Smart Chicago

First Submitted By Brendan Roach

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher

General Issues
Science & Technology
Planning & Development
United States
Scope of Influence
Components of this Case
Foodborne Chicago
Parent of this Case
Foodborne Chicago
Start Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Public Hearings/Meetings
New Media

Chicago's 'Array of Things' is a collaborative effort among leading scientists, universities, local government, and communities to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use.

Problems and Purpose

The ‘Internet of Things’ - the interconnection of various devices over the internet or private network - offers policymakers the opportunity to collect and share massive amounts of data about constituents’ behavior to guide and improve public well-being. Seeking to capitalize upon this opportunity, the City of Chicago decided to partner with the Urban Center for Computation and Data, itself a joint venture of the Computational Institute at the University of Chicago, and Argonne National Laboratory. The Array of Things (AoT) is a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that will be installed around Chicago to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. AoT will essentially serve as a “fitness tracker” for the city, measuring factors that impact livability in Chicago such as climate, air quality and noise.” [1]

While the opportunities afforded by the Internet of Things are significant for cities, so too are the risks - particularly around privacy. To address these concerns, the Smart Chicago Collaborative conducted a community engagement process to create a governance and privacy policy responsive to the concerns of residents in communities that would be hosting the sensors. This process was also intended to raise awareness of the project and identify community needs to inform technical development of the sensors. [2]

Background History and Context

Before deploying the Array of Things, planners sought to gain community buy-in through civic engagement. This public input process entailed a series of community meetings held throughout Chicago in the summer of 2016, the deployment of online feedback forms, and the use of the tool, developed by project partner OpenGov Foundation. [3]

The Smart Chicago Collaborative, which conducted the civic engagement work,  was founded in 2011. The Collaborative received initial funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), an initiative aimed at improving broadband adoption.[4] The organization is a partnership among the City of Chicago, the Chicago Community Trust, and the MacArthur Foundation. [5]

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The civic engagement work was conducted in partnership with the City of Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology and the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), which is developing the Array of Things. Additional operational support was provided by the OpenGov Foundation, which developed one of the three tools for collecting public input (see below), Chicago Public Libraries, and the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. [6]The Array of Things project is being led by the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), an partnership of the Computational Institute at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. [7]. Financial support for the development and deployment of the sensors is provided by the National Science Foundation, the Chicago Innovation Fund, and Argonne National Laboratory. [8]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The Array of Things Civic Engagement works in parallel with the development of the actual sensor network - participation is functionally opened up to residents in all communities that will be hosting Array of Things sensors. Members of the public were free to contribute through any of three channels (discussed below).

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Community participation was sought through three primary channels: public meetings, online forms, and the tool, developed by the OpenGov Foundation. Two public meetings were held in June 2016 at public libraries located near proposed Array of Things deployment sites. At each of these meetings, approximately 40 local residents attended. At these meetings, a brief presentation on the Array of Things was followed by a community question and answer session and information on other information sources and feedback opportunities.

In addition, the Smart Chicago Collaborative sought feedback through the OpenGov Foundation’s MyMadison tool. is a platform that allows registered users (those providing a name and valid email address) to markup and comment on proposed policies. These public annotations are available to all users of MyMadison. To ensure commenting opportunities for those who wished to provide private feedback, Smart Chicago also deployed several brief online forms which did not require user registration. In total, the Smart Chicago Collaborative team received 36 annotations from 7 registered MyMadison users, and 9 comments submitted anonymously via online form. This feedback included comments submitted by the Future of Privacy Forum, the Fair Allocation in Runways (FAiR) Coalition, and the Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security. [9]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

After receiving public comments, the Smart Chicago team then synthesized the concerns raised by commenters to create a draft privacy policy. This draft policy was further informed by input solicited from independent organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. [10] Input from the civic engagement work helped planners clarify policies around data ownership, personally-identifiable information, and incorporating new partners.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The Array of Things Civic Engagement project demonstrates an innovative approach for user-centered design in civic technology. The multi-pronged approach to civic engagement, with opportunities for face-to-face feedback, anonymous public comment, and collaborative online annotation, ensured more robust participation than if organizers had chosen one means of public engagement. The broad scope of partners, including trusted anchor institutions such as public libraries, helped to incentivize community attendance at public meetings. At the same time, the relatively paltry numbers of online comments illustrates the challenges of spurring public debate around perceived ‘technical’ issues.

See Also

Social Media

SMS (Text Messaging)


“Array of Things Civic Engagement Report,” August 2016. Accessed 5/19/2017.

“Release of the Array of Things Civic Engagement Report,” August 17 2016. Accessed 5/19/2017.

“Prioritizing Civic Engagement When Implementing the Internet of Things,” Glynis Startz, Smart Chicago Collaborative, July 29 2016. Accessed 5/19/2017.

“Array of Things Governance and Privacy Policy,” August 2016. Accessed 5/19/2017.

“5 Key Themes to Consider When Implementing Internet of Things Initiatives,” Stephen Goldsmith, Government Technology, June 18 2016. Accessed 5/19/2017.

“Systematizing Privacy and Governance of Data and the Internet of Things,” Glynis Startz, Smart Chicago Collaborative, August 8 2016. Accessed 5/19/2017.










[10] Ibid.

External Links


Lead image: "City of Chicago employees working on the initial Array of Things smart sensor installation" Urban Center for Computation and Data 

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