Chi Hack Night is a free, weekly event in Chicago to build, share and learn about tools to create, support, and serve the public good.

Our mission is to inspire and promote civic engagement and technology.

We are a group of thousands of designers, academic researchers, data journalists, activists, policy wonks, web developers and curious citizens who want to make our city more just, equitable, transparent and delightful to live in through data, design and technology.

Chi Hack Night's values

  • Diversity, equity & inclusion
  • A fun, welcoming, open-minded community empowering individuals
  • Practicing and promoting transparency and accountability
  • Commitment to supporting our community
  • Exploration and experimentation
  • Fulfilling our civic responsibility
  • Sharing knowledge, data, and open source code
  • Justice and positive social change

What happens at a hack night?

Chi Hack Night starts every Tuesday at 6pm. We meet in the Braintree office on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. The event is free, and the invitation is open to anyone, especially folks who aren’t programmers.

Here's what happens at Chi Hack Night every week:

6:00pm – Socializing and food

As people arrive, we gather in the Braintree auditorium.

Because we’re meeting during the dinner hour, food is always provided, usually pizza or empanadas. We want to make sure people are happy and fed, and eating together is a great way to break the ice and bond with other attendees.

Delicious empanadas from Irazu
Delicious empanadas from Irazu

6:15pm – Welcome and introductions

We get started around 6:15pm with a brief welcome and introduction to the event and then kick off the introductions.

Everyone in the room introduces themselves and tells the group why they’re here. We’ve done this since the beginning when there were 4 of us. We still do it when there are 150 of us. As with the food, our goal is to break the ice and get people to start talking.

Introductions at Chi Hack Night
Introductions at Chi Hack Night

6:30pm - Announcements

Next, we hold an open floor for announcements for civic tech and open government related things. This could be plugging other events, mentioning newsworthy articles and more recently, job announcements in the government and civic tech space.

We record these announcements in our weekly meeting notes and agenda Google Doc. Here’s an example from Chi Hack Night #180: Covering schools through public records and data.

Karl Fogel makes an announcement at Chi Hack Night
Karl Fogel makes an announcement at Chi Hack Night

6:45pm – Presentation with Q&A

Just about every week, we have a feature presentation that lasts about 15 minutes, with an open question & answer (Q&A) session after.

Presenters can be any government agency, non-profit, company or group who’ve made use of open government data or built a civic technology application. Anyone can propose a talk, and I often reach out to presenters who would be a good fit. For every speaker, we provide some clear speaker guidelines.

Tom Schenk presenting on Chicago Food Inspections
Tom Schenk presenting on Chicago Food Inspections

7:30pm – 9:30pm - “And now for the civic hacking portion of the evening”

Once the presentation wraps up, the format of the event switches up to what I’d describe as a mini-hackathon. People are invited to break off into groups and work on projects.

As we’ve grown from just 4 attendees to 100, we’ve had to add a bit more structure to this. Anyone is welcome to start a breakout group. The only requirement is that you take ownership of the group and make an honest attempt to keep showing up every week.

Nick Mader leading the Mob Programming breakout group
Nick Mader leading the Mob Programming breakout group

Breakout groups that last more than a few weeks are listed on the ChiHackNight.org website, and are divided into two tracks: learning groups and working groups.

  • Learning Groups - Learning groups are for new folks (about 30% of attendees on any given week are new), those who want to learn technology skills, and discuss or refine their civic app ideas.

  • Working Groups - Topic-specific working groups led by facilitators to guide conversations, answer questions, and build teams for civic apps.

When 9:30pm rolls around, we all head home and do it all over again next week.

Everyone is welcome!

Not a techie? That's ok! We encourage non-technical folks to pair up and learn from our community's designers and developers. We've seen time and time again, the best civic projects come from teams with a diverse background.

Remember, there's much more to making a great app than just coding.

How are you organized?

Chi Hack Night is organized the Chi Hack Night Board of Directors. They are responsible for governing our organization, as well as running our events, managing our website, keeping the books, and doing all the other things needed to make Chi Hack Night happen.


Chi Hack Night is hosted at Braintree and supported by our amazing sponsors. Through May 2019, DataMade has been our fiscal sponsor and handled all of our financial transactions.

Starting in June 2019, Chi Hack Night NFP handles all fincances and is currently in the process of attaining 501(c)(3) status.

Chi Hack Night model

Hack nights anchor and grow volunteer civic hacking communities while avoiding 'hackathon fatigue'. To learn how to organize one in your city, see our blog post on 10 lessons from organizing Chi Hack Night.

Special thanks

Chi Hack Night would not have been possible without the generous help from many people and organizations. Very special thanks goes to:

  • DataMade, for being our fiscal sponsor from Jan 2013 - May 2019.

  • Juan-Pablo Velez, for founding Chi Hack Night, co-organizing the event, providing spiritual guidance, calling out jargon, lining up amazing speakers, fighting for independence and generally instituting an atmosphere of relentless curiosity wrapped in love and smothered with sarcasm from March 2012 - July 2014.

  • Webitects, for hosting the first 9 hack nights at their office from March 2012 - May 2012.

  • 1871 for hosting Chi Hack Night (back when we were known as Open Gov Hack Night) for 2 ½ years from May 2012 - January 2015.

  • Smart Chicago Collaborative, for recording, documenting and writing over 100 Chi Hack Night blog posts and sponsoring the work of Chi Hack Night Organizer Christopher Whitaker for more than two years. Smart Chicago was also responsible for hosting Chi Hack Night at 1871 for our first nine months there and sponsored several events. They continue to provide tech support for civic tech projects via their hosted web space, documenter, and CUTGroup programs.

  • Aya O'Connor for her help in brand strategy and creating the Chi Hack Night logo.

  • ThoughtWorks for sponsoring food from May 2013 - March 2015.

  • GitHub for sponsoring food from May 2014 - February 2016.


Our group has been covered in both local and national media. Here are some highlights:

How Chicago ‘Hacktivist’ Derek Eder Uses Public Data for Good (video)
September 18, 2017
Evan Garcia, WTTW Chicago Tonight

Hacktivists working to make sense of Chicago police data dump
June 8, 2016
Ben Bradley, ABC 7 Chicago

Hacking for the planet
March 1, 2015
Eric T. Halvorson, Contributoria

Lessons from Chicago: What Can Be Built
Aug 30, 2014
Bill Bushey, Open Twin Cities

Open Government Hack Night (video)
May 27, 2014
City of Chicago TV

Open Gov Hack Night (video)
Apr 1, 2014
The Grid, Gapers Block

Can you hack it?
Sep 20, 2013
Tracy Swartz, RedEye Chicago

Open Government Hack Night
Jan 16 2013
Jake Malooley, TimeOut Chicago