Chi Hack Night: 2016 Year In Review

Published on Dec 31, 2016 by Derek Eder

Reading out the results from the Chi Hack Night Post-election community feedback session on Nov 15, 2016 Reading out the results from the Chi Hack Night Post-election community feedback session on Nov 15, 2016

It’s the end of 2016, and time to reflect on all the amazing things we accomplished this year at Chi Hack Night.

We hit several milestones this year, including our 200th event, high profile presentations, asserting influence on government policy, launching our own YouTube channel, and much more.

Our community continues to grow, mature and diversify. We continue to play a critical role as the nexus of Chicago’s civic and technology sectors - a role that will be all the more important in coming years.

But first, let’s start with some high level stats about Chi Hack Night in 2016:

  • We hosted 49 events, including our special 200th Chi Hack Night. If it’s Tuesday, it’s hack night.
  • We had 33 presentations from people and organizations across the government, non-profit and journalism sectors, as well as from our own community.
  • We held our 200th event celebration with lightning talks and guest blog posts.
  • We circulated 2 open data pledges and got signatures from 3 political candidates, including the new Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx.
  • 3 of our projects had a direct influence on government policy.
  • We wrote 27 blog posts from 15 authors advocating for issues & policies, recapping presentations & events, and diving into issues regarding volunteer civic hacking.
  • We recorded 58 video presentations and launched our own YouTube channel.
  • We heard 26 lightning talks from members of our community shared their own story or insight about civics, society and technology.
  • We started 68 breakout groups for participants to build, share and learn about civic tech.
  • We spent $44,673.57 on food, video production and miscellaneous expenses to run our events for 2016.

33 presentations

Presentations at Chi Hack Night in 2016 Presentations at Chi Hack Night in 2016

This year, we had 33 presentations ranging from government innovators like Chicago Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk, Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka, to independent journalists like Brandon Smith, to activists like the Chicago Community Bond Fund, to members of our own community who use data and technology to make positive change in our society.

Here’s the Chi Hack Night presentations from 2016:

200th event celebration!

Derek Eder kicks off Chi Hack Night #200 Derek Eder kicks off Chi Hack Night #200

April 12th, 2016 marked our 200th Chi Hack Night! To celebrate, we held our first ever Lightning talks session with presentations from 9 members of Chi Hack Night about what they’ve done at or learned from our group.

We invited folks to share their Chi Hack Night stories, projects, learnings and congratulations in written form and got 5 submissions.

We also commissioned 200 Chi Hack Night star cookies - each one numbered 1-200 for every event we’ve had. Here’s how they turned out:

200 Star Cookies: one for every Chi Hack Night 200 Star Cookies: one for every Chi Hack Night

2 open data pledges

2016 being an election this year, we saw an opportunity to advocate for open data in more offices of our local government.

With competitive races for Cook County State’s Attorney and Clerk of the Circuit court, we reached out to all candidates with a pledge to, if elected, commit their office to publish open data. We were successful in getting 3 signatures: Donna More and Kim Foxx for State’s Attorney, and Jacob Meister for Clerk of the Circuit Court.

This was a huge success for us, as Kim Foxx, who signed our pledge, won the election for State’s Attorney, and looks to be following through on her promise in her plans to create a new position of Chief Data Officer for her office. We’ll be watching closely how it takes shape in 2017!

Candidates for Cook County State's Attorney: Anita Alvarez (D), Donna More (D), Kim Foxx (D) and Christopher E. K. Pfannkuche (R) Candidates for Cook County State's Attorney: Anita Alvarez (D), Donna More (D), Kim Foxx (D) and Christopher E. K. Pfannkuche (R)

3 civic apps that influenced government policy

This was a banner year for high impact civic technology in Chicago. Three projects from our community had a direct influence over government policy in Chicago in 2016. We influenced new ordinances, worked with environmental advocacy groups and partnered directly with the City.

Claire Micklin testifies in Health Committee in support of a stronger Chicago Recycling Ordinance on July 15, 2016 (Photo by Ald Carlos Ramirez-Rosa) Claire Micklin testifies in Health Committee in support of a stronger Chicago Recycling Ordinance on July 15, 2016 (Photo by Ald Carlos Ramirez-Rosa)

My Building Doesn’t Recycle leads to a stronger recycling ordinance

My Building Doesn’t Recycle is a app that allows Chicago residents of high-density (5 or more residential units) apartment buildings to report that their building management is not providing recycling services. The goal of the app was to get the city to strengthen and enforce the existing recycling law, which it succeeded in doing.

After being picked up by the press and getting the attention of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, My Building Doesn’t Recycle influenced the drafting of a stronger recycling ordinance, which was passed by Chicago City Council and will go into effect January 2017.

Claire Micklin, the project lead, presented at Chi Hack Night after the ordinance was passed. Watch her talk, My Building Doesn’t Recycle: Designing for Policy Change.

PetcokeAlerts.org PetcokeAlerts.org

Petcoke Alerts helps organizers remove hazardous petcoke from their neighborhood

Petcokealerts.org is a text message alert system to inform residents around KCBX Terminals in Chicago’s 10th Ward that windspeed is high, and that they are therefore at increased risk of exposure to petroleum coke (‘petcoke’).

After launching, Petcokealerts.org became a rallying point for the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, who used it as one of many tools to organize for the removal of the petcoke piles.

June 9, 2016, Chicago City Council passed an ordinance mandating that the piles be removed or enclosed and although KCBX tried hard to fight it, in the end they complied. By the time the piles were removed, Petcokealerts.org had nearly 400 subscribers, and had alerted them to high winds on 96 days.

For more, read Ben Wilhelm’s blog post: Petcokealerts.org: Simple tools supporting big objectives.

A slide from Rebecca Jones’ lightning talk on Predicting E. Coli Exceedances on Chicago Beaches A slide from Rebecca Jones’ lightning talk on Predicting E. Coli Exceedances on Chicago Beaches

Partnering with the City to Predict E. Coli levels in Chicago beaches

Chicago has three-dozen beaches that, sometimes, have high E. Coli levels. When do we need to warn the 9 million annual visitors of potentially high E. Coli levels? In 2016, members of Chi Hack Night built an improved statistical model to predict the E. coli levels at Chicago’s beaches.

Built entirely by a team of volunteers from Chicago’s civic tech community, this predictive model was officially adopted by the City of Chicago in May 2016 to help the Park District know when they should issue warnings to swimmers of potentially high levels of bacteria.

For more, read Sean Thorton’s blog post: Taking Predictive Analytics to the Beach.

27 blog posts

We wrote 27 blog posts from 15 authors advocating for issues & policies, recapping presentations & events, and diving into issues regarding volunteer civic hacking.

Here’s the Chi Hack Night blog posts from 2016:

58 video presentations

Scrappers Film Group records at our Chi Hack Night Holiday Party Hacktacular! on Dec 13, 2016 Scrappers Film Group records at our Chi Hack Night Holiday Party Hacktacular! on Dec 13, 2016

With the help of our sponsors, we hired Scrappers Film Group to record and edit high quality videos for our presentations and lightning talks. Our goal in this is to both share and archive the talks and work done at Chi Hack Night for ourselves and others around the world.

We recorded and posted 31 presentations, 26 lightning talks and one promotional video to our new YouTube channel. Since launching, we have logged over 7,700 views and 38,000 minutes of watch time. That’s a lot of civic tech!

26 lightning talks

Chi Hack Night Lightning Talks! Cathy Deng, Eric van Zanten, Rene Paccha, Claire Micklin, Vinesh Kannan and Ben Galewsky. Chi Hack Night Lightning Talks! Cathy Deng, Eric van Zanten, Rene Paccha, Claire Micklin, Vinesh Kannan and Ben Galewsky.

This year, we introduced a new presentation format: Lightning talks. This proved to be a really great way to hear from a variety of perspectives from our community in a short amount of time (each presenter got 2 minutes, though this was not strictly enforced).

It worked out so well, in fact, that we did it three times for a total of 26 talks. You can watch each batch here, or view all 26 on our YouTube playlist.

68 breakout groups using GitHub issues

Breakout groups are how we organize the civic hacking part of our events. The organization and management of these groups has evolved over time, but the premise has remained the same: anyone is free to start a breakout group and every group is self-organized.

To streamline the creation and expiration of these groups, Chi Hack Night member Ethan Hepner led a series of experiments using GitHub issues to keep track of them.

By making it easy to open up a group as a new ‘issue’ or flag it as ‘closed’ when it ends, the number of listed breakout groups has exploded: 68 new groups have been created since we started using it.

This also had the additional benefit of acting as a ‘gateway drug’ for non-developers to start using GitHub, as it is already used heavily by programmers and project managers at Chi Hack Night.

Now, with the help of the GitHub API, the Chi Hack Night breakout groups page is powered completely by GitHub issues. Check it out!

Chi Hack Night breakout groups page Chi Hack Night breakout groups page

We spent $44,673.57 on civic tech in 2016

As open gov and transparency advocates, it’s important that we hold ourselves to the same standards we expect of our government institutions. It is with that in mind that we have decided to publish our full budget for 2016, including itemized sponsor income and event expenses.

The final budget numbers for Chi Hack Night 2016 are in:

Income

Sponsor income $48,486.49
Merch income $560.00
Total income $49,046.49

Expenses

Food expense $24,306.94
Video expense $19,240.00
General expense $1,126.63
Total expenses $44,673.57

We ended with a net difference of $4,372.92, which we will apply towards our events in 2017.

Here’s to 2017!

We have some great things planned for 2017, many of them driven by feedback we’ve gotten directly from our community.

To all of our sponsors: Braintree, Microsoft, DataMade, Dev Bootcamp, Google, UChicago CAPP, Twilio, Metis, Carto and Mozilla Hive Chicago, thank you for supporting us.

To everyone, thank you for being a part of our community.

See you at our next Chi Hack Night: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017!

PS: If your organization is interested in supporting Chi Hack Night, take a look at our 2017 Sponsorship Overview. Join our civic tech party!


About the author


Derek is an entrepreneur, developer and one of the leaders of the civic technology community in Chicago. He is a co-founder and partner at DataMade — a company that tells stories and builds tools with data — and is the lead organizer for Chi Hack Night.