Civic Innovation

Work with civic technology innovators to develop creative solutions to city challenges

Research Data-Driven Solutions

(Initiative 19)

The City of Chicago will continue to use data analytics to help managers across the city explore—and solve—some of the most vexing problems facing municipalities.

The City’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) has formed an advanced analytics unit to apply advanced research methods in tackling the City’s operational and policy questions. The team uses the same research methods as university researchers and combines data from dozens of resources to improve the efficiency of rodent-baiting operations, increasing the likelihood of citing dirty restaurants, and other topics. In addition, the advanced analytics team has begun to develop the SmartData Predictive Analytics Platform, which will enable service improvement efforts across all City departments.

Chicago’s SmartData Predictive Analytics Platform

In 2013, Chicago was one of five cities selected out of more than 300 applicants to receive a Mayors Challenge grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to support civic innovation projects. The SmartData Predictive Analytics Platform (SmartData Platform) will be the first-ever open-source predictive analytics system designed and built for a city, aimed at aggregating and analyzing city information to help leaders make smarter, faster decisions and help operations run more efficiently and effectively.

Since winning the grant, DoIT has been implementing pilot projects to test and evaluate predictive analytics methods used by the SmartData Platform. The first pilot used data from 311 calls to enhance the efficiency of the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s rodent-baiting efforts. By analyzing trends in the data, DoIT identified 31 different 311 call types that help predict where and when rat population spikes are likely to occur. This information has helped DSS implement a new process that reduced management workload by 20 percent. The team also launched an analytical model that forecasts critical violations across the city’s more than 15,000 food establishments, and helps the City’s three dozen food inspectors prioritize inspections of those establishments that exhibit the greatest risk.

As an open-sourced project, the SmartData Platform will be shared with other municipalities so that they may develop similar initiatives leading to more-informed decision-making and efficient, effective outcomes.

Initiative 19

Data Science for Social Good

The Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good fellowship is a University of Chicago summer program that brings aspiring data scientists from across the globe to Chicago to work on data mining, machine learning, big data, and data science projects with social impact. Working closely with government agencies, including the City, Chicago Public Schools, and nonprofit organizations, fellows address real-world challenges in education, health, energy, transportation, and more. In 2014, the DSSG fellows helped CPS develop a model to more accurately predict next year’s enrollment for each school in the system and better allocate its resources. They also partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health to help find homes that are most likely to still contain lead-based paint hazards to enable CDPH and their partners to link high-risk children and pregnant women to inspection and lead-based paint mitigation funding before any harm is done.


Support Civic Hackers

(Initiative 20)

The City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) and the Smart Chicago Collaborative (SCC) will continue to provide a broad range of tools and financial resources to help residents and civic technologists use technology to improve urban life.

Chicago School of Data

The Chicago School of Data project was launched in early 2014 by SCC and is a collaborative framework to encourage civic innovation in Chicago. The Chicago School of Data brings together individuals from nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and government to encourage data sharing and problem solving with the goal of creating engaged and healthy communities.

To kick off the Chicago School of Data project, SCC spent time this summer scanning and documenting the regional landscape—getting to know the players in Chicago’s data ecosystem and documenting their data uses and challenges.

The City's Chief Information Officer, Brenna Berman, opens the Chicago School of Data Days.


The Chicago School of Data officially launched this September with its Data Days event, which brought together over 400 people from organizations across Chicago to discuss, share, and exchange their data methods, tools, strategies, challenges, and goals. SCC published key takeways from the conference and will publish its full report in summer 2015.

The Chicago School of Data is made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of its three founding organizations. In addition, the City of Chicago, Cook County, and LISC Chicago provide a core steering committee for the project.

You can watch sessions from the Chicago School of Data Days on the SCC YouTube Channel.

Civic User Testing Group

The Civic User Testing Group, or CUT Group, gathers Chicago residents from across the city to test and review civic applications that were developed using city data. Hosted by SCC, the CUT Group sustains a meaningful collaboration with residents and developers around data and technology.

In 2014, the program held six CUT Group testing sessions, doubling the number held in 2013. The program includes more than 800 Chicago residents, representing all 50 wards and 77 community areas, and continues to grow. Discussions and reviews from CUT Group sessions have provided valuable insights and improved understanding on how residents currently interact—and how they would like to interact—with data about the city.

Cosette Hampton and Genevieve Nielsen conducting a CUTGroup test at King Library for mRelief


SCC also released the CUT Group Book—a how-to guide on launching similar programs to assist other cities, and the program has been replicated in Oakland and Chatanooga.

In 2015, the CUT Group has tested mRelief, Chicago CityScape, Roll With Me, and the new Chicago Public Schools website, and will test several others in the coming months.

Chicago Data Visualization Meetup

Organized by the City’s Chief Data Officer, local data enthusiasts meet monthly to network, learn about new tools, and participate in data visualization contests. The group, organized in 2012, currently has more than 1,200 members.

Developer Resources and Services

As an organization committed to improving lives of Chicagoans through technology, SCC offers an array of resources for developers who work to make this mission a reality.

For some civic application projects, SCC acts as a fiscal agent and manages development and funding resources; for others, SCC donates infrastructure resources, such as Amazon Web Services, Heroku, and Google Apps for Business. As a founding tenant of 1871, SCC also has seats available for start-ups to take advantage of the location and resources of the co-working space and incubator.

SCC’s support for civic hackers also includes hosting many code repositories on its own GitHub organization page, providing an online place to share innovative ideas and projects.

The City provides developer resources at and provides customer service support to developers that use the City’s data resources.

Chi Hack Nights

Chi Hack Night is a gathering of civic-minded individuals doing work at the intersection of open government, cities, and technology. The event serves as an open forum to advance civic projects; brainstorm new civic projects; and learn about open data, smart cities, and open government.

Attendees range from City officials to technology experts to interested Chicago residents. More than 150 Hack Nights have been held to date, and attendance continues to rise, strengthening Chi Hack Night’s role as a town hall and support center for Chicago’s growing civic-hacker community.

Chi Hack Night is organized by Open City, documented by the SCC, and sponsored by Code for America, DataMade, Dev Bootcamp, and GitHub. Braintree hosts the event every Tuesday night at their offices in the Merchandise Mart.