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2021 Post-election community feedback results

Published on Feb 26, 2021 by Sam Evans , Derek Eder

Chi Hack Night 2021 Post-Election Community Feedback
Chi Hack Night 2021 Post-Election Community Feedback

Following the 2016 presidential election, Chi Hack Night held a post-election community feedback session. Four years later and with another presidential transition, we decided to hold a remote community feedback session to discuss the same questions as we assess the challenges and opportunities for the Chi Hack Night Community in 2021.

Similar to 2016, our goals were:

  • To take the ‘temperature’ of our community after a major consequential event
  • To identify topics & ideas of shared interest
  • To bring in a broader pool of people to Chi Hack Night
  • To create opportunities for new relationships and working groups to form

We structured the community feedback around the same four broad post-election questions we asked 4 years ago:

  1. How are you feeling about community and government right now?
  2. There is a lot of anger and resentment in Chicago and America today. How can we as a community of civic technologists direct it towards positive action?
  3. What don’t you understand about our government and civil society that you’d like to learn more about?
  4. What groups or organizations need help the most, and how can we help them?

Organizing a remote community feedback session

Since Chi Hack Night went remote in March of 2020, we’ve had to adapt to a completely online forum. Over the past year, we’ve relied heavily on platforms like Zoom and Gather.Town to create these online spaces and have used them to host large community discussions, like the one we did on Actions Towards Racial Justice in June 2020.

We organized our community feedback session in a similar way, with a Zoom call that was open for anyone to attend. On Feb 16, 24 people attended our event.

Here’s the agenda:

  1. Framing of tonight’s conversation - what are we trying to do here? (10 min)
    1. Remembering 4 years ago
    2. Ground rules, review of our code of conduct
    3. Review prompts
      1. How are you feeling about community and government right now?
      2. There is a lot of anger and resentment in Chicago and America today. How can we as a community of civic technologists direct it towards positive action?
      3. What don’t you understand about our government and civil society that you’d like to learn more about?
      4. What groups or organizations need help the most, and how can we help them?
    4. Everything gets written down on our digital white board: https://miro.com/app/board/o9J_lUZ9BlA=/
    5. Introduce facilitators
      1. Michael Chladek
      2. Sean Watland
      3. Emily Drevets
      4. Claire Micklin
  2. Split into groups of 4-6 (depending on attendance). Each group spends 10 minutes on each board. Groups will stay together and we’ll send a message when its time to switch to a different topic (40 min)
  3. Come back together and share out whiteboards (10 min)
    1. Meta-comments /discussion

After reviewing the topics and establishing the code of conduct for the evening, we split into 4 different breakout groups of 4-5 people each, led by our amazing volunteer facilitators and Chi Hack Night members.

Each facilitator had access to a shared digital white board with the 4 discussion topics. In lieu of a physical board for attendees to place their stickied responses, our facilitators rotated topics, recording the thoughts and conversations that came up in their groups.

While nothing beats the in person experience, it’s awesome to enjoy a digital discussion with each other.

Results: broad themes

Each group spent about 10 minutes discussing each topic, and afterwards we rejoined our main group to discuss the responses.

After a year of unrest, as well as a pandemic that left many isolated, themes of disillusionment, a cautious optimism for the future, and a strong desire to reconnect with one another jumped out across the board.

Chi Hack Night 2021 Post-Election Community Feedback
Our final digital white board with feedback across four questions/themes

Here’s are some highlights from each each topic:

1. How are you feeling about community and government right now?

  • Some breathed a sigh of relief at the new administration’s efforts, such as how it is tackling the pandemic and vaccine rollout…
  • Others maintained that a lack of urgency and aggression is an omen of sticking to the status quo, with the limitations and political desires of our leaders getting in the way of progress.
  • The Jan 6 attack on our nation’s capital was also fresh on our minds and left many feeling anxious about the fractures that are all too apparent in our country.
  • Some felt that we cannot rely on the government to effect the change we need in our communities
  • Regardless of government response, some pointed out the continued importance of technology in shaping our country’s future

2. There is a lot of anger and resentment in Chicago and America today. How can we as a community of civic technologists direct it towards positive action?

  • With a new political party at the helm, working not to react to anger with fear but to identify how we can find common goals and establish a unity between disillusioned americans and the broader community
  • We need to really listen to organizations already doing the work in our communities and use data to establish areas with the most potential for change and an equitable distribution of our collective resources
  • Focusing on local needs especially would help people feel more engaged
  • Many feel a need to address the power that social media, and the adtech that powers them, have in shaping public opinion on both local and national elections

3. What don’t you understand about our government and civil society that you’d like to learn more about? (there’s a lot!)

  • The structure of government - how local, state and federal relate to each other; why we’ve been tied to a two party system; why things seem slow to change
  • Voting systems, ballot counting, the electoral college, gerrymandering and so forth
  • How does the government fund internal technological innovation, and how does it recruit young talent?
  • How does money play a role in government? From lobbyists, the enigma of small donations, the advent of self-funded billionaire candidates (as seen in Illinois with our last two governors)
  • …basically everything about our government, and how to make the way it works more accessible to everyday people

4. What groups or organizations need help the most, and how can we help them?

  • There seemed to be a consensus that there are already many groups in Chicago doing impactful work effectively
  • Mutual aid and community development groups have multiplied to pick up the burdens created by the pandemic.
  • As always, we should listen to our neighbors, and the work they are already doing before we make assumptions on how folks should get helped.
  • Making ourselves available to leveraging data and assist in creating resource maps to link together the massive network of orgs and the diverse groups they serve can be an area to hone in

Where we stand

After the 2016 forum, something we recognized was how “our melting pot of technologists, journalists, researchers, government workers, students, advocates and curious citizens creates a space for innovation and collaboration that is both rare and valuable”.

We created a list of goals that we felt supported our core values to use technology to support and serve the public.

Namely:

  1. Be a space for discussion and cross-sector connections
  2. Restore faith in our government and civic institutions
  3. Commit to fight disenfranchisement
  4. Facilitate community conversations online, offline & across political, social and geographic boundaries
  5. Commit to an aggressive campaign to diversify Chi Hack Night
  6. Get outside of our civic tech bubble
    • Look into satellite / partner events
    • Develop Chi Hack Night press kit to broaden our reach
  7. Through our presenters and breakout groups, seek to improve:
    • Digital skills (development, implementation, data, cryptography)
    • Civic literacy (how government works and how to participate)
    • Media literacy (data journalism, visualization)
  8. Provide expertise and guidance on the ethics of using open data & building technology
  9. Maximize our impact through specialization (tech, policy, events, trainings)

After this latest post election forum, these goals remain at the forefront of what we want to achieve with the speakers and events we host from week to week.

Going remote has been challenging; we recognize there is much work being done and to be done as we navigate a world post pandemic and a country reeling from the effects of division.

We hope to continue to provide a platform that uplifts the tremendous efforts of Chicago’s civic organizations and to be able to further build on and expand the vast network of resources to make civic engagement easier for everyone.

And the beat goes on

This last election and the 2016 election both required a great deal of reflection and adapting to change. The pandemic of the last year has required Chi Hack Night to adapt, and there will no doubt be more changes along the way as the world reopens.

What the “new normal” will look like depends on what we are willing to accept and the work that we are willing to do. There is opportunity to see remarkable change.

Especially after a year of isolation, it’s more important than ever to connect with each other - to engage in the conversations and efforts to build on the momentum and energy that was so painstakingly cultivated by orgs in civic tech and beyond.

Whether we’re online or reunited in person, we remain committed to celebrating that work and the people behind it. We look forward to many more conversations and to build even more connections between our Chi Hack Night community and the organizations doing great work in our city!

Grateful to everyone for participating. We’ll see you next Tuesday.


About the authors

Sam Evans

Sam Evans
Chi Hack Night Board Member

Derek Eder

Derek Eder
President, Chi Hack Night