Building The Bridges Through Civic Tech: Connecting “Regular Citizens” To The Resources They Need

| Shelley Stern Grach

We’ve written about our long term partnership with the University of Chicago and our support for their outstanding Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) program. Created by the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement , the program provides instruction and resources for emerging leaders in Chicago  from a diverse range of organizations work together to develop more effective solutions to civic challenges. Now in its second year, the CLA program brings together representatives in the public and nonprofit sectors for a 6 month certificate program on leadership skills. The Civic Leadership Academy’s distinct strength comes from its ambitious interdisciplinary model, employing the resources and expertise of five of the University’s professional schools—the Harris School of Public Policy, the School of Social Service Administration, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the University of Chicago Law School, and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies—as well as the Institute of Politics. The program also utilizes local experts who are part of Civic Engagement’s external partners—Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago, Civic Consulting Alliance, the city of Chicago, and Cook County.

Microsoft is proud to be a founding and continuing supporter of the CLA. As part of our focus on Civic Engagement and Civic Tech, I recently hosted a panel of local leaders to share their perspectives with the CLA cohort about the emerging Civic Tech ecosystem in the Chicagoland area. The Panel focused on: What is Civic Tech? Who are the players? How does one get engaged? What are the benefits? Our Panelists represented a broad range of backgrounds and involvement in building the Civic Tech ecosystem in Chicago:

  • Derek Eder-Founder and Partner, DataMade
  • Fabian Elliott-Founder and CEO, Black Tech Mecca
  • Julia Ellis-Founder, Ellis & Associates Consulting
  • James Rudyk-Executive Director, Northwest Side Housing Center (and CLA Alum)

The discussion focused on what’s working—and what’s not —-and we had a great interactive conversation with the CLA cohort.

Questions included:

1. Why is the Civic Tech movement beneficial for the non-profit and government sectors, both nationally and locally?

  • How is the Chicago movement “organized”?
  • How does the variety of opinions, approaches help…or hinder?
  • What can we do to ensure broader participation?

2. Let’s talk about Chicago. What has worked here, what hasn’t?

  • MeetUps, Collaborations
  • Hackathons: do they really accomplish anything? Collaboration? Brainstorming? Convening?
  • How is Chicago perceived? Best practices? National organizations that shine a spotlight on Chicago?

3. Let’s turn to a topic that is very topical today: ethics, privacy and security in data. What’s your opinion of the challenges using technology and open data for social good?

  • What are the policies? What should they be?
  • How do government officials show leadership and thoughtfulness in this area?
  • How do economic disparities help — or hinder — the individual?
  • What new thinking should government officials consider in the world of open data?

As a group, we determined that Chicago’s ecosystem is thriving and unique. There is incredible passion within the Chicagoland community and we are known nationally as a City of Best Practices. What was most compelling in the Q&A section was the focus on: How can this help my agency, my clients, the City, the County? There was a genuine desire on the part of the CLA participants to get deeper into the “how to” and what’s next” of Civic Tech.

Finally, the most inspiring comments focused on bringing the benefits of Civic Tech to the broad client base….the everyday citizen who needs help commuting more efficiently, navigating the City and County Small Business resources more efficiently, and how to get access to resources to increase their economic mobility. The CLA identified cross- collaboration as a great starting point and several of the CLA members agreed to follow up with each other, to see how they could –as a new team—incorporate the benefits of Civic Tech for their communities.

Many thanks to Derek, Fabian, Julia and James for their time and insight. It’s gratifying to see this ecosystem building and growing.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.