Connect Chicago

#mozsprint 2017 Interview Series

Denise (@DKLinn) is a Program Analyst for Smart Chicago where she manages Connect Chicago and is an advocate for digital inclusion. She was selected to join the current cohort of Mozilla Open Leaders for her work with Connect Chicago and her readiness to work openly.

I interviewed Denise to learn more about Connect Chicago and how you can help June 1–2 at #mozsprint.

What is Connect Chicago?

Connect Chicago is a collaborative, citywide digital inclusion initiative. We work across nonprofit partners, advocates, and community members to identify gaps in local Internet access and digital training so we can co-build & support solutions to fill those gaps. To do this, we have Meetups and we host neighborhood participatory design sessions with partners.

Though Chicago has a promising tech and innovation sector, inequity persists. For instance, here in Chicago there are an estimated 220,00 households without at-home Internet access — about 1 in 5 households. Many households rely primarily on mobile devices and public connections to apply for jobs, schools, and get civic information — a situation that compromises digital citizenship and economic mobility.

Why did you start working on Connect Chicago?

When I moved to Chicago in 2015 and became part of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, I knew Connect Chicago would be one of the projects I would be most passionate about! I’ve previously worked on Internet access and adoption issues as a researcher, federal employee, and national volunteer in places across the U.S., so I felt lucky to be able to serve my new home in a similar way.

I’ve been humbled and inspired by Chicago’s digital inclusion community. This community is comprised of nonprofits, companies, academics, teachers, planning coalitions, museum workers, churches, social enterprises, as well as major citywide institutions like the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Housing Authority, and World Business Chicago. There is a palpable feeling across people and groups knit together by our common mission — that what we can accomplish together is greater than the sum of our parts and we all have power to help make Chicago a digitally inclusive, connected city.

Why bring this project to the Open Leadership Cohort and the Mozilla Global Sprint?

I think Connect Chicago is a great example of how a relatively less technical project can benefit from adopting principles of open source project work. Applying “working open” habits and project principles to local digital inclusion work has been been a great way to crowdsource information, gather expertise from many valued local collaborators, check our assumptions, and increase momentum around this cause.

Also, it’s worth noting that digital inclusion is a shared value of all people who work in and with technology — whether you’re a mission-driven volunteer developer who participates in the Global Sprint every year or a computer trainer in Chicago Public Housing! In this respect, it felt right to bring a project like this to the Global Sprint. While Connect Chicago already benefits from vibrant community of local collaborators, this was a great opportunity to expand our collaborator community even further.

What does digital inclusion mean to you?

At its heart, digital inclusion is about democratizing technology and the power that comes with technology. I often cite the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s definition: “Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)…” Read the full definition here.

What kind of skills do I need to help you?

Passion is the only prerequisite for helping with this project!

Throughout 2017, the Connect Chicago community has been doing a lot of asset mapping (think: collecting information about free WiFi and public computing centers, taking inventory of local partners/programs, etc.). Both local and global collaborators are welcome to help us online. If you’re interested in digital inclusion, are familiar with successful or innovative ideas in the field, know about free online or Chicago-based resources and training material, or simply want to learn more, you’re welcome to join us!

How can others join your project at #mozsprint 2017?

To get started, I recommend that you read the Project Roadmap and fill out this form so we can keep in touch and point you to the collaboration channels you’re most comfortable using. Our existing channels for sharing & co-working are in-person meetings, Google docs, and Slack.

Anyone interested in participating in person during the Global Sprint can email me directly at! On Thursday during business hours I will be online for the Sprint in the Washington D.C. area and on Friday during business hours I will be online and in Chicago with my fellow local Open Leadership Cohort members, David Bild of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Priya Shah from the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology. To join to the local Chicago Sprint, register HERE.

What meme or gif best represents your project?

The gif equivalent to this project is a dancing Leslie Knope.

Join us wherever you are June 1–2 at the Mozilla Global Sprint to work on Connect Chicago and many other projects! Join a diverse network of scientists, educators, artists, engineers and others in person and online to hack and build projects for a health Internet. Get your tickets now!