A Chicagoan’s Introduction to Civic Tech

| Kevin Wei, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

Chicago Civic Tech Introduction

What is Civic Tech? The Use of Technology for the Public Good

Civic tech uses the intersection of technology and community to improve lives through civic engagement. Collaboration is at the core of the movement, where public solutions are built for the people, by the people. No matter what your experience or role, anyone from any sphere (government, entrepreneurship, nonprofits, academia, etc.) is welcome to share and build ideas together. This guide is a broad overview of the civic tech communities & resources to help with your role as civic leader and organizer. For any questions, further information, or a personalized tour/consultation, contact the Microsoft Civic Tech Engagement team.

Civic Tech Chicago Quick-Start Guide

  1. Be passionate about solving civic problems and helping the public good.
  2. Check out projects that you’re interested in and learn about the existing resources.
  3. Join a meetup (ChiHackNight, Chicago City Data Users Group, etc.).
  4. Get involved by starting a new project or working on a currently existing one.
  5. Talk to people, make a new friend, and learn how you can have an impact with your voice!

Notable Civic Tech Examples

  • mRelief – Working with government, nonprofit, and business stakeholders to provide an easy-touse platform enables Americans to find out if they qualify for social services through online or SMS
  • Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) – Community of Chicago and Cook County residents who get paid to test out civic websites and apps. Hosted by Smart Chicago Collaborative.
  • Madison Project – Open-source policy platform empowering citizen participation in official government documents through online tools and engagement. Supported by OpenGov Foundation.
  • Civic App Portals: SmartChicago Apps, ChiHackNight Projects, Open City Apps

Chicago Meetups

  • ChiHackNight – Weekly Tuesday gathering of 100+ civic tech enthusiasts to work on projects and network. The definitive place for the Chicago civic tech scene. All experience welcome!
  • ConnectChicago – Monthly meeting for bringing Chicago public computer centers, community technology, and digital literacy. Hosted by Smart Chicago Collaborative.
  • Chicago City Data Users Group – Monthly discussion for anyone interested in using open data to promote civic engagement, innovation, and economic opportunity
  • Notable Community Spaces: 1871, Blue1647, Englewood Accelerator, Polsky Exchange (CIE)


  • Chicago Open Data Portal – Access 600+ datasets and maps of Chicago City departments, services, and performance. Use this portal to develop data to develop civic tools and apps
  • Microsoft Chicago – Free software, consultations, device loans to help with your civic tech goals
  • Chicago Public Library – Provides digital literacy training, computing centers, mobile hotspots, etc.
  • Connect Chicago Computing Map – Index of 260+ free computer, internet, and training resources
  • Civic Graph – An interactive and informative list of both national and local civic tech organizations

Chicago Organizations

  • Smart Chicago Collaborative – Leading civic organization devoted to improving lives through technology. Founded by the City of Chicago, MacArthur Foundation, and Chicago Community Trust. Efforts on access to internet/tech, digital skills, and meaningful data projects to create change.
  • DataMade – Born out of Chicago’s Open Government community. Civic tech company building open-source technology using open data to empower citizens, government, and communities.
  • Microsoft Chicago – Providing resources and partnerships with civic organizations and leaders.
  • The Impact Lab – Civic data company working with public & private-sector to solve analytical and strategic problems, particularly in the areas of health, education, operations, and sustainability.
  • Center for Neighborhood Technology – Research and advocacy nonprofit, analyzing urban problems and creating sustainable neighborhood solutions with community and technology.
  • Center for Technology and Civic Life – Improving elections & engagement with civic data/resources.
  • Data Science for the Social Good – University of Chicago program connecting data scientists with governments & nonprofits to solve real-world problems in education, health, civics, and more.
  • Hive Chicago – Network of 80+ youth-development organizations, focused on leveraging the tools of the digital age to create connected learning opportunities for youth, parents, and educators.

Chicago STEM/Education

  • Chicago Public Schools: CS4ALL – CPS graduation requirement for computer science education
  • Chicago City of Learning – A city-wide platform for student learning, activities, and digital badges
  • Thrive Chicago – Bringing together hundreds of child and youth serving organizations to accomplish the shared objective of supporting all Chicago youth from “cradle-to-career”
  • LRNG – National organization redesigning education in the 21st century using digital badging and connecting youth with learning communities. Chicago is a major pilot city for LRNG programs
  • Project SYNCERE – Provides under-represented students with STEM programs and curriculum
  • Illinois Civic Mission Coalition – Broad, non-partisan consortium focused on civic education

National Civic Tech Organizations

  • Code for America – Nonprofit connecting technologists and local governments to improve services
  • Knight Foundation – Supporting ideas and innovation for more informed and engaged communities
  • Sunlight Foundation – Nonpartisan effort improving transparency in democracy and politics
  • OpenGov Foundation – Organization developing software, events, and coalitions that push citizens and governments across the country to be more accessible and responsive.

Civic Tech Glossary

  • Digital Literacy – Ability to use digital technology, communication, tools, and networks to evaluate and create information. Overlaps with civic tech in improving digital access for the public.
  • Open Data – Empowering citizens through the free access and release of information and data; generally used in the context of government, but can be applied to other organizations
  • Open Source – Software whose source code (think technical blueprints) is free to be redistributed and modified; useful for learning and building from existing projects.
  • Hackathon – Event for community leaders and technologists to gather, collaborate, and create civic solutions. Usually in the form of 1-2 day long events with presentations, networking, and free food!
  • For more terms and common tools, check out the Smart Chicago Glossary of Civic Tech Terms

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