Here’s the full text and slides from a talk I gave this morning at The White House Open Data Innovation Summit.


Hello. I’m stoked to be here on this special day. A day when so many of us, colleagues from all across the country, can come together and take stock. To share our victories, and tell our stories to each other, and figure out how to do better. I really look forward to hearing the speakers and watching the panels the seeing the great work being done in the Solutions Showcase.

I want to help frame our narrative— talk a bit about the roots of our movement, kick off some thinking about the impact we’re having, and suggesting paths forward in this time of change.

I’m from Chicago, so I’m going to give some examples from nearby. You can find them everywhere you are, if you look, and listen. I would really love to see everybody from all of the great centers of open data in this country try this exercise of finding three place-root examples near you.


In the early 20th century, in Chicago, Jane Addams created the first “settlement house” in the US— cooperative residences for middle-class “settlers” in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods that aimed to reduce inequality. She was a prominent reformer and social worker. She was also a tireless scholar who studied the geographical distribution of typhoid fever and found that it was the working poor who suffered most from the illness. She created data and she shared it and she made lives better.

slide04In the late 60s, Gale Cincotta, a community activist from the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, a regular Chicago resident, got into public life because of overcrowding in the schools of her six children. She led the national fight for the US federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, which required financial institutions to provide mortgage data to the public. She forced the publication of the critical data that showed what we knew for decades— that redlining was a racist scourge on our city, and our country.slide05In the 1980s, in Chicago, disability rights activists began agitating on public transportation for what led to the Americans With Disabilities Act. The consent decree for one lawsuit, Access Living v. Chicago Transit Authority, required the installation of GPS in each bus so that each stop could be announced automatically, without the driver calling it out. They were inadvertent data advocates, and you can string a direct line from those GPS receivers in those buses, to the General Transit Feed Specification that drives so many apps today.

Everyone in this room has some more personal story about they got started in open data. I want to hear yours. I started off in municipal data. June 1998, the day after Michael Jordan sunk his last shot as a Chicago Bull, I started as a plain old web project manager/ strategist/ sales type person.

slide07One of our clients was the City of Chicago. I learned the ways of ETL and Hansen and ESRI and mainframes and I loved it. It was stunning to see database exports in the course of my work. I saw all of us in there— everyone from our big oblong city. So divided, so segregated, all of our experiences were in those machines, all chopped up into rows and columns. And I wanted to put it all back together, to be whole.

slide08Adrian Holovaty created in May 2005, and he attempted to do that with one single dataset. It was a revelation, for all of us, I think. Reverse-engineered Google Maps, which was just 4 months old, to force dots onto their interface without an API.

So when he started EveryBlock, and I joined him, he gave me a chance to start on that assembly. In 2007 my job was to call up mayors of major cities and ask them for their data. I’d say, “Hi, can I talk to the Mayor”. Invariably, the Mayor would be occupied with other matters. So I’d say something like, I’m calling to see if I could get a list of building permits (or something that like). They’d say “sure, what address?”. I’d say, “all of them”. They’d say, “what day?” I’d say, “all of them.” This went somewhat poorly, as you can imagine, but it created demand where there was none.

slide10Carl Malamud, our primary, most important forerunner, the creator of EDGAR for open SEC data in the 1990s, invited Adrian and I to a workshop in December 2007 in Sebastopol where 30 of us wrote the “8 Principles of Open Government Data” in a weekend. A kid named Aaron Swartz was there, and many others who became my heroes. The document itself created a rationale that made sense to the mayors. We started getting traction.slide11That’s also where I first came in contact with the Sunlight Foundation, the most important nongovernmental organization in the open data movement, and the springboard for so many great careers of many of you here in this room, spearheading policy and progress from other places.


And then the Memorandum.

President Obama, a community organizer out of Chicago. In my mind he went straight from Grant Park on election night to the Oval Office, the day after inauguration, and he signed and published the “Transparency and Open Government” memorandum stating that his Administration was “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness,” fostering a sense of transparency, public participation, and collaboration amongst the government and the American people. It’s hard to describe how that felt— seeing that our President shared our priorities.

And we are here to talk about how we are filling that promise. This is the subject of our day together.

So I’m going to run through some of my own touchstones for impact, the impact I’ve felt and helped create, and then I’ll sit down and I want to listen to you.

In 2011, I dove deeper into the movement by helping start the Smart Chicago Collaborative. It was rooted in and funded by another federal program: BTOP.

slide14My Smart Chicago colleague Kyla Williams administered the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program there. BTOP was part of the Recovery Act after the 2008 financial crisis. We spent millions of federal dollars on digital skills and broadband upgrades in public housing, libraries, and city colleges. It was an education for me— I saw firsthand that the most technical solution was worthless without connection, devices, and skills.

At Smart Chicago, we funded the largest implementation of Open311 as a Code for America fellows project with the City.

slide16We’ve pioneered new ways for public participation with the Civic User Testing Group and the Documenters program for community meetings.

slide17We helped grow the burgeoning civic tech movement— an essential partner to National Day of Civic Hacking and local groups. All using open data, set forth from the Memorandum and dozens of local ordinances, powered by Socrata data portals. It was a heady time.

slide18We’ve seen the founding and growth of USDS and 18F, which are so essential to the the path forward to continue the progress of open data and open technology.

And now I work at Ad Hoc LLC, a small software company that came out of the successful rescue effort. We design, build, and operate consumer-focused services that are fast, scalable, efficient, and usable. We deliver for clients like the VA and CMS.

slide20We are certainly in a period of change, so I’m glad we have the opportunity to come together here today. We’re on the front lines— let’s share those stories. And the front lines are not lined up with the lids of laptops and colorful stickers.

They’re made up of the people who work with immigrants on their health, and mothers who want justice, and the disabled who just want to be able to get on the bus.


Veterans who can’t access their benefits, Americans who need healthcare. The open data movement is made for them, by them.

So I guess what it all comes down to in the open data movement, like pretty much anything else in life, is love. We have to love each other more. Listen. So ya. I love you. I am so happy to be a part of this movement with you, and I look forward to hearing your stories today and talking about how we move forward, no matter what comes.


Today I am leaving my position as executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative to join Ad Hoc, a small software company that came out of the successful rescue effort. I will be joining Paul Smith, Greg Gershman, and the team they’ve built as director of business strategy & product development.

At Smart Chicago, I leave behind what is now an all-women team led by Kyla Williams, who will serve as interim executive director. Together, we’ve built a small, effective powerhouse of community technology.

I was handed a model organization— founding partners of the The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the City of Chicago, and The Chicago Community Trust. Centered in philanthropy, with the direct involvement of the municipal government, in a city with a fecund ecosystem ready to grow.

We’ve created programs that Chicago people love and that resonate across the country. Our Civic User Testing Group, which we invented out of whole cloth in 2013, has grown to more than 1,500 people. Now they’re spreading it across the country— join the CUTGroup Collective here.

We’ve built new brands like Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Smart Health Centers, Documenters,, Patterns, and Chicago School of Data. Created civic infrastructure like Open 311, Chicago Health Atlas, and Chicago Early Learning. Helped build new businesses, consultancies, and apps. We’ve cared about justice, and lived our principles, always. And we’ve never employed more than five full-time employees.


There is nothing like Smart Chicago.

And now, with Ad Hoc, I am going to help veterans get benefits and help uninsured people get coverage for the first time. I get to join great people— including a longtime friend and EveryBlock colleague— doing great things for millions of Americans.

I will be taking two weeks off before starting at Ad Hoc, and I am wide-open to hearing from people wide and far, especially if you have any stories about how Smart Chicago has affected you or what kind of things you’d like to see in health / gov software. Hit me up at @danxoneil or Le Email.

Lastly, here’s a short clip of me talking at the graduation celebration of our inaugural Youth-Led Tech, conceived with and funded by Get IN Chicago. I tell them that we love them and we’re never going to let them go. And I talk about how easy it is to say things like that, and how hard it is to create systems that deliver on it.

I will not be there for Youth-Led Tech this year. But due to the foresight and planning of Get IN Chicago, and the dozens of Roseland, Austin, and North Lawndale residents Kyla at Smart Chicago has hired to run things, the program has doubled.

Systems for love beat any one person who proclaims it.

Here’s a new post I wrote for Civicist: Toward Sustainability for Local Tech Organizing. Snip:

Sustainability of civic tech organizing is basically resolved in Chicago. The question for me is whether these kinds of tech organizing groups are the model that should be supported.


Smart Chicago’s focus is on the unmet technology organizing needs in neighborhoods all over the city.

Sustainability of civic tech organizing is basically resolved in Chicago. What remains is a city of 2.7 people million with precious few invitations to range beyond their own block, very few jobs in tech for people with low to medium digital skills, and very few ways to listen and hear the needs of the people.

That’s what we need to build.



PATF_Final_Report_Executive_Summary_4_13_16On page 112 of the report of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities they Serve“, there is a section about the publication of police data that might change the way we think about “crime data” in the #opengov and #civictech movement.

In the section on Early Intervention & Personnel Concerns, the main recommendation for this area is that the Chicago Police Department embark on the “design and implementation of a mandatory EIS that centrally collects data across a broad range of data points to capture information on the totality of officer activity”. This kind of system is typically called an “Early Intervention System”, or EIS.

But later in this section is a recommendation that is near and dear to my heart (disclosure: I served on the Early Intervention & Personnel Concerns Working Group for the Task Force).

Here’s the nub:

Continue reading “A Radical Approach to Open Police Data”

The New York Times has a travel feature called 36 Hours. The schtick is that they lay out a core set of things to do in 36 hours of real time. This year the kids’ Spring Break snuck up on us and I had nothing planned. So I put together a short jaunt to Milwaukee with some (planned and unplanned) stops along the way. S-L added the meal components. Here’s our report:

Racine: Trump Rally

We had to drop off Kitteh early on Saturday morning and then got donuts at Stan’s. This still left some goodly time to get to SC Johnson by 10AM, so we decided to detour to downtown Racine and take some pics at around 9AM. We saw a bunch of cops and people standing in line, then some Trump-oriented vehicles. We quickly realized we stumbled on a Trump rally. Fuck that guy. So we got out to take some pics.

Trump Rally Racine

Continue reading “Spring Break 2016: 36 Hours in Milwaukee”