March 2017

A Letter to Lorena Mesa (From Lorena Mesa)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Greetings Lorena!

Or should I say “What up Sailor Scout?” I know you are dying to find out what happens next in the Sailor Moon / Tuxedo Mask love saga and waiting for the English dub is so difficult. Don’t worry. What happens is even better than anything you could ever imagine.

How’s the development of the Sailor Moon fan page going? Did you find out how to make a gradient background fill? What about aligning your images properly? HTML is difficult, especially when there isn’t much documentation. I promise you – it’s worth the effort. Difficult problems are the most fun to solve. Remember that.

By the time you are thirty, everyone is going to want to know how to code. Your effort learning the basics of HTML and CSS will inspire you to teach other women to code, specifically young women.

Want to know something else? When you’re thirty, you’ll be able to watch all the anime you want with the click of a finger thanks to online streaming services. No more waiting for those not-so-good fan dubs at your all too infrequent trips to Mitsuwa, the Japanese marketplace!

Lorena, I know sometimes you feel alone because your interests may be different than those around you. That’s okay. It’s your interests that make you, well, you. Okay, so maybe anime isn’t the most popular thing. Perhaps learning HTML and building fan pages on Angelcities isn’t “normal” for a teenaged girl. But who wants to be “normal”? Lorena, you have an appetite for exploring the unknown, learning something new, trying the wild and wacky!

Your willingness to try new things out will reward you with a rich life and satisfying career (ultimately as a software engineer!). You’ll be able to travel internationally to speak at conferences, to organize communities that align with your core values, and to teach others the things that you love the most. Many will tell you that your passion for learning has been an inspiration for them in their own lives.

Continue to be bold, Lorena. Do as Sailor Moon does and “never back down from a real fight”. If you want to code – code. If you want to watch anime – watch anime. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it.

This, I promise you, is the secret to “live long and prosper”. (Oh yes, there will be more Star Treks. And yes, they are so good!)

In geeky solidarity,
Future Thirty-Year-Old Lorena

Political analyst turned coder, Lorena Mesa is a Sprout Social platform software engineer, Director on the Python Software Foundation, PyLadies Chicago co-organizer, and Write/Speak/Code conference organizer. Lorena loves to make meaning out of data, asking big questions and using her code to build models to derive that meaning. Part Star Wars fanatic but mostly a Trekkie, Lorena abides by the motto to “live long and prosper”.

Contact Info: lorenamesa.com @loooorenanicole

A Letter to Sarah Sexton (From Sarah Sexton)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Sarah,

Being a wallflower blending into crowds is fine, for a while. The teenage years were a shy and innocent time. But well-behaved women never make history. When life throws you some nasty curveballs, you will be forced to do a lot of growing up. (Start reading Game of Thrones right now to learn how to adapt.)

You don’t like being in the spotlight right now, and that’s fine. There will be days when there is no ceremony to congratulate you for your accomplishments. There will be days when the world is dark. During your adolescence, you will see your world get so dark that you will think there is no end in sight to your grief. But the good news is: You are powerful. You are unconquerable. I say this because at age 26, I’m still alive, living independently in a lake-view high rise apartment on the north side of a huge, bustling city. You don’t just survive – you THRIVE. Teaching my brain how to think with logic and reason and going into the Computer Science major in college was the best decision I ever made!

I changed majors FOUR times. I loved art, animation, writing, AND computers. I could save you a year’s tuition and tell you to skip straight to the Computer Science department and minor in Communications, but I am afraid that any advice that does not put me right here at this moment in time would be a mistake. It’s okay to fail, if you do it fast and early, because the more you fail, the more you learn. Your attention to detail, technological skills, critical thinking, and high capacity for quick learning will serve you well.

The best course of action for trying to succeed, in a world where not everyone has the same advantages, and not everyone is treated equally, is to be the most confident and capable at what you do. Always understand that everyone else is also living a life as vivid and complex as yours. I work in the tech industry, populated by the brightest minds and the hardest workers. It is a constant challenge, but I live for that challenge, and it is the most rewarding struggle. It is perfectly acceptable to stand on the shoulders of giants. Let everyone see that you can do the job you were hired to do. If you can do that, respect and responsibilities will follow.

If you quit anything because of nay-sayers, you’d be letting the haters win. You’d be doing exactly what they want you to do. You’d be giving up and letting them get away with it. So instead of dropping out of a club because you’re being bullied, I challenge you to become President of it. Instead of fleeing a college major because you’re being harassed in it, I challenge you to make the Dean’s list every quarter, fight for straight As, report the harasser, make friends with everyone else in that department, and graduate with honors.

To paraphrase a quote from my favorite 14-year-old character in Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen, “It is true that I am only a young girl, and do not know the ways of war. Explain to me how you propose to defeat ten thousand applicants with your one job application. Innocent as I am, these odds seem poor to me.” The answer is simple: Take hold of your power. What will you do? “I will do what queens do. I will rule.”

Love,

Sarah at 26 years old!
P.S. Here’s some words of wisdom down the pathway of years: The only resource you can never get back is Time, and nothing is more important in the long run than your Soul. So never waste too much time, and never allow anything to crush your soul. The old “gingers have no souls” joke is good for a laugh, but you DO have a soul, and it is with you every time you look in a mirror and every time you go to bed. Mom and Dad love you, and all your friends love you, but only YOU can keep your soul well-fed and happy. You don’t have to “sell out” to make money. You’ve passed your most difficult test in life if the mirror’s reflection is your friend.

Modernize Your Nonprofit with Software Donations from Microsoft

Our first Modern Nonprofit Day at our Chicago office on March 22 was a success! At Modernize Your Nonprofit, we were pleased to have a wonderful turnout of about 90 attendees from various local nonprofits who joined us to learn about our Microsoft Cloud offerings. They learned how nonprofits can leverage our software donation program to help achieve their company’s missions. The event was a partnership between Microsoft Philanthropies, the Microsoft Citizenship team and Microsoft partner Tech Impact.

Tech Impact shared information about how nonprofits can use Office 365, Azure and PowerBI:

  • Office 365 offers email, shared calendars, file storage and sharing,  productivity apps, online meetings & VoIP phones for nonprofits.
  • Azure offers infrastructure, software and platform as a service in the cloud and a migration away from onsite servers.
  • Power BI can serve as a visualization toolkit that helps nonprofits to better understand and communicate their work to stakeholders.

Photo by Mary Monroy-Spampinato

Miss the training but interested in modernizing your nonprofit? You can still make 2017 the year that your organization lowers technology costs while improving productivity and efficiency. Learn more about our free and discounted services and products — Read case studies about how other nonprofits have benefited from donations, find out if your nonprofit’s is eligible, and get answers to questions you may have at www.microsoft.com/nonprofits.

Our thanks to all who attended the training! We look forward to continue to serve our local communities with our software donations and resources.

Microsoft Philanthropies has committed $1 billion in cloud services for nonprofits and researchers to support the public good and, to date, has donated $465 million to 71,000 organizations. You can read more about this in their impact letter.

A Letter to Karin Norington-Reaves (From Karin Norington-Reaves)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

It was likely my proudest moment in 3rd grade. I’d written a paper on this new invention called CAD (Computer Assisted Design). I was so excited by this new technology and the ability to draw using a computer. I drew a picture of the computer, keyboard and the special “pen” that could be used to “draw” designs. I prepared my first essay outline (the longest the teacher had ever seen!) and a cover page. The future was at my fingertips. I couldn’t wait to share my new found knowledge with anyone who’d listen.

With the advent of smartphones, robots that vacuum your floor and driverless cars, my CAD discovery seems so insignificant now. But in 1977, it was a big deal. Personal computers didn’t exist. Indeed mainframes, dinosaurs that filled entire rooms, sometimes floors, were the norm. This was a far cry from today’s compact, lightweight portable devices everyone now carries in their pockets.

My curious 8-year-old self did not foresee the technology that we now take for granted. Nor could I have known how much I’d rely on it, be beholden to it, or sometimes even crave a break from it. (I’ve given up Facebook for Lent for the past two years!). I’m now a 47 year-old Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s second largest workforce development system. I manage a large non-profit organization with a budget of $60 million and a staff of 65 people. On any given day I receive as many as 100 emails across my work and personal accounts. I carry two phones, a Surface Pro, USB cords, a projector adapter, an external battery charger, a WiFi hotspot and an oversized purse every single day.

None of this entered my mind when I opted to bypass lunch period during junior year of high school in favor of typing class. I attended the performing arts program of a school with multiple educational tracts—typing was not offered in my program. But I thought it was important to learn to type in preparation for college, so there went lunch. It was the right move. That typing class was the launching pad for my word processing skills and the ability to type up to 90 words per minute. While I perfected college application essays on my mom’s IBM Selectric, Apple and IBM computers would be the tools for completing college papers, law school application and appellate court briefs. Later, I’d move from merely typing to designing presentations, to analyzing and demonstrating data through attention-grabbing graphics.

So much of my life would be significantly more difficult without the technology I use daily: the Outlook calendar that coordinates my and my children’s schedules across my work and personal devices; the address book that holds phone numbers I once committed to memory but now would be hard-pressed to recall in a pinch; the apps through which I manage my retirement, checking, savings and credit card accounts. And, text messaging! Oh how many times has a quick text helped me keep an appointment, find out where my children are, or get updates on an event I couldn’t attend?

My children undoubtedly think I’m corny when I wax nostalgic about how “there were no ______ when I was your age.”  But it’s true, there were no cellphones when I was growing up, no computers, no apps, no flatscreen TV’s, Bluetooth or You Tube. I’m not really that old—it’s just that technology has evolved with an incredible speed. So much so that I’m certain in another 20 years when my children are parents, they’ll hear themselves saying to my grandchildren, “we didn’t have that when I was your age!” and they’ll smile. And they’ll realize that just like me, they too were able to master all of the new technology as it became the norm and changed their lives forever.

Karin Norington-Reaves serves as CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. In this capacity she oversees the administration of federal, state and philanthropic funds and the creation of effective programs that assure symmetry between the skills demanded by a changing economy and those offered by the region’s workforce. Karin serves on the Cook County Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) as well as on the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago.

Karin brings more than 10 years of experience in education, community/economic development, and workforce development to the position. Prior to her appointment Karin served as Director of Cook County Works; Deputy Director of the Office of Urban Assistance for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Chief of Staff for the City of Chicago’s 20th Ward. Karin holds a J.D. from Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas, Texas and a B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. 

Big Shoulders: Charles Adler, Founder at the Center for Lost Arts

Meet Charles Adler. Charles has a storied history of enabling creatives to pursue their passions. In co-founding Kickstarter, Charles enabled creatives gain access to the capital required to turn those passions into businesses and real assets. The birth of Kickstarter was a watershed moment in the history of funding.

Wanting to do more for this group, he has now created a physical space for creatives in Chicago called Lost Arts. Located on Goose Island, it is really four physical spaces: a design studio, prototyping lab, workshop and an event space. Charles has gone from something very global (Kickstarter) to something very local. However, two ventures aren’t quite as different as they at first seem. After all, this is no ordinary “maker space.”

Billed as part lab, part workshop, part atelier, part incubator, part school and part playground, it provides access to the tools that you would expect to see (3D printers, soldering irons, sewing machines, etc.). But that is not what makes Lost Arts special. The secret sauce is the way it empowers creatives with access to “community and, by virtue of the community, knowledge.” How did he discover that this community was required and that it would lead to knowledge? He opened the space, invited some friends, and… he watched.

See what happened next in this interview with Charles, my latest segment of Big Shoulders, on Advisor.tv:

Celebrating World Water Day 2017

Water makes the world go ’round — but what happens to it on a day-to-day basis?

At this point, we are all aware that water conservation is an urgent need. Only 1 percent of the planet’s water supply is fresh water, and much of that is used for production purposes. Between 2000 and 2050, manufacturing is expected to increase its use of fresh water by 400 percent.

So how can we incorporate water conservation into our growing need to use more water?

Tech companies are using data to find the answers — Microsoft has partnered with Ecolab and Trucost to prioritize resourcefulness and sustainability through data analysis and smart financial modeling. Together, we’ve launched the Water Risk Monetizer in New York City, a water risk analysis and financial modeling tool that translates water scarcity risks into financial terms, and enables businesses to factor current and future water risks into decision making.

Through the dedication of growing technologies like IoT, machine learning, and other cloud-based technologies, we’re hoping to inspire others to use tech to minimize environmental impact and help us in our commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.

Recently, our own Adam Hecktman joined West Monroe Partners to explore water quality and scarcity, as well as the impact industrialization has had on water conservation. As our supply of clean drinking water continues to dramatically diminish, our industry has a responsibility to seek solutions to water problems. Organizations like City Digital and Opti use smart sensors to address these issues, and we’re looking forward to learning about other projects at today’s World Water Day Summit.

Read Adam’s blog with West Monroe Partners here.

Read more about the Water Risk Monetizer on the Microsoft Green Blog.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Ricardo Estrada, President and CEO, Metropolitan Family Services

Since 1857, Metropolitan Family Services (MFS) has been the engine of change that empowers Chicago-area families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities. MFS empowers families to learn, earn, heal and thrive. The nonprofit’s 900 employees (and another 900 volunteers) help 72,000 people yearly — 81 percent of which belong to the working poor or lower-middle class.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down Ricardo Estrada, President and CEO of MFS. He details the organization’s goals (the four Es): Education, Economic Stability, Emotional Wellness, and Empowerment.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Ricardo live on Advisor.tv.

A Letter to Dorri McWhorter (From Dorri McWhorter)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Dorri:

Being 17 years old is such an interesting time as you try to reconcile all that you know that you are to what people believe they want you to be! I’m so happy that you found the letter that you wrote when you were 11 years old. You know the one…your note to Santa. You wrote:

“Dear Santa, How are you? You’ll never believe what I want for X-mas. Just 3 simple things: 1) to make everyone alive today be ok; 2) To give me a little something like a picture of you to show people you are real. (if you have a picture with you now, please give me one) if possible; 3) This is a big one! What I want is for you to ask my parents if I could be there accountant for 1 month. It won’t cost them a thing! (well maybe a few $100.00s! ha-ha) I just know I could do it. They can trust me. I just know I can do it! Please ask them for me! If they say no. Please ask them to give me an explanation why or why not.  I could start January 1st, 1985. Please have them see me for more info. Thanks, Santa. Love your friend, Dorri McGee. PS I left you a sucker! Write back please.”

Wow, you were so naïve and hopeful then AND you still are!

Somehow you have managed to still hold on to the hope for a better world! I remember when you were a senior in high school and you were so involved in everything including cheerleading and Future Business Leader of America (FBLA). You were actually selected by your senior class as most likely to succeed and most school spirit (no, those things don’t typically go together)! You still work hard and play hard, but I know you are often misunderstood, as people think you’re way too nice and cheerful to have the deep reflective intellect you that you have. People actually think they are complimenting you when they say, “you don’t seem like an accountant,” when you just want them to appreciate all that you are!

I’m so glad that you were able to participate in the FBLA Work Program. Being able to spend half-days in a corporate finance department really solidified your love for business! I know you were so proud of the spreadsheets that you created for the finance team. You really took to all the computer applications that allowed you to do financial analysis but create graphs and charts. You were so proud and felt you really found a way to show how valuable you could be through your use of computers. You were even selected by your school to present at the annual Work Program luncheon your accomplishments! This was great as you were also selected to represent your school at Badger Girls State, where you participated in mock government and was elected State Treasurer! Not many other seventeen-year-olds at the time could reference your experience with computers!

I’m happy to say that you have been able to combine your business skills and desire to make the world a better place! You have recognized how valuable computer skills can be and have ensured that you support other youth to gain greater skills through your work at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, including TechGYRLS, which aims to encourage girls in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) and Developing Digital Diversity (3D), a program targeting STEAM and leadership training for boys and girls.

There is so much more to do and your experiences along the way have definitely prepared you! So go forth and show up boldly, my dear! I want you to always hold the words of author Marianne Williamson close to your heart. She says, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” So with those words, Shine bright and dream bigger my darling!

With much love and appreciation,

Dorri

Dorri McWhorter became the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago in March 2013. She has embarked upon a journey to transform the 140 year old social service agency to a 21st century social enterprise. Dorri is moving the agency into the digital age by re-launching the TechGYRLS program, which focuses on developing STEM awareness for girls ages 9 through 14 and introducing 3D: Developing Digital Diversity, which provides web and mobile application development training to adult women. Dorri was included in the inaugural list of “The Blue Network”, comprised of the top 100 innovators in Chicago, by Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation.  In Spring of 2015, the YWCA launched its own e-commerce site, YShop.org, which provides carefully curated goods and services from businesses that support the mission of the YWCA.  In 2016, McWhorter was recognized by Good City Chicago receiving its Innovative Leader Award.

A proven leader in the corporate and social change sectors, Dorri prides herself on being a socially-conscious business leader throughout her career.

Learning About Civic Leadership in India

We’ve written several articles about our partnership with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). The University launched the Civic Leadership Academy in 2015 to develop a pipeline of talented leaders to help nonprofits and city and county government agencies in Chicago thrive. The interdisciplinary leadership development program is a key component of a broad set of UChicago initiatives to foster leadership and strengthen capacity among individuals and organizations in Chicago. The Civic Leadership Academy was developed by the University’s Office of Civic Engagement in partnership with LISC Chicago and the Civic Consulting Alliance,with funding from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and McCormick Foundation. The program is designed to develop a pipeline of talented leaders to help nonprofits and government agencies thrive.

In January 2017, the fellows began a rigorous six-month program that will teach essential leadership skills and provide the time and space to collaborate on a capstone project that addresses a practical challenge facing each fellow’s organization. In March, the fellows will travel to the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, India, for a weeklong global practicum. Upon completion of the program, fellows will receive a certificate in civic leadership from Chicago Harris. I’m thrilled to let you know that I’m going with them to India!

Our program in Delhi is being curated by Common Purpose, a leadership development organization that specialized in cross-boundary leadership, running programs in over 70 countries worldwide. Founded in 1989, over 4,000 people become Common Purpose Alumni every year. The program is designed to inspire and equip leaders to work “across boundaries”, thereby enabling them to solve complex problems in organizations and society. In India, Common Purpose connects with the Dishaa Venture, which expands, enriches and energizes relations between India and the UK; and through CSCLeaders-in partnership with HRH Duke of Edinburgh Study Commonwealth Study Conferences.

We’ll be spending five days in New Delhi, the capital of India. Along with its neighboring cities/suburbs, this has been given a special status of National Capital Region (NCR). Delhi’s population is about 18,686,902 in 2016. Delhi is a city that bridges two different worlds. Old Delhi, once the capital of Islamic India, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with crumbling structures and formidable mosques. In contract, the city of New Delhi, created by the British Raj, is composed of spacious, tree-lined avenues and imposing government buildings. For about a millennium, Delhi has been the seat of power for several rulers and many empires. The city’s importance lies not just in its past and present glory, but also in its rich and diverse cultures. It’s sprinkled with dazzling architectural wonders, a strong performing arts scene, fabulous food and bustling markets. It also has the major challenges ….and innovations…of an extremely large urban city. Here are some of the issues we will be addressing and some of the organizations we will be visiting:

Advancing Goals with Limited Resources: How do you increase social innovation and achieve more with less?

  • We’ll be visiting Mobile Creches, Gurgaon Ki Awaaz Samudayik Radio and Dilli Haat

Navigating Social Barriers to build inclusive Leadership

  • We’ll be visiting Protsahan, Noida Deaf Society, Lemon Tree Hotels, Swechha and Goonj

Building Support to bring about Change

  • We’ll be visiting Centre for Equity Studies, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Project, Humayun’s Tomb at Lodi Gardens as an example of community participation, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Leading Across Boundaries-what skills do Leaders need to work across perceived boundaries between the public, private and NGO sectors?

  • We’ll be visiting Toxic Links, CEQUIN (Centre for Equity and Inclusion)

And then we arrive at the US Embassy in New Delhi to meet Minister Counsellor Jeffrey Sexton for a discussion and dinner at Mr. Sexton’s residence.

So, what have I done to get ready?

  • First, bought two giant books on India and highlighter in hand, I’ve underlined and put sticky notes all over the books
  • Immunizations
  • Malaria medication, heavy DEET coverage, Cipro
  • Special Power adaptor
  • Visa
  • Appointment with the Microsoft India office-check and SO excited to meet Madhu and Ashu who have been so supportive

I’ll try to tweet “live from India” and will provide a recap of my observations when I return.

A look at Shelley’s trip to India so far:

Looking at Data through the Lens of Leadership

Most discussions of Data and Open Data tend to the technical side. . . how do you manipulate, massage and create an app for all that gloriously Open Data? Throngs of Data Scientists collaborate virtually, at MeetUps, or at conferences to debate, demonstrate and debunk technical approaches to digesting Data. (nice alliteration!) Recently, at the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy, we had the opportunity to look at Data from a different angle — the Leadership angle.

As our readers know from previous discussions, Microsoft has been a supporter and a great fan of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). Now in its third cohort, The Civic Leadership Academy provides training through a six month program and global practicum to emerging and high-potential leaders in nonprofit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County. Each year, Microsoft and local experts have had the opportunity to talk to the CLA participants about the importance of understanding the Civic Tech ecosystem, and how to utilize Civic Tech tools and resources to help improve the lives of citizens of Chicago and Cook County. This year, we took a difference approach and focused more on Data and its implications for a Leader.

We worked in partnership with Will Howell, Ph.D. and the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Chicago Harris and a professor in the Department of Political Science and the College to design our topic: “How do leaders use data to communicate and present insights for key audiences in their efforts to advance their goals?” We invited Danielle DuMerer, Chief Technology Officer and First Deputy Commissioner of the City’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT)  and James Rudyk, Jr. who is the Executive Director of the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC), a community based organization located in the Belmont Cragin community. James was also in the first cohort of CLA.to frame the discussion from both the Open Data and the “everyday user” perspective. We thought it would still be a good idea to share some tools that are available to leaders—especially tools that help communicate the insights gained from Data, so we invited Amy Schneider, a certified Microsoft Partner with Netrix, LLC, who provided a short demo on how to take “raw data” and move it into a “visualized resource for advancing goals”.

I began the discussion by introducing the Topic and introducing our panel, and included a very short discussion of the Chicagoland Civic Tech ecosystem and Data. Our focus was to help the CLA cohort learn how to present data to different audiences (city council, board of directors, employee base), how to communicate the data, learning from our panel what works/what doesn’t work. Amy then used a short demonstration of Power BI using data from the CTA and discussed “data as a tool of persuasion.”

She emphasized that there are a wide range of tools can help tell the story that is captured by the data. Amy’s presentation generated a lot of questions, many centered on how Leaders can identify what tools to use, and what personnel skills were needed to “run” the tools. Danielle walked the class through a structured process for accessing data, using and thinking about data as a management and leadership resource. She provided some great examples from the City and had outstanding knowledge about similar capabilities and resources at the County level. James “brought it all home” for the class by discussing his personal experiences as a leader of a nonprofit which had challenges with organizing its Data to serve its client base. Through partnerships with Microsoft and working with his staff, James was able to realize increased efficiency and better management of his client base.

Danielle Dumerer, Chicago CTO

The following were highlights of the very interactive discussion between the panel and the CLA participants:

  1. The role of the civic leader is primarily about leading a team and making solid leadership decisions, not the technical side of using data.
  2. Leaders can and should use data for: decisions, reaching your organization’s goals,  communicating the data (up/down/across/outside the organization), and  presenting data in different ways for different audiences
  3. Leaders should  use data to: drive home a point you want to make, counter an objection,  propel a project forward/get a funder to write a check/expand alliances to reach a common goal, etc.
  4. Data is a tool for persuasion, and for storytelling. Tools like Microsoft’s Power BI, allow you to easily make your data points more visually appealing to your audience. The ability to interact with the data using dynamic filters (i.e. changing date ranges, or showing a single data point within a grouping of points) allows you emphasize supporting data in real time as you tell your story.

Many thanks to our panelists and the terrific CLA participants. The questions continued past our scheduled time, which is a great indication of the high interest level in the topic. As the CLA cohort starts to prepare for their individual Capstone projects, we hope they will look at Data in a different light, and utilize data analysis to document and support their Capstone presentations.