CivicLab is a new nonprofit enterprise dedicated to building, distributing and encouraging the use of new tools for civic engagement and government accountability. We intend to create a space and a place for activists to come together to share, educate and build tools for civic engagement. Our call to service is – Investigate. Educate. Activate.
We want to ask the question: What is civic literacy? What should you know and what should you know how to do to be an engaged and active citizen? We want to TEACH those things. Perhaps these skills might include “How To Read A Budget,” “How To Chair A Meeting,” “Ward 101,” “How Your School Works,” “How To Start A Block Club.” We’d also like to work with master organizers and get them to offer workshops aimed at community organizer and change agents. We’d like to offer these classes at the CivicLab and also online.
We’d like to do RESEARCH. Why do people vote? Why do they NOT vote? Why do people volunteer? How do people learn about current events? We’d like to offer the many academic experts and other seasoned civic engagement practitioners in the region a street-level space to talk about their work – to take it from the academic setting into the community. We’d like to host forums on topics relating to civic engagement and hear from the folks in the neighborhood.
We want to MAKE stuff. We want to build and deploy tools that will help activists and community organizers with the routine and predictable problems they have – so their work is more effective and easier to do. If YOU are a community organizer or change agent, maybe we can help you solve a persistent problem. Contact us and let’s see if we can help you. We want to code APPS FOR ACTIVISTS and release them on a open source basis for people to grab, improve and re-upload. But we also want to build tools that are physical – such as low-cost generators, environmental quality assessment tools for Citizen Science efforts, innovative signage and maps that can help people solve problems.
And we want to be a platform for some ongoing investigations into local government finance. We want to experiment with the best ways to reveal and explain how our city works and how our taxes are collected and used. To start that effort, we have launched the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Illumination project. We are developing data gathering and visualization tools to unpack and explain the TIF program in Chicago on a ward-by-ward basis.
Bill Drew – Chief Data Scientist
Beginning in the late ‘80s, Bill Drew has written database programs for large corporations and small not-for-profit organizations. With a Masters in Urban Planning, Bill worked on regional quality of life survey results for Metro Chicago Information Center. He moved on to association management, philanthropic, brokerage, and insurance clients. His innovative projects include: a speech-enabled email client for vision-impaired users, a rules- based calculation engine for comparative auto insurance quotes, and a data warehouse for a multi-national insurance firm. Bill has served as president of the FoxPro Users and Developers Group since 2010. Currently he is working to provide public access to property tax data with the Tax Integrity and Fairness Alliance. Before entering in the world of data, Bill was immersed in anti-war, civil rights, and labor activism. One of the turning points in his life was a period teaching English as a Second Language. He is fluent in Spanish and continues to be active in political activity on the southwest side of Chicago.
Virginia was the graphic designer of TEDxIIT 2012 and is currently working for TEDxCibeles 2013. She truly believes in the ethos of ‘ideas worth sharing’, and the civic dimension that this encompasses. As an architecture student, communication and idea transmission has become one of her main concerns. She has a keen interest in the future of these areas, particularly through web interfaces and phone app design. Having been enrolled in several student exchange programs worldwide, she has had the opportunity to work with people from many different cultures and backgrounds. France, Spain, United States and Italy, are just some examples of places she has lived.
Lisa Ghisolf – Web Designer
Lisa has over 16 years experience in every aspect of design, and has headed up Gizmo Design for the last ten years. She creates websites, logos and marketing collateral for a variety of local Chicago companies, including equity firms, salons, chiropractors and health organizations, not to mention Allstate and Kraft. Lisa designs, develops and speaks regularly on WordPress and website management and development. You can find her on Twitter at @gizmodesign.
Open Local Illinois is a non-partisan, not-for-profit educational organization, that is dedicated to educating the public on transparent practices in local government, and conducting research on the business of local government entities. We work to educate residents on the practices of their local government entities through research, allowing them to be more informed citizens and voters.
Rob Ross - Research Assistant
Rob is a Ph.D. student in economics at University of Illinois at Chicago. His current research interests include tax policy, urban development and welfare reform.
Carlyn So is an architectural designer with a devoted interest in addressing social equity issues and revitalizing existing buildings. With a passion for understanding how the government can play a more meaningful role in society, especially in her hometown of Chicago, Carlyn often ties planning, community & economic development, and graphic mapping into her projects. She believes design is a powerful problem-solving tool that can enhance public policy as a vehicle for progress, explain complex socio-economic systems and trigger conditions for a more humane society.
Benjamin Sugar – Lead Organizer – The Hacks/Apps 4 Activists Project
Benjamin is a core team member at Between the Bars, a paper based blogging platform for people who are incarcerated. Intellectually, he has been greatly influenced by the work of constructionist learning theorists such as Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick, the design philosophies of John Maeda and Erik Von Hippel, and Ben Shneiderman’s vision for the future of computing, Genex. He has been deeply inspired by the communities created at Sprout and the MIT Center for Civic Media. In coding, Benjamin enjoys working with processing.js, d3, and node,js applications.
Tom has been an educator, activist and champion of civic engagement for most of his adult life – he did his first voter registration campaign in 1972. Tom has started or led twelve nonprofit enterprises in the arts, community development and civic engagement. In 1994 Tom organized “42nd Ward Citizens for Chicago’s Future,” a grassroots effort that was part of a successful regional coalition to stop the expansion of casino gambling into Chicago. He was the founder of the Community Arts Program at Peoples Housing that combined cultural programming with training and micro-enterprise. He has been fighting privatization and leading efforts to inform citizens about the true state of local government finance, corruption and service quality. He was a co-founder of Protect Our Parks, which litigated successfully to stop the Latin School from privatizing part of Lincoln Park in 2007, He was a co-leader of No Games Chicago, which was an all-volunteer citizen’s effort that worked to defeat the bid for the 2016 Olympics. In 2010 he was the Green Party candidate for Cook County Board President. He teaches classes on creativity, public policy and civic engagement for several local universities. Follow @tomstee. LinkIn with Tom.
Shawn is the McCormick Foundation Civics Program resident scholar where he serves as the in-house content expert and voice of program through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the McCormick Foundation, he served as a social studies teacher at the high school level, where he taught American Government, Economics, American History and Chicago History to juniors and seniors at Community High School in West Chicago. He also served as the faculty sponsor of the Junior State of America chapter and the Fed Challenge Team. Healy previously taught at Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin from 1999-2001 and also coached football, basketball and track. A 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin, he holds an MA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in political science and earned a bachelor’s degree with distinction in Political Science, History and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Healy is currently a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago specializing in American and urban politics.
Natalie currently serves as the director of the Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Open Government. She works closely with IIT Chicago-Kent law students in the Center for Open Government Clinic to advise and represent citizens who seek legal assistance in advancing government transparency and accountability.
Prior to joining the Chicago-Kent faculty in June 2009, she was an attorney and community organizer for nonprofit government watchdog organization Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC). While at the Elmhurst-based CAC, she monitored local government bodies for legal compliance with state open government laws and engaged in First Amendment advocacy. She assisted with drafting a publication titled Accessing Government: How Difficult Is It? – a systemic overview of open government laws with recommended statutory and policy reforms for Illinois and four additional states.
Prior to her open government work at CAC, she was a civil litigation attorney for McGuiness, Norris and Williams, a Washington, D.C., law firm. She represented clients in state and federal courts around the country. Most recently, Natalie was the supervising attorney and professor for the Immigration Clinic at Chicago-Kent. She provided business and family-based immigration representation to individual clients and companies.
Natalie received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, spent four years studying and teaching undergraduates in a political science Ph.D. program at Indiana University (Bloomington), and received her J.D. from Cornell Law School. As a Cuban-American attorney fluent in Spanish, she is a member of the National Hispanic Bar Association. She is also a member of the board of governors for the Chicago Council of Lawyers. Director Potts is licensed as an attorney in Illinois and the District of Columbia.
Rebecca is Program Director at Chicago Votes, a non-partisan, way awesome, civic organization created for and by leaders from the city’s Millennial and Hip Hop Generation which aims to engage Chicagoans in the political process. An experienced campaign manager who specializes in field work, volunteer organizing and youth engagement, her passion is finding innovative and fun ways to make democracy hands-on. She has served as the director of citizen outreach with the The Fund for the Public Interest Research Groups in Chicago and Washington, D.C., where she worked primarily with college students advocating and fundraising for issues ranging from gay and consumer rights to environmental protections. She has run competitive electoral campaigns for candidates running for alderman, state representative and committeeman. She is on the board of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, Chicago’s only cooperative grocery store and Progressive Alliance PAC, a political action committee working to elect progressive candidates to office.
Rachel Weber is an Associate Professor in the Urban Planning and Policy Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she teaches courses and conducts research in the fields of economic development and real estate finance. She is also the Associate Director for Research and Program Development at UIC’s Great Cities Institute. Much of her recent work has focused on the design and effectiveness of property-tax based incentives for urban development; recent publications on this topic have appeared in Urban Affairs Review, The Journal of the American Planning Association, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Housing Policy Debate, and Urban Studies. In addition to her academic research agenda, Dr. Weber has served as a consultant to local governments and community-based organizations on issues related to public incentives and neighborhood revitalization and has been a PI on several research and technical assistance grants in this area. She received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and her master’s degree and doctorate in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University.