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The Civic Technologist's Guide to Helping Out During the COVID-19 Outbreak (Chicagoland Edition)

Published on Mar 23, 2020 by Derek Eder

The COVID-19 virus
The COVID-19 virus

If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in, or already part of Chicago’s civic tech community. With everyone sheltering in place, the tools we use and information that we share have never been more critical.

Well, if you know about technology and its impact on civic life, this is your moment: you are someone who can be a leader in your own community and to the people that you love.

This is a guide for volunteering with Chi Hack Night during the COVID-19 outbreak. This is a global crisis that affects everyone, though it has and will hurt some people much more than others.

We’ve broken this guide into six steps, which we recommend you do in order. They are:

  1. Self-isolation is critical and everyone should abide by it
  2. Take care of yourself and those around you
  3. Stay informed by trusted sources
  4. Volunteer at Chi Hack Night
  5. List of ongoing COVID-19 breakout group projects
  6. Let us know how Chi Hack Night can support you

1. Self-isolation is critical and everyone should abide by it

The COVID-19 virus is here in Chicago and is spreading rapidly. Now that containment is no longer realistic, the best thing we can do is collectively practice social distancing to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the outbreak. The more people that do it, the more effective it will be, so please take it seriously and encourage those around you to do the same.

2. Take care of yourself and those around you

Like the safety videos played before takeoff on an airplane, you need to secure our own “oxygen masks” first before assisting others. If you are not stably-housed and fed or financially secure, let alone sick, you are less likely to be in a position to help anyone in the coming weeks and months. Before you go out organizing and hacking, you need to take care of yourself and those around you first.

Next, think of the people in our outer circle. The elderly neighbors down the street. Your uncle you haven’t talked to in a while. Reach out to them next and see if they need anything. Hey, you have nothing else going on - might as well reconnect with some estranged relatives or officially meet those neighbors of yours.

A lot of people are out of work now, and federal relief may not come for a while or be enough. Help and where you can. Know what programs are available and point people to them. Here’s a few resources:

3. Stay informed by trusted sources

Next, it’s important to stay informed. The news changes every day and there are no shortage of sources out there that you are probably already reading. The biggest challenge here is knowing what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. Here’s a few suggestions we have:

4. Volunteer at Chi Hack Night

If you’re set on the above, we would love your help at Chi Hack Night. We are organized online, though our focus is on Chicagoland. Here’s how you can participate in Remote Chi Hack Nights:

  1. Join the Chi Hack Night Slack (What is Slack?):
  2. Once you’re in, you’ll have access to a number of channels:
    • #chihacknight - Our main channel used to share news, announcements and presentations from Chi Hack Night. Only admins can post here, but anyone can respond to a thread or give emoji reactions.
    • #chihacknight-remote - For conducting our remote Chi Hack Night events.
    • #intros - For new Slack members to introduce themselves to our group.
    • #tech - For asking technical & programming questions and providing technical support.
    • #jobs - For posting job opportunities and inquiring about job opportunities.
    • #questions - For asking questions about Chi Hack Night and civic tech generally.
    • #watercooler - Formerly known as #random. For posts about civic tech news, politics and other announcements.
    • #covid19-response - For sharing news and opportunities to help out during the COVID-19 crisis.

5. List of ongoing COVID-19 breakout group projects

Researching local government pages to be updated in the wake of COVID-19
In the wake of COVID-19, most government agencies have transitioned to remote work.

The goal of this group is to find instances where local gov agencies haven’t updated their pages on their website with how things are going to work now that they are mostly working remote.

COVID-19 Digital Rapid Response
Lots of inaccurate COVID-19 information, some of it dangerous, is getting pushed out via social media and other types of digital communications. Some misinformation is shared by people on their own social media accounts, but misinformation can also spread by people posting misleading or inaccurate responses to legitimate questions posed by others on social media.

The COVID-19 Digital Rapid Response Team will develop and execute strategies to mitigate the spread of misinformation and amplify the spread of important information from trusted sources.

Technical support for Chicago Mutual Aid Groups
A number of Mutual Aid groups have formed in Chicago recently. The goal of this breakout group is to connect with as many of them as we can and offer our technical, operational and data expertise to them so they can reach and assist more people.

For updates on our latest projects, check out our COVID-19 breakout groups >

6. Let us know how Chi Hack Night can support you

We know that these are challenging times for everyone. One of the best things about the Chi Hack Night community is that it is full of wonderful people who want to help out as best they can. We know that we can be a key base of support for our community. We at Chi Hack Night want to make sure that we support our community in the most meaningful ways in the coming weeks and months.

To do that well we want to hear from you: what support would you like to see Chi Hack Night provide? …Is it building on our remote Hack Night, is it a group chat, is it playing a larger role in some specific type of response effort?

Let us know by filling out this survey >

About the author

President, Chi Hack Night