May 2017

One Chicago Laying it all On the Table — #OnTheTable2017

On May 16, once again, thousands of Chicagoans held civic and community conversations while breaking bread with old friends and new. The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table is an annual forum designed to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and inspire collaborative action across the region. I now officially declare the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table program to be an official phenomenon.


[fəˈnäməˌnän, fəˈnäməˌnən]
phenomena (plural noun)

  • a remarkable person, thing, or event.

synonyms: marvel · sensation · wonder · prodigy · miracle · rarity · nonpareil ·

Microsoft was again honored to both host and attend several On the Table programs, each one focused on Civic Tech and Civic Engagement, with a different dialog and audience. We began the day by hosting a research readout and panel with mySociety addressing New findings: What We’ve Learned About Civic Tech in Cities. Specifically, mySociety has researched five case studies of civic tech projects deployed by U.S. cities in recent years and found implications for broader changes to service delivery. Nearly 50 attendees joined our table to hear more details from the study’s authors, as well as national leaders in municipal civic tech. Once the panel finished their remarks, the audience contributed their experience to an actionable conversation. We’d like to thank the following for traveling to Chicago to join our On the Table program:

  • Moderator, Emily Shaw, Senior Implementation Advisor at the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University
  • Richa Agarwal, Software developer, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and former Code for America fellow
  • Demond Drummer, CoderSpace
  • Rebecca Rumbul, Director of Research, mySociety

For more information on the mySociety’s research on Civic Tech in Cities, please see the complete research.

With a minor pause in the late morning, we then had the pleasure of hosting the ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Chicago team for a more intimate, roundtable discussion. This On the Table was also held at the Microsoft Technology Center and co-hosted by Steve Solomon of Exelon and Commissioner Karen Tamley. Our goal was to broaden the awareness about this cutting edge program that is building a network of leaders with disabilities and adding a new dimension of diversity to Chicago’s civic life: ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. ADA 25 Advancing Leadership is the first program of its kind in the nation designed specifically to ensure that Chicago’s vibrant civic and professional life fully includes leaders with disabilities. The continuous work of connecting its Members network with opportunities to serve as leaders is known as the Civic Connections Project. At our lunch, we brainstormed opportunities to connect our members into civic positions ranging from committees, task forces, associates boards, boards of directors and more.

To learn more about the program, I invite you to visit their website and watch this short video capturing the importance of this initiative through the lens of it participants.

If you are interested in learning more about ADA 25 Advancing Leadership on a regular basis, please join our Facebook pages.

Happy Monday to everyone! Last week, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership hosted an event to get feedback on recruiting for this…

Posted by ADA 25 Advancing Leadership on Monday, May 22, 2017

The final On the Table of this very busy day was hosted by Denise Linn and Sonja Marziano of Smart Chicago and Connect Chicago. Since the launch of On the Table, participants have indicated that equity and social inclusion were among the most frequent topics of discussion at the events they attended.

So, this year, organizers suggested that equity be part of these conversations. Because equity is at the heart of our collective work, The Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning, The Hive Chicago Learning Network and the Smart Chicago Collaborative joined together to host a “multi-table” event focusing on Digital Equity in Education. Youth Digital Equity is the social-justice goal of ensuring that all young people have equal access and opportunities to use technology tools, computers and the Internet as well as the knowledge and skills to use them effectively. The aim is to bring new and different voices to the table, while having a fun, easy conversation with great food! The evening event was held at Northeastern Center for College Access and Success at 770 North Halsted. What an amazing resource and facility! The space was overflowing and the organizers wildly exceeded their target.

Congratulations to the Chicago Community Trust for their inspirational On the Table Program that is now a phenomenon in the region. And a special thank you to mySociety, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, the Hive Chicago Fund, the Hive Chicago Learning Network and the Smart Chicago Collaborative, for the great dedication and work you do every day to make Chicagoland a center for innovation, digital equity and collaboration.

Riding Through Divvy Data

As the weather gets warmer, spring brings a blog post combining two great things in the City of Chicago: bike-sharing and open data!

Since June 2013, Divvy has been Chicago’s official bike-sharing system. You can’t miss the brightly blue-colored bikes and numerous docking stations scattered across the city. With over 6,000 bikes available at 580+ stations, both residents and visitors have a fun, accessible, and efficient option for traveling around Chicago.

In addition to having one of the largest bike-sharing networks in the country, Chicago was also one of the first cities to have an open data policy as well as the appointment of a chief data officer. By publishing the massive amounts of data that the city collects through the publicly available city data portal, Chicago committed itself to becoming a data-driven city that would use technology to identify and promote strategies for social progress and economic growth.

The City of Chicago releases city data across different categories including the Divvy bike share program. Every single Divvy trip is recorded and made available to the public. Whether you’re a bike-enthusiast or policy maker, you can easily digest, use, and gain insights from this free data set. With over 9 million rows of data, that’s a lot of interesting information to explore!

As a civic tech fellow, I thought this was a great opportunity to learn more about my city through data. After downloading the dataset from the open data portal, I opened it with Microsoft PowerBI, an analytics tool that makes it extremely easy to manipulate, visualize, and learn from the Divvy data.

I teamed up with Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup and a leader in Advanced Natural Language Generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise to leverage the company’s Advanced NLG extension for Microsoft Power BI. Narratives for Power BI automatically communicates insights from your data, in natural language.  These smart narratives act as a companion during the data discovery process, highlighting relevant insights in natural language, so you can make faster, more accurate decisions.

We put together a Power BI report that includes narratives to look at some of the insights that open data can bring to improving our city. The report showcases bike usage across different stations throughout the city.

Scroll through the pages above or view the full Power BI report here.

Here are some of our key takeaways:

  • Not too surprisingly, the stop at Lake Shore Drive and Monroe is extremely popular. Nearly 100,000 rides started there in between 2015 and 2016. Then again, what could be better than riding along the lakefront in 85-degree weather along the beach?
  • About one third of stations are very popular, representing over 80% of starting and ending destinations for all trips taken since the Divvy bike share program started. As for the remaining two thirds of the stations that are not as popular, it would be interesting to dig deeper into this sample set and understand how Divvy could promote greater usage across diverse neighborhoods.
  • Nearly 40% of all trips taken, which comes out to 4 million trips, started or ended in two locations: The Loop – Chicago’s central business district and home to a number of tourist attractions, or Chicago’s near north center – the region right above the loop. The Divvy bike program has continued to expand beyond the center of Chicago, adding new stations in new neighborhoods and launching new programs to make Divvy more accessible to people of all income levels. As a result, they hope to see increased Divvy bike usage beyond these two highly concentrated areas.

We love how Narratives for Power BI helps everyone immediately identify the most important insights from data by communicating them in a language that everyone understands – plain English. There’s no way we could have immediately spotted the above insights by looking at visualizations alone. It’s incredible how narratives automatically surface this information in seconds. Even better, they are dynamic and will update as you filter the charts and graphs by clicking on different neighborhoods and changing the time scale.

With the combination of Power BI and Narratives for Power BI, we envision a world where open city data is no longer a mysterious trove of data. Instead people, even the least technical user, can leverage technology to uncover interesting trends in data, understand them, and make decisions that make our cities an even more delightful, better place to live in.

About Microsoft Civic Technology and Engagement

Microsoft’s Civic Technology and Engagement team brings the company’s best assets to help civic leaders — and the communities they serve – use technology and cutting edge ideas to solve their biggest challenges. Microsoft Chicago is committed to building long-term partnerships in local communities to move our city forward and leveraging technology to bring innovative and transformative solutions for critical civic issues.  

About Narrative Science

Narrative Science is the leader in advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise. Quill™, its Advanced NLG platform, learns and writes like a person, automatically transforming data into Intelligent Narratives—insightful, conversational communications full of audience-relevant information that provide complete transparency into how analytic decisions are made. Customers, including Credit Suisse, Deloitte, MasterCard, USAA and members of the U.S. intelligence community, use Intelligent Narratives to make better business decisions, focus talent on higher value opportunities, and improve communications with their customers. Try Narratives for Power BI today here; if you’re interested in an on-premises version, contact for more information.

#STEMChallenge Student Showcase Highlights Internet of Things

Microsoft has been partnering with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) for three years on the STEM Challenge, along with our Early College STEM School, Lake View High School. This year, we added Corliss High School as a second Early College STEM School and invited Corliss to participate in the Challenge as well. Instead of being twice the work, it was twice the fun, as we engaged additional Microsoft volunteers to partner with the teachers and the students. Our Challenge this year was to have the have the students learn about the Internet of Things (IoT) and figure out how IoT can be used to address social change, and improve the lives of people in Chicago.

Our two winning teams really addressed key issues facing society today:

  1. How do you keep Seniors safe, when they are living alone?
  2. How do you help prevent hypothermia for the homeless?

The Lake View High School team included Joshua Cruz And DaFina Jones, who developed the Handy Helping Cam. The students researched and identified issues that we all will face: As we age, it becomes harder for elders to deal with issues of security, memory, and mobility.

  • 59% seniors who are victims of violent crimes are victimized at or near their home. (Bureau of Justice)
  • In a recent poll of U.S. individuals 65 years old and older who take at least five different prescription drugs regularly, 57% of those polled admit that they forget to take their medications.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.

Using the Internet of Things, Joshua and DaFina designed a camera, screen and watch that accesses IoT to keep Seniors safe.

The Corliss High School team included Connie Stewart, Dejah Winfield, Quimya Latiker, Tilithia Strong, Jaquise Green, Eric Henderson. Since this was a new program for Corliss, we were thrilled to see so many students interested and engaged and truly appreciate the support of the Corliss faculty and teachers. The Corliss team developed a prototype of a SMART Hat for the homeless to wear, which measured temperature outside, body temperature and sent a notification over IoT to First Responders when temperature become dangerous. Their research included statistics on Homelessness, how the IoT Sensors work, and how complicated building a prototype can be.

  • There are 700 homeless people suffering hypothermia during  cold winters; have been 8 cold-related deaths in 2017
  • Sensors: Challenging to interconnect sensors
  • Azure Cloud: Sending and analyzing data; data-triggered response
  • Software: Windows 10 , Visual Studio, PuTTY
  • Coding:  Language compatibility (C#, C++, Python)
  • Prototype Building: Size of the Pi and sensors; sensor placement; too many wires

Corliss designed a high tech-low tech solution to this ongoing problem, using Azure and an everyday knit cap.

Congratulations to all the students who participated in the STEM Challenge, and a special thank you to the Microsoft volunteers who assisted both schools:

  • Frank Migacz
  • Raj Das
  • Kevin Lopez
  • Peter Walke
  • Liz Abunaw
  • Larry Kuhn
  • Lynne Frankel
  • Jay Lisota

We also wanted to say a special thank you to the dedicated teachers and faculty who assisted in the Challenge:

  • Christina Franklin and Ty Graham (Lake View HS)
  • Derek Atchison, Jamie Ballard, Phylydia Hudson, David Holland, Trenton Sapp  (Corliss HS)

The #STEMChallenge Showcase was held on April 27, 2017 at Motorola Mobility Auditorium at the Merchandise Mart. More than 350 students, faculty and corporate supporters and volunteers were in attendance and the student innovation was off the charts!  The ISTI had great press coverage, including two excellent TV segments: the Fox 32 morning show,which featured three student innovations from Abbvie, ADM and Motorola Solutions; and a NBC5 Making a Difference segment, which featured a student and mentor from Takeda and mentioned Microsoft and other corporate supporters. We’re also quite fond of ChicagoInno’s article recapping the event.

Following is a complete list of all the corporate supporters and their schools. Congratulations to everyone who participated and who is using technology to make the world a better place.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals Challenge

  • Evanston Township High School
  • Phoenix Military Academy
  • Solorio Academy High School
  • Prospect High School

Loyola University Chicago

  • Nicholas Senn High School

Northrop Grumman Challenge

  • Oak Park and River Forest High School
  • Palatine High School

Illinois State University Center for Renewable Energy

  • Washington Community High School
  • Downers Grove North High School
  • ITW David Speer Academy
  • Williamsfield High School

AbbVie Foundation Challenge

  • North Chicago Community High School

Motorola Mobility Challenge

  • Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep
  • Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center

Baxter Challenge

  • Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy
  • Lindblom Math & Science Academy `
  • Muchin College Prep

Microsoft Challenge

  • Lake View High School
  • Corliss High School

Motorola Solutions

  • Chicago Vocational Career Academy

State Farm Challenge

  • Normal West High School
  • Bloomington High School
  • Normal Community High School

Horizon Pharma Challenge

  • Highland Park High School

ADM Challenge

  • MacArthur High School
  • Eisenhower High School

Civic Tech Cities: researching US government inhouse technologies

Today, mySociety, in partnership with Microsoft, launch Civic Tech Cities, a new piece of research looking at the technologies local governments implement to serve and communicate with their citizens. You can download it here.

Civic Tech: whose job is it?

Debating and making decisions on behalf of the people; managing services, disseminating information — all of these have been the agreed tasks of local government for a very long time. But has citizen-facing technology now also become a core function of government? And if so, how are they doing?

We often say that mySociety was originally set up to show governments how they could be using digital better, and that one day we hope to have done ourselves out of a job.

But perhaps it’s wrong to foresee a time when we’ll be able to pack up and go home. Perhaps those within government will never be able to escape internal bureaucracies and budget constraints to provide the software that their citizens will really benefit from; perhaps the provocative NGO, one step ahead with citizen-to-government technologies, will always be a necessary agent.

We won’t know for sure until we start researching beyond our own sphere.

A vital new area for research

When we set up the mySociety research programme, as you’d expect, our first priority was to look at the impact of the services we, and other organisations like us, were providing.

Around the same time, the term ‘Civic Tech’ was gaining traction, and it carried with it an implicit reference to applications made outside government, by organisations like us, cheekily providing the tools the citizens wanted rather than those the government decided they needed.

If our aim was to wake governments up to the possibilities of digital, to some extent it has been successful. Governments around the world, at all levels, have seen the financial and societal benefits, and are producing, buying in, and commissioning civic software for their own online offerings.

It is, then, high time that the sphere of government-implemented civic technologies were more closely examined: how effective are they? Who is using them? What changes are they wreaking on the relationship between citizen and government? How, indeed, are governments themselves changing as a result of this new direction?

Civic Tech Cities

Thanks to generous funding from Microsoft, we were able to conduct research that seeks to answer these questions, in the context of municipal-level council digital offerings in five US cities.

Emily Shaw, in collaboration with mySociety’s Head of Research Rebecca Rumbul, examined standalone projects in Austin, Chicago, Oakland, Washington DC and Seattle, to produce case studies that cast a light on the state of institutional civic tech in the current age.

The technologies chosen for scrutiny were diverse in some ways, but the challenges they faced were often alike: and we can all, whether inside or outside government, recognise common pitfalls such as failing to budget for ongoing maintenance of a service that was expected to roll happily along, untended, for the foreseeable future; or building a world-changing digital service that fails to gain traction because its potential users never get to hear about it.

It’s our hope that local governments everywhere will benefit from this in-depth look at the tools US municipal governments have put in place, from LargeLots in Chicago which sold disused land in disadvantaged neighbourhoods for a nominal $1 fee, to RecordTrac in Oakland, a request and response tool for those seeking information under California’s Public Record Act.

Better tools make better policy

Interestingly, one of the key findings of this report is that developing digital tools alongside policy, rather than bolting these tools on afterwards, results not only in better tools, but better policy too.

The user-centred design principles that have been central to the Civic Tech movement had a knock-on effect beyond the software development departments of municipal government. They began to shape the ways in which policy itself was developed, resulting in services that were more accessible and appropriate to the communities they serve.

Two-way learning

Finally, it’s not just governments who will learn from this examination of best practices, potential problems and unexpected bonuses; we, and other NGOs like us, can gain crucial insights from the sector which, after all, is pursuing the same aim that we are.

You can read the research paper here. Many thanks to Microsoft for making it possible, and to Emily Shaw for putting in the time and effort to make it a reality.

Join the 2017 Clean Energy Trust Challenge

How can we use technology to make an impact?

As our global concerns grow, it becomes more and more obvious that sustainability and climate care are an immediate priority. And our technologies are growing alongside this concern, providing more opportunity for us to manage energy and natural resources in more sustainable ways.

That’s where organizations like Clean Energy Trust come in. Clean Energy Trust (CET) partners with innovators to bring scientific and technological advancements to market that change how the world generates, consumes and reuses energy and natural resources. And each year, CET hosts the Clean Energy Trust Challenge, where early-stage cleantech startups come together to propose new energy ideas. CET provides $1 million in seed funding, accelerating these startups and guiding them through the startup process. Each Challenge culminates in a series of finalist pitches, which are evaluated by an investment committee which comprises a handful of financial and energy industry experts.

This year’s 8 selected finalists are:

  • Aker
  • Applied Particle Technology
  • Idle Smart
  • Lotic Labs
  • PowerTech Water
  • Sun Buckets
  • SurClean, Inc
  • Switched Source, LLC

Finalists — and previous CET Challenge winners — focus on energy missions like limiting global temperatures, developing new low-carbon technologies, and deploying existing sustainable technologies on a greater scale. To date, CET has awarded over $3.7M in funding to 33 clean energy startups. Startups benefitting from our programs have gone on to raise an additional $112M in follow-on-funding – and have created over 300 jobs.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these cleantech startups Today, May 9 at Venue SIX10. RSVP here.

Civic Tech in Chicago — May’s Top Events

How do you spend your May in Chicago? Weekend architecture tours? Picnics by the river? Trips to the Lakes?

For us, May is all about civic tech. Here are our top picks for events this month:

May 3

Spring 2017 Graduate Student & Postdoc Innovation Mixer
Polsky Exchange – Promontory Point Meeting Room 1452 E 53rd St, 2nd Floor, Chicago

The UChicago Graduate Student and Postdoc Innovation Mixer is an opportunity for graduate students and postdocs cross the University of Chicago to experience the Polsky Exchange, meet one-another, and spark interdisciplinary collaborations. This will be a great opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals and even find new teammates for any research project or business idea you’re working on.

Chicago AquaHacking Kick-off Event
Illinois Institute of Technology Downtown Campus Institute of Design, 7th Floor 565 West Adams Street, Chicago

AquaHacking is an annual multi-disciplinary hackathon for generating ideas to conserve the Great Lakes. Hosted by the Canada-based de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, AquaHacking 2017 will focus on ideas to solve challenges facing Lake Erie. Join us for a kick-off meeting for Chicago’s AquaHacking team! Teams to develop solutions to pitch in late May to compete in semi-finals in June (teams will meet as-needed through May to develop solutions).

May 4

Blue Sky Social at WeWork
WeWork 20 W. Kinzie St., Chicago

Join us as Blue Sky Innovation hosts the latest event in its networking series, Blue Sky Social, presented by Gentleman Jack. This event will take place at WeWork Kinzie ⇒, a coworking space in River North.

May 9

2017 Clean Energy Trust Challenge
Venue SIX10 610 S Michigan Ave, Chicago

Clean Energy Trust invests in the entrepreneurs leading the clean technology revolution from the Midwest. Our vision is to develop a thriving, frictionless innovation ecosystem in the Midwest for energy and resource technology startups.

The Clean Energy Trust (CET) Challenge is our flagship program in which we invest $1 million in promising early-stage cleantech startups. The final event combines live pitches with presentations by leading clean energy thinkers and doers.

What began in 2010 as a simple business plan competition to jumpstart the local ecosystem with cash prizes totaling $140,000 has now grown into the most competitive and high-profile investment opportunity for cleantech startups in the Midwest.

Since the first CET Challenge, startups have received $4M in funding, raised over $100 million in follow-on funding, and created over 300 new jobs.

May 16

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership lunch
Microsoft 200 E. Randolph Street, Chicago

Please join Steve Solomon of Exelon and Shelley Stern Grach of Microsoft for lunch to explore how Chicago’s civic landscape can become more inclusive.

We will introduce you to ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, a growing Chicago network of leaders with disabilities, and brainstorm how we can help infuse this missing dimension of diversity in Chicago’s civic life.

May 18

Bunker Labs 3rd Annual Muster Across America
1871 Chicago 222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza, 12th Floor, Chicago

Bunker Labs, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to veteran entrepreneurship is excited to announce the 3rd annual “Muster” conference. This year we invite veterans, corporate partners and innovators to come, bring their best ideas and develop new connections and insights. Last year’s event drew over 350 participants and won praise as “the most exciting innovative veterans’ event I have ever been to.” This year’s program will bring together over 400 participants and partners for a full day of veteran entrepreneurs networking, keynote speakers, and will feature our Launch Lab where we’ll build an entire business in ONE day.

May 23

“Cybersecurity: Its Impact on Our Daily Lives”
Holland & Knight 131 S Dearborn St., Chicago

Experts discuss the reality of cyber attacks and the need for security in business, government, banking, and our private lives.

Big Shoulders: Jason Saul, Founder and CEO, Mission Measurement

Government and the social sector are the only spaces that measures impact of projects only after the money has gone out the door. Every other industry tries to predict outcomes in terms of success. Considering the sheer magnitude of people impacted by government programs and social sector projects, not having an informed notion of what the impact will be has consequences in terms of opportunity cost and often the quality of life.

Can you use predictive data to guide the investments made by these sectors? Can you make an informed analysis of how to spend dollars so that they are spent in the best way possible? Can comparisons between options be compared, especially given that the evidence of success is often the same? While working out in the gym, listening to Pandora, Jason Saul, CEO of Mission Measurement had an epiphany. Watch the story of the Impact Genome on Big Shoulders live on Advisor.TV.