Seeing open government & civic innovation as drivers of economic development
By Daniel X. O’Neil, Executive Director, Smart Chicago Collaborative

Yesterday was a big day in Illinois for open government and innovation. The Illinois Innovation Network website was launched, the second quarterly Illinois Innovation Index revealed new data on STEM education and employment, and Gov. Pat Quinn announced the four winning entries of the Illinois Open Technology Challenge. The Smart Chicago Collaborative has worked over the last few months with the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition to run the Illinois Open Technology Challenge in order to bring governments, developers, and communities together in a common mission to use public data and create digital tools that will serve today’s civic needs and promote economic development.

There has been a lot of action in the open data space in the Chicago area, going back at least to the Apps For Metro Chicago competition where the State, County, and City governments collaborated to publish data and award prizes for apps.

But before we launched this project, there was no sustained effort to encourage this work in the rest of the great state of Illinois.

In many cases, like the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, there was already a wealth of published data. In others like Belleville, we were doing greenfields open data work with great city employees who were eager to get involved. We met tech people in Rockford who were already doing great things around civic apps and connected with the robust incubator community at the Research Park in Champaign.

We spent months traveling around the state, organizing events and connecting people. The common thread, everywhere we went, was a thirst to use technology to make lives better inside communities.

We tried to direct that energy into apps and websites that could support the formation of businesses and stimulate the state economy. The civic technology sector of the technology industry is a burgeoning field, and we have the talent, focus, and policies for it to continue to be centered here in Illinois.

The Illinois Open Technology Challenge is accelerating innovation in the state. Here’s a look at the winner entries, each of which won $15,000:

  • State of Illinois: iApplied, a web app that tracks job application activity in an effort to help government unemployment security workers streamline the review process for unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Belleville: Belleville Code, a centralized easy-to-navigate website containing the Revised City Ordinances of Belleville. An essential tool for anyone interested in economic development and entrepreneurship, the website’s content was previously only available within 1,000 pages of PDFs housed on the City Clerk’s website.
  • Champaign: C-U There!, a “tour guide” app for iPhone that features local news and event feeds, comprehensive parking location information and directories of historic landmarks and local businesses in Champaign-Urbana.
  • SSMMA: South Suburbs Housing Investment Tool, an online tool that allows users to analyze, score and rank potential housing development projects according to their proposed location. The tool also superimposes the data on a fully navigable map.

We’ve just begun our statewide efforts to stimulate economic growth through and civic innovation through data and technology. Stay tuned for more!

Did You Know? 

Since launching the Illinois Open Data Portal in June of 2011 the volume of data released through the State’s data clearinghouse has increased more than four-fold. The rate of growth in the volume of data released has accelerated since Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order in September of 2012 to promote shared data-release standards across different levels of government. The launch of the Open Technology Challenge in October 2012 continued the State’s push towards the release and use of public data and saw the participation of four municipal partners whose data is now available through the portal. These efforts to raise awareness of the portal and its civic uses have substantially increased the number of monthly views, starting at just under 2,000 two years ago and peaking to more than 12,000 during the Open Technology Challenge.

Visit the New Illinois Innovation Network:

As mentioned above, yesterday marked the launch of the new Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) website, an initiative of the Illinois Innovation Council that will serve as a platform to both connect and celebrate start-ups, innovation-driven enterprises, service providers, research and academic institutions, and community leaders across the state. The IIN offers tools and resources, including an interactive map, to accelerate the growth of businesses and industries in the state and spur innovation.

The IIN website will also be the new home of the Illinois Innovation Index, which will allow for users to better search, comment on, and share this important data. To mark the launch of this new website, the Chicagoland Chamber of CommerceChicago Metropolitan Agency for PlanningIllinois Science & Technology Coalition, and World Business Chicago have released the second quarterly installment of the Innovation Index. It can be accessed on the new site at

Watch and Listen:

Gov. Quinn’s announcement of the Illinois Open Data Portal

Chicago’s open data vision


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