Civic Tech

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.

phe·nom·e·non

[fəˈnäməˌnän, fəˈnäməˌnən]
NOUN
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 narratives4powerbi@narrativescience.com 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.

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.

Postcard from India: Do You Live Near Toxic Waste?

This is the second in a series of discussions about my recent trip to India with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy. This article will focus on Environmental Sustainability and a remarkable NGO in India, which is working hard to bring information on toxins to the public domain. Microsoft has a deep commitment to environmental sustainability, for our planet, our utilization of energy, and for our legacy. Please read about our policy and programs at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/about/corporate-responsibility/planet.

via Time Magazine

Like many Chicagoans, I hadn’t thought too much about the disposal of toxic waste. My focus on Environmental Sustainability was usually focused on carbon footprint, ice caps melting, endangered animals and wondering how paying 7 cents for a plastic bag was really going to make a difference for my great-grandchildren. A few weeks ago, Time Magazine had a small article that caught my attention. Time Labs mapped all the 1,317 so-called Superfund sites—the most toxic locations in the US, as tracked by the federal government. The density of toxic waste centered around Illinois and my home state of Michigan really surprised me.

Then I spent an afternoon in Delhi, India with the remarkable Ravi Agarwal, Founder and Director of Toxics Link. Ravi is changing the urban waste management system in India by involving local communities and the informal sector of “waste pickers” in waste disposal. He also is a strong advocate for a cleaner materials policy in industry. His work crosses boundaries locally, nationally and internationally. Toxics Link is an environmental NGO dedicated to bringing toxics-related information into the public domain. They span the struggles at the grass roots levels as well as provide global information to the local levels in India. Their focus is on articulating the issues related to toxic waste.

Ravi Agarwal, Director at Toxics Link

Toxic Links addresses the areas of hazardous and medical waste management, as well as food safety. They work in “networks”, utilizing community outreach and education, coupled with policy analysis, research training and program development. Their goal is to create the right solutions, as driven by the needs of the people. Working both in Delhi and through the country, Toxic Links also acts as part of a coalition of NGOs. An acknowledged expert in hazardous, medical and municipal wastes, Toxic Links is now addressing the emerging issues of pesticides and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), as well as e-waste scenarios in major metropolitan areas in India. They have a nationwide network of over 5000 members.

When you hear Ravi speak, he is so gentle, erudite and has such as smile on his face, that you need to balance his demeanor with his leadership mantra: “If you don’t engage, you don’t change”. His team collaborates widely with academic institutions and they engage directly “on the ground” with stakeholders. They started out working with “waste pickers” often considered to be the lowest form of work in India. Today, they also focus on electronic waste and wrote the first report in 2003 from a developing country on this topic. Here are some of the accomplishments of Toxic Links:

  • Toxics Link Has Been Awarded the Research & Development Award 2016 for Its Outstanding Contribution in Lead Related Research.
  • Toxics Link has been organizing school awareness programs across india. Around 4,221 schools, 4,50,000 students and 13,000 teachers have been covered in 19 states.
  • “We are a group of people working together for environmental justice and freedom from toxins. We have taken it upon ourselves to collect and share information about the sources and dangers of poisons in our environment and bodies, as well as clean and sustainable alternatives for India and the rest of the world.”
  • They have even created games on e-waste to make the topic more fun for school children.

So, how can we relate the amazing work that Ravi and Toxic Links are doing to Environmental Sustainability in Chicago and the US? My perspective is that we can learn from Ravi’s leadership style and his relentless focus on pursuing and communicating the truth. As he said in our meeting:

“We come with a smile,

We come in peace,

We can wait,

We are firm and we don’t compromise”.

His team doesn’t see the environment as separate from social justice, as it’s often the poorest and most underprivileged among the Indian population that have the closet connection to toxic waste from a geographical (living) perspective. Ravi urged us to “mobilize our work at home to address the least empowered”. Because if you start there, your role as a leader becomes a position of humility, not power.

He sees systemic reform as the “north star goal”, but the reality is that he focuses on specific issues for the present, in order to actually change policy and make real improvements. He gave us the following advice as leaders to bring home to our work in Chicago:

  1. Be at the table every day!
  2. Be in the conversation every day!
  3. Commit to long term, persistent leadership, which hold the values and the culture of your organization.

As we spent considerable time discussing values, Ravi believes that “values are there because you hold onto them”. You will know when your work is respected, and it helps to provide your team members very clear responsibilities. Values are held in systems…the way you respect and reward people is a demonstration of your values. It’s probably not a surprise that Ravi is also an accomplished artist, as he believes Art helps you lead a team in several ways. It helps you look at things differently, look at nature and ecology and the planet with a sense of wonderment and respect. It is this lens of leadership, this focus on values, and the ability to wait and not compromise that are lessons we can bring home and use every day.

Managing Sustainability Below the Earth’s Surface

An Underground Infrastructure Mapping Scan, via UI Labs

This being Earth Week, I would like to take you just slightly below the Earth’s surface. Under our city, as a matter of fact. Why? Because the infrastructure that resides underground impacts the output of carbon above ground. To understand how this works, let’s do a little exploration down below.

Beneath the streets and alleys of our city lies a labyrinth that supports daily life and commerce. Underground assets include water pipes, fiber optic lines, gas pipes, electrical lines, cable and telco lines. It also includes legacy infrastructure (think telegraph cables…yes telegraph…and conduit).

We don’t think about the underground infrastructure because we don’t see it. We take it for granted until something needs repair, or new infrastructure needs to be added. When we are inconvenienced by the lane closures associated with the opening of a street, we see it and curse it. Car, bicycle, and foot traffic are routed around the construction. In the best of circumstances, the street is sealed back up and traffic resumes as normal. Except when it doesn’t.

Too often, when a crew is working on, say, repairing underground cable lines, they may run into unexpected assets such as electrical lines. They must stop their work, seal the street, move, and the process starts again. That means that the time that traffic is inconvenienced is effectively doubled. How often is too often? According to City Digital, In the US, an underground infrastructure is hit on average of every 60 seconds at a cost of $1.6B annually).

How does this keep happening so frequently? Don’t we know what is underground? Not exactly. Today, underground coordination prior to construction is based on looking at maps (sometimes non-digital). And those maps are often two dimensional (meaning that you do not know the depth of the assets they are mapping). Further complicating the situation, the maps can be inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated.

So how does what happens underground impact the carbon output above ground in our city? Run through this (not uncommon) scenario again where a project needs to be re-started because of interfering existing infrastructure:

  • The street or lane is blocked off, and slowed or stalled traffic idles (carbon)
  • Big machines come in and rip up the street (more carbon)
  • Shoot! Something is in the way. Big machines seal up the street (more carbon)
  • Block off another section of street and continue to idle congested traffic (much more carbon)
  • Repeat until mad

So, much of the impact on the environment comes from unnecessary idling, which produces climate damaging greenhouse gases. You might think “big deal, so I idle for a minute or two while waiting to maneuver around underground street construction”. Think about this: according to Natural Resources Canada, idling for just 3 minutes every day adds 1.4M tons of CO2 emissions. Removing that is equivalent to taking 320,000 cars off the road for the entire year.

The impact on climate change is such that some countries have created policies and guidelines for reducing idling. In the US, the EPA posted guidelines that recommend turning the engine off if you are idling more than 30 seconds. Reducing the need to idle is even a better solution.

Enter City Digital’s Underground Infrastructure Mapping pilot. Last fall, City Digital kicked off a pilot to create an underground infrastructure mapping (UIM) platform that is designed to reduce the expensive need to restart these intrusive projects. The platform generates, organizes, visualizes, and stores 3D underground infrastructure data that can be securely shared by those who have assets underground.

An Underground Infrastructure Visualization, via UI Labs

Using the City of Chicago as a testbed for the platform’s development, City Digital members are deploying this new technology to create accurate 3D maps of underground assets. An engineering-grade, cloud-based data platform ensures that critical infrastructure information is securely stored and shared at the right level with the right people. The result: having accurate information prior to breaking ground not only reduces carbon output, it saves cities and utilities millions of dollars in the construction and planning processes. It is a modern take on the “measure twice, cut once” approach to reducing carbon emission.

Microsoft is proud to partner with City Digital as we build on the success of the Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring (SGIM) project, and move our focus to what underground. As underground infrastructure becomes more familiar to us, we’re looking forward to the next steps of reducing emissions and helping save the earth, little by little.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to environmental sustainability, head to the Microsoft Green Blog.

Postcard from India: An Array of Themes

This is the first in a series of blogs about my recent trip to India with the University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy. It’s taken me some time  to simply digest everything that we saw and experienced, and to think through the “big themes” and how those themes either relate to Civic Engagement in Chicago. Today’s discussion will focus on the “Array of Themes” that India kindles and I’ll share a few early highlights of our visits so you can see the diversity of the country.

Future blogs will focus on a few of the inspiring leaders we visited, and how their leadership skills can be translated to the challenges here in Chicago.

Let’s start with a quote which graces the wall of the Microsoft Delhi office which I visited on my second to last day in India. We’ll talk more about the office at a later time, but I felt this was a great summary of the values of every leader and every place we visited:

In Sanskrit:
Vipadi dhairyam atha abhyudaye kshamaa sadasi vaakpatutaa yudhi vikramaha
Yashasi cha abhiratihi vyasanam shrutau prakriti siddham idam hi mahaatmanaam

In English :
Courage in trouble, forbearance in prosperity, eloquence in the assembly, valour in battle, eagerness in gaining fame, attention to the holy scriptures – all these are natural to great ones.

Over the course of the trip, several themes emerged and are summed up by a comment from Rashish Nanda, the Chief Executive Office of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India: “India lives in many centuries at the same time”. How perfectly this helps describe the beauty, the cultural mash-up, the digitization of India living right next to extreme poverty. Each morning we started our program at the modern campus of the University of Chicago Center in Delhi. We met with noted senior executives and NGO leaders who fought for change and human rights.

Following are the themes that I observed during our visit:

  1. The scale of the challenges in India are massive. Delhi has nearly 20 million people and the scope of trying to impact that range of people is enormous. I found the leaders we met tackled their challenges “one person at a time”, always moving forward and the scope didn’t diminish their energy or optimism.
  2. Women’s rights are also a key issue and the mountain that the NGO female leaders climbed were clearly higher than for male NGO leaders. Which made the impact and the focus of the women we met with all the more impressive. We’ll hear more about Ruma Roka, Founder and Chief Executive, Noida Deaf Society in a future blog.
  3. Society itself is in a self-discovery process. It’s both evolving to catch up with the 21st Century and keeping true to its heritage and culture at the same time. Think about Chicago, “born” in 1837 and how we are building a global tech hub. Now think about Delhi: The Indian capital city of Delhi has a long history, and has been an important political center of India as the capital of several empires. Much of Delhi’s ancient history finds no record and this may be regarded as a lost period of its history. Extensive coverage of Delhi’s history begins with the onset of the Delhi Sultanate in the 12th century. Since then, Delhi has been the center of a succession of mighty empires and powerful kingdoms, making Delhi one of the longest serving Capitals and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
  4. The sounds! The senses! The colors! The creative expression! India expresses its cultural heritage through dress, colors, spices, deep faith and horns honking. The call to worship, the vibrant colors literally everywhere and the constant collision of 21st Century traffic with people selling their wares as they have been sold for generations. The presence of TV screens at the magnificent Golden Temple is a great example.
  5. Leadership is everywhere in India. It’s with the mother who is changing her child’s life through sending her to the School for the Deaf. It’s with the engineers and scientists who focus on toxic waste and work tirelessly to change policies to improve the health of the country. It’s with the Foundation leaders who focus on preserving the green space and the heritage of Humayun’s Tomb through an urban renewal initiative, similar to the urban renewal in Bronzeville, Englewood or along 63rd Street.

The leaders we met with put the spark of human dignity back into people who had been defeated by life. They were faced with leading across boundaries (ethnic, caste, government/private sector). They faced challenges of public sectors everywhere: how do you motivate and energize bureaucracy? How do you battle corruption? How do you do urban planning in a geography that originally had 50,000 citizens and now has nearly 20 million people to house, feed, and educate. They face the challenges of managing multiple stakeholders (imagine the challenges of restoration, culture and funding for Humayun’s Tomb! But then again, Humayun managed to be buried with both of his wives….). The leaders we met with felt that community ownership was key to success (sound familiar, Chicago?). Leadership qualities include the ability to look deeper and create customized solutions, being nimble, being analytical and using data to evaluate success through pre and post assessment, and above all, being passionate.

In our next blog, we’ll learn more about the remarkable Noida Deaf Society and how one women literally brought children who had no education nor means of communication into a school, where those children are now the teachers.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Gabrielle Lyon, Chicago Architecture Foundation and Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools

Civic education has always been a priority in Chicago, as a city that prides itself in its political involvement and civic engagement. Yet it has only recently become a requirement for Chicago’s students. Heather Van Benthuysen, Civic Education Manager at Chicago Public Schools, has changed this, and is working to inspire Chicago students to become active participants in their communities through experiential civic education.

Remember the Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago? Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for No Small Plans, a graphic novel inspired by and built for CPS teens based on the Wacker’s Manual. The 144-page novel follows the adventures of teens in Chicago’s past (1928), present (2017), and future (2211) in Chicago’s individual neighborhoods.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Heather Van Benthuysen and Gabrielle Lyon, Vice President of Education and Experience at Chicago Architecture Foundation, to explore No Small Plans and civic education in Chicago.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Heather and Gabrielle live on Advisor.tv.

Support No Small Plans — purchase or donate a copy in advance here.