The University of Chicago launched the Civic Leadership Academy two years ago to provide professional growth and development for talented leaders working in nonprofits and government agencies in Chicago and Cook County. From the start, we knew that increasing the awareness and skills about civic tech needed to be an integral part of the academy. In this work, Microsoft Chicago has been our closest partner.
To create and shape better policies, smarter programs, and more effective services, 21st century urban civic leaders don’t necessarily have to know how to run a regression analysis. They do need to know how data can support their work—everything from how to find data to how to analyze it, from when to question data to using it to spark new ideas.
Operated by the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, the Civic Leadership Academy is a six-month certificate program grounded in the leadership development framework conceived by faculty at the UChicago Booth School of Business. Sessions are taught by faculty from the University’s five professional schools and expert practitioners from civic institutions.
One of the earliest modules for this year’s cohort was dedicated to how data can push the work of a civic leader forward. Professor Kerwin Charles, now interim dean of the UChicago Harris School of Public Policy, presented on data, measurement, and analysis, Rayid Ghani, the research director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data, led a discussion of predictive analytics—the importance of crafting the right questions to inform what data is collected—and Harris Professor Will Howell presented on civic integration and application discussion.
In the module on advancing leadership goals, a panel discussed Chicago’s emerging civic tech ecosystem, widely praised as one of the best in the country. Assembled and moderated by Microsoft’s Shelley Stern Grach, the panel featured Derek Eder, founder and partner of the firm DataMade; Fabian Elliott, founder and CEO of Black Tech Mecca; Julia Ellis of Ellis & Associates Consulting; and James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center (and a graduate of the academy’s first cohort). The fellows heard about what civic tech is, what it offers, and how to get involved here in Chicago.
The importance of data-informed decision-making goes beyond the Civic Leadership Academy curriculum. The concept is woven into the entire experience. Fellows are encouraged to collect data during discussions with a green pen, a technique promoted by Linda Ginzel of Chicago Booth faculty, for example, and they explored data that can impact and support their work, such as open data on workforce retention rates for employment programs for men who had been incarcerated and market research on funding sources for nonprofit equity and venture funds.
Data-informed planning underlies each fellow’s capstone project, which apply the skills they develop over the course of the academy to build or improve a program at his or her full-time job. For some fellows, making better use of available data is the central goal of their project. In a recent blog post, Rudyk described how Microsoft helped the Northwest Side Housing Center build a single database to merge and manage all available data across its seven programs.
Patrick Murphey, assistant commissioner in the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, compiled a scattered assortment of City data that detailed the zoning history of privately and publicly-owned parcels of land. The zoning-related decisions were organized and uploaded to a publicly-accessible map in order to enhance property search results. The new zoning map is currently in test form and expected to fully replace the current zoning map in January 2017.
To help more nonprofit and government agencies, we’re pleased that Microsoft will host “office hours” for the next cohort of academy fellows, offering more one-on-one guidance and support. And, of course, we will continue to emphasize the role of data in becoming an effective civic leader. To be successful in today’s civic sphere, that knowledge is essential.
Derek R.B. Douglas is the Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. He leads the University’s urban development and civic engagement efforts, collaborating across campus to enhance local communities and enrich the work of faculty and students through research, education, and direct engagement.
Tags: Black Tech Mecca, Chicago, Chicago Booth, Civic Engagement, Civic Leadership Academy, Cook County, Data, DataMade, Derek Douglas, Derek Eder, ellis & Associates consulting, Fabian Elliott, Government, James Rudyk, Julia Ellis, Kerwin Charles, Linda Ginzel, Microsoft, Microsoft Chicago, nonprofit, Northwest Side Housing Center, Rayid Ghani, Shelley Stern Grach, UChicago Booth School of Business, UChicago Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago