’s promising data on the growth of Illinois’ STEM graduates –exceeding the national proportion of STEM grads as a percentage of total for the first time in over a decade!  Please take a few minutes to read this synopsis of the ISTC report, written by my good colleague and friend Mark Harris, President and CEO of ISTC.  ~Shelley Stern Grach

Tech and innovation ecosystems are driven by talent, so it’s important that we have an understanding of the production, demand, and trends around Illinois’ workforce and our graduates across institutions in science, technology, engineering, and match (STEM) disciplines.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) – a member-driven nonprofit focused on growing the state’s tech economy – released the 2015 Innovation Index on STEM Talent, which offered a comprehensive analysis of Illinois’ production of STEM degrees and the demand of employment in STEM fields as well.   Since the end of the recession, more and more college students have been drawn to the study of STEM fields, and our analysis revealed that more than one in four degrees earned in Illinois are in STEM subjects, surpassing the national percentage for the first time in more than a decade (28.5 percent versus 27 percent – see chart below). Further, Illinois’ STEM degrees skew toward graduate-level study—good news for high-tech companies looking to hire local talent.


Healthcare makes up the largest concentration of the state’s STEM degrees – accounting for 44 percent of Illinois STEM degrees, compared with 37 percent nationally.   Illinois also produces a higher percentage of computer-science grads (12.7 percent) than the U.S. overall (10.8 percent) and math grads (4.5 percent) compared with the nation (4 percent).  In addition, Illinois boasts one of the largest postdoctoral researcher talent pools in the United States – providing some of the most expert science and engineering talent for the state’s research-intensive industries.   Illinois also excels in STEM-related fields such as the arts and business, with MBA’s representing 5.5 percent of all degrees granted in Illinois (compared with 3.9 percent nationally).

It’s important to note that in Illinois, one in five non-health STEM degrees go to immigrant students, reaching a peak level of almost 4,500 graduates in 2014. Overall, Illinois’ concentration of immigrant students at all levels of non-health STEM education was 40 percent higher than the US average in 2014 – and represented roughly half non-health Master’s and doctorate graduates. These staggering figures reinforce the need for reforms to our immigration system, so we can retain this talent in Illinois.


On the jobs side – our analysis shows that Illinois’ tech economy is growing, marked by an increase in computer occupations and related industries. In particular, the startup economy is creating demand for software developers and hybrid jobs that require a blend of programming or other advanced computer skills, digital marketing and data science. And the biotechnology R&D industry grew 47.3 percent in Illinois from 2011 to 2014, reversing a trend of decline over the several years prior.

Looking ahead, it is critical to continue promoting increased graduation rates in non-health STEM degrees, such as computer and data science, to capitalize on the growth of computer occupations in the state.

It is undeniable that Illinois has a lot of the pieces in place from a talent perspective to support the expanding demands for a workforce skilled in STEM and related fields – and indeed it will be our talented men and women that drive our tech economy forward.

Big Shoulders: Chris Foreman, CEO of North America at AvePoint

Big Shoulders: Chris Foreman, CEO of North America at AvePoint

AvePoint is all about connecting people across devices and platforms for the sake of collaboration. As a Microsoft CityNext partner, AvePoint is using Microsoft technology like Sharepoint and Office 365 to engage communities in collaboration and tech. In Adam Hecktman’s latest Big Shoulders, he explores this partnership with Chris Foreman, CEO of North America at AvePoint.

Watch Adam’s spotlight on Chris Foreman live on Advisor.TV.


An exciting new partnership with ITKAN and Marriott Foundation’s Bridges


Joshua Martinez, Jyrus Julian, Kelly Pavich, Orlando Herrera, Briangel Lopez

IT Knowledge Abilities Network (ITKAN) is a professional development, networking and educational group here in Chicago. It is focused on strengthening career opportunities in technology roles for qualified candidates with disabilities. ITKAN conducts regular membership meetings at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago. Members participate in discussions around leading edge technologies, and have the opportunity to work on unique development projects to further their knowledge and capacity. It is led by Pat Maher, the Director of Civic Engagement for SPR Consulting. Adam Hecktman, Microsoft’s Director of Technology and Civic Innovation, has been affiliated with the group for the last 6 years or so.

What began as a tentative conversation on how ITKAN might embrace a group of young adults from Marriott Foundation’s Bridges program is developing into an exciting new partnership. Adam met Kelly Pavich, National Trainer at Marriott Bridges at a civic hackathon. Her organization works with young people with disabilities. He immediately recognized the opportunity for ITKAN’s adult community to be an important and valuable resource for the young adults in the Bridges Chicago program. Who better to be mentors, role models, and simply great business contacts for students than ITKAN members?

A little background on Bridges. It was established in 1989 by the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities. The full name of the program, Bridges from School to Work, exemplifies their work of engaging employers, schools, community resources, youth and their families to help businesses meet their workforce needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed through employment.

During the course of introductory conversations, Kelly, Adam and Pat Maher, ITKAN founder and SPR Consulting Director of Civic Engagement, thought that a good way to start this relationship would be to host several members of Bridges at an ITKAN monthly members meeting. They agreed not to overthink the dynamic, the subject matter or the process. Instead, they would simply welcome the students to the group and allow them to experience ITKAN, meet some members, and learn about some cutting edge technology. They could experience a group of people who, like them, manage differing abilities along with all other aspects of their life, including on-going education and professional development.

Our expert for the evening, Paul Edlund, Chief Technologist – Microsoft Midwest, would have no problem holding their attention. He is well versed in Microsoft’s work on research around how technology will impact work, education, collaboration, and just about every other aspect of life. It is a conversation on which he enjoys engaging others. Pat Skyped into the meeting and experienced Paul’s energetic presentation as he moved from tripod to smart board to monitor illustrating sensor technology, data visualization, and other tools that would continue to move the definition of how all of us work in an increasingly demanding world, with or without disability.

To quote Kelly:

They were all so thrilled about the opportunity to meet Paul, otherwise known as “the most important person at Microsoft!” by Jyrus of our group. During the meeting, Joshua, Jyrus, Orlando, and Briangel were grinning from ear to ear as Paul explained the myriad projects that Microsoft is working on using technology to help others around the world.  They were able to see that Microsoft’s scope went well beyond computers, and truly was a company that believes in research & development, empowering others to discover, and growing their brand through innovative ideas and people. Paul inspired them to be the best employees as well, and he said Microsoft is looking for “Type A, inquisitive, and driven people.” Our candidates walked out knowing that they could have a place within Microsoft or somewhere within the IT field, as long as they worked hard, were passionate about their work, and wanted to always present their best selves. Their grins from the beginning of the meeting turned into beaming smiles with each of them believing that they could take charge of their future!  

Take charge of their future indeed. Because they are the future.

The Power of Civic Technology: Highlights from CfA Summit

What can civic technology do?

In Microsoft’s Technology and Civic Engagement team, we’re not just about providing hardware or software to make things easier. We’re about using this technology to connect with the community, to make a difference, and — to follow Code for America’s mission — to transform government through innovative technology and ideologies.

This year’s CfA Summit showed us what we as a society are capable of if we put our best foot forward, work together, and utilize technology to better ourselves. Our team was present at the summit, and together we’ve gathered some of our favorite moments from the week.

CfA Summit

Boston Team Highlights:

  • Jen Pahlka was inspiring in kicking off the Summit, as usual.  Great message: Starting with users isn’t just about how we should be making technology; it’s about how we should be making government.  Understand users’ needs, every day.  That’s the essence of CfA.
  • Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf: it’s all about the people.  Her vision of technology as the of a digital bridge, connecting citizens to gov’t services that serve their needs and drive equity.  She called it “techquity”, using tech to drive equity, using the power of government to talk to the tech community and drive support for equity.
  • Harlan Weber did a great job talking about Code for Boston’s efforts to work for greater inclusiveness, including community partners in National day of Civic Hacking, having them define projects to focus on and continuing the relationship after the national day was over.
  • One of my favorite sessions was Adam Hecktman’s discussion with Holly St. Clair and Lourdes German on data visualization—it was fantastic! I also loved working the Microsoft Lounge and meeting people from all over the world.
  • Terrific panel on 21st Century transportation.  Jascha Franklin Hodge from Boston was a rock star and had the quote of the morning: I hate it when people say that government should run more like business.  Government doesn’t get to choose its customers.  It serves everyone.  Everyone on the panel was very thoughtful.  Strong emphasis on need for private companies like Lyft and Uber to be part of the transportation ecosystem, and share data with gov’t, embrace a true partnership.  If your business model depends on a well-run city, then you need to embrace the partnership and share data to make it work.

Seattle Team Highlights:

  • Watching Ryan Calo, UW professor, and Michael Mattmiller, Seattle CTO present the result of their year-long project on privacy and municipal open data to a room of engaged government officials from across the country struggling with the same problem.

New York Team Highlights:

  • Codeando Mexico has worked with the country’s federal government to design Retos públicos, a new procurement process that invites small, nimble companies to build technology for the state. They’ve had 10 challenges to date, with 330 companies and 1700 participants building 50 prototypes for 9 federal ministries. Challenges have included natural disaster response, healthy eating, and displaying the works of cultural institutions.
  • The tribute to Jake Brewer, a White House advisor and longtime leader in civic tech, who passed away tragically at the age of 34, was especially moving. Carrying on Jake’s work by taking an oath to be an engaged citizen along with 1,200 other CfA Summit attendees was a fitting way to kick off our time together.

Chicago Team Highlights:

  • Loved #CUTGroup discussion by SmartChicago. Focus on working with REAL people, in their neighborhoods, to ensure civic tech resources are truly meaningful.
  • Great partnership with Chicago Public Library, and interesting approach of giving $5 physical gift card. It’s working! Over 1,000 testers in the past year. And a documented playbook with best practices.

Washington DC Team Highlights:

  • Maggie King, Program Director for Computational Analysis and Public Policy (CAPP), University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy said, “We know the opportunity in civic tech is huge. But policy education hasn’t evolved to meet our needs.” She noted that we need to put public policy and computer science on equal footing so that neither is an afterthought to the other.
  • Via Catherine Bracy: “Something Jascha [Franklin Hodge, Boston Chief Innovation Officer] said earlier today resonated with me: Government doesn’t have the luxury that the private sector has of being able to choose their market. They have to serve everyone. Because of that, government is naturally more risk-averse. It requires them to be more responsible about their allocation of resources.”

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Wendy DuBoe, President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Wendy DuBoe, President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago

As the largest private funder of health and human services, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago provides resources and connections to help build up communities and change lives. In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods, Wendy DuBoe, President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago discusses the various resources and processes she goes through to help those in the surrounding community.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Wendy Dubo live on Advisor.TV.

Big Shoulders: Jessica Droste-Yagan, CEO of Impact Engine

Have a company that is geared toward solving problems in the social and environmental sphere? The Impact Engine can help. As an investment fund that helps build for-profit companies, they are an inspiring, uplifting addition to the socially-invested community of Chicago. Adam Hecktman’s latest Big Shoulders features Impact Engine CEO Jessica Droste-Yagan to spotlight the company’s uplifting work.

Watch Adam’s conversation with Jessica Droste-Yagan live on Advisor.TV.


The Fabrication Lab at the Chicago Innovation Exchange: Something Completely Different

Don’t call it a “maker space”. Don’t get me wrong, I love maker spaces. I get very happy when I see a space dedicated to 3D printing, laser cutting, robotics, and rich ideas. I get even more delighted when they are public spaces. And don’t get me started when I see someone who knows how to properly wield a soldering iron.

But…the Fabrication Lab at the Chicago Innovation Exchange is something completely different. Imagine if a maker lab and an advanced manufacturing and design plant floor had a baby. And that baby was raised by really smart University of Chicago people. Then you would have the CIE Fab Lab. Today marked the launch event to this soon to be iconic space in Chicago.

The fabrication lab represents an extension of the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE). The CIE is an entrepreneurial hub at the University of Chicago. Their goal is to nurture student and faculty innovation and provide guidance for commercialization.  Shelley and I have spent a bit of time there over the past year, and every time we walk away inspired, usually awed (and sometimes freaked out). That is especially the case with this new extension.

With the fabrication lab, they can bring entrepreneurship to a new level.  This is not only good for the Univeristy of Chicago, but for the city, and the state. Governor Rauner, who was there to help launch the lab, said that technology is the central driver to the Illinois economy.   Deputy Mayor Steve Koch added that this fab lab is a tremendous opportunity to grow Chicago business.

To prove those points, they had an entrepreneur, Said Al-Hallaj from NetEnergy, talk about how the Chicago Innovation Exchange supported their research and business building, and kept them from fleeing to a coast.   They also received support from the Clean Energy Trust (in the form of a $100,000 Pritzker prize). CET’s CE Amy Francetic was on hand to welcome the fabrication lab to the CIE, and to show off a brilliant civic-focused product (a solar powered light in the form of a blow-up pillow that can be deployed and used in crisis situations). Secretly…that was my favorite part…shhhh.

So welcome to the world CIE Fabrication Lab. I will tell my grandchildren someday that I was there at the beginning. Please enjoy these pictures from this special day.

They’re not Vulcans, they’re humans!

Heading out to Oakland California for the 2015 Code for America Summit, I was anticipating attending hours and hours of discussions with highly intelligent, committed, passionate, data geeks. Well, I did run into a crowd of over 1,000 highly intelligent, committed, passionate, data geeks—but with all with souls and an incredible focus on how data can improve the human condition. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. The Code for America Summit is a true personification of the Civic Tech movement, growing from a small, tightly knit group into a globally recognized leader of processes and innovation for civic participation and leveraging data for good. This remarkable organization has a Code of Conduct and I’d like to share a couple of points that I think are simply terrific:

  • Presume the value of others. Everyone’s ideas, skills and contributions have value.
  • Prioritize access for and input from those who are traditionally excluded from the civic process.
  • Strive to build tools that are open and free technology for public use.

Over and over, I heard the theme of “let’s make people’s lives better”. Over and over, I heard stories from across the USA about public/private partnerships—in the true sense of the words—bringing changes to local neighborhoods through data, technology and human interaction. There were best practices and local stories from North Carolina, New Orleans, Chicago (of course!), Kansas City and Seattle. There were attendees from Jamaica (he was cold in California!), Poland and the UK.

CfA Suummit Sponsor 2015

Sure, there were programs like “Basics of Web Mapping” and “Writing and Designing Instructions for Visual Communications” because we do need these technical tools to work and be simple enough for the “average” citizen to use them. But the Summit also had these inspiring discussions on:

  • Help the Blind with Open Street Map
  • Community Building for Diversity and Inclusivity
  • The White House Police Data Initiative: Using Open Data and Technology to Build Trust, Increase Transparency and Engage the Community

Chicago had a major representation and super-positive vibe about all the great work going on here. My colleague Adam Hecktman led a discussion on Communicating with Citizens using Data Visualization. The emphasis was how making data visual and understandable to citizens helps improve government transparency, transportation, urban planning and the environment. Dr. Stacy Lindau from the University of Chicago discussed community health.  Derek Eder, Founder and Partner, DataMade shared the amazing growth and lessons from organizing Chi Hack Night. The Civic Engagement track had several presentations from our friends at Smart Chicago Collaborative. One of my favorite sessions was the CUTGroup (Civic User Testing Group) led by Sonja Marziano, Project Coordinator, Smart Chicago Collaborative. CUT Groups engage citizens who get paid to test civic websites and apps, and ultimately help create better software. We had a very engaging discussion about recruitment (libraries, community groups) and potential target markets for CUT Groups, such as Seniors and ESL citizens. Over and over, we heard stories of amazing growth, and the related formation of lasting friendships and positive community impact.


On the last morning Main Stage event, I loved, loved loved the Ted-style talks—5 minutes, engaging speakers, high energy! For me personally, I truly enjoyed hearing the section hosted by CfA’s Efrem Bycer on Deepening Impact in Economic Development. For me, this was the true theme of the Code for America Summit—helping others, bringing improvements to our neighborhoods, communities and cities, and improving every citizen’s opportunity for a healthy, happy, productive life.

Well done, CfA. Live long and prosper.

Recap: 2015 Code for America Summit

Code is taking over. Last week, our civic tech team headed to the 2015 Code for America Summit (CfA Summit), where tech leaders from all over the country (and the world) showed how innovation is transforming our governments — and our communities.

After three days of inspiring talks, breakout sessions, and plenty of time networking with motivated, likeminded individuals, we are sad to have left Oakland but ready to dive headfirst back into civic tech.

To reflect, here are some of our favorite moments from CfA Summit — via Twitter: