In Chicago, the Smart Chicago Collaborative helps provide infrastructure to the local civic developer community. They provide server space for civic apps as well as a physical space for OpenGov Hack Nights.
They are also partners with the City of Chicago, developing apps (and reusable code) that help parents compare early childhood education choices and find public computer centers and free technology training. They’re deeply involved in the city’s past and future open data efforts, playing a key role in the city’s policy and practice.
They work with Cook County on their technology & communication efforts, and are working with the State of Illinois on the Illinois Open Technology Challenge program to spread open data and civic innovation principles from one end of the state to the other.
All of these efforts have been successful at getting developers and government to work more closely. But, as we’ve seen in many communities, getting the involvement of regular residents has been challenging. To help address this, Smart Chicago started the CUT Group–the civic user testing group. This effort will allow civic app developers to get feedback from everyday residents.
The idea is to recruit people from all over the cities by offering $5 for signing up and $20 for each civic testing session (plus bus fare!).
The goal of this effort is twofold. The first is that it allows a way for civic developers to get feedback on their apps from “outside the bubble.” It’s one thing for apps to get feedback from fellow technologists, but quite another to get feedback from somebody who doesn’t use a computer every day.
The other goal is to bring everyday citizens into the civic innovation movement. If an app that tackles a problem from a particular angle doesn’t make sense to the person dealing with the problem at street level, the app needs to change. This conversation will also open up opportunities for co-creation. The best apps being built are the ones that are being built with the guidance of people who are actively trying to solve problems inside their cities.
Having a user testing group that spans a broad range of Chicagoans will be enormously to the local civic innovation community. This effort will also be published openly so that other communities can learn and replicate efforts here.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.