The Chicago School of Data— or, simply, “the ecosystem project” was born out of the MacArthur Foundation’s great work in funding and shepherding data intermediaries for Chicago nonprofits over the last few decades.

The discipline of using data to make lives better in Chicago goes back to at least as far as Jane Addams, and her work in mapping tuberculosis outbreaks. More recently, the Metro Chicago Information Center, existence from 1990 to 2012, served as a central place for neighborhood groups, nonprofits, and other institutions to go for classic data intermediary work. These functions—holding and describing data, interpreting data for constituents, performing technical work on datasets—have been split among a number of organizations in the city.

During this same period, there has been an increase in the number and sophistication of players in the space. Lots of this is centered around the University of Chicago, some can be mapped back to the focus on data in the Obama presidential campaign, and the Emanuel administration has pushed forward lots of data generation and analysis efforts. Great work has come out of places like DePaul, Woodstock, and LISC Chicago. Smart Chicago has emerged as an important and learned worker in the space as well.

Then there’s the vast hundreds of organizations that use data to do their jobs in feeding the hungry, providing beds for the homeless, arts & culture for the masses, and so on. With months of outreach, we were able to pull together a unique and deep grouping of great workers.

In short, there has been an abundance of effort, an eruption of growth, an increase in funded projects, but a paucity of alignment in the sphere of using data to serve people in Chicago. This project seeks to change that.

Smart Chicago

This project is run by Smart Chicago, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. We work on increasing access to the Internet, improving skills for using Internet, and developing meaningful products from data that measurably contribute to the quality of life of residents in our region and beyond.

We are a start up that was founded in part by our municipal government and nurtured by some of its most venerable institutions. Our founding partners are the City of Chicago, the John D. and Catherine T. MacAruthr Foundation, and The Chicago Community Trust. As a funding collaborative, we help bring together municipal, philanthropic, and corporate investments in civic innovation.


The MacArthur Foundation

This project was conceived and is fully funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Core Stakeholders Group

We’ve assembled a core working group consisting of the City of ChicagoMacArthur Foundation, Cook County, and LISC Chicago to advise us and guide our work.

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Participating organizations

We’ve heard from hundreds of people from more than 150 participating organizations in the course of our work, which began in December 2013.

Project team

Take a look at the project page on the Smart Chicago website for a complete list of the people who have brought this project together.


Questions about the Chicago School of Data Project? Write to Dan O’Neil or call (773) 960-6045.