Apps for Metro Chicago
Metropolitan Chicago Information Center pushes tech workers to produce apps for the greater good.
A few years ago, a growing spate of civic organizations across the country started throwing app contests. These competitions award a cash prize to an iPhone or smartphone app that aids a community—whether by locating the nearest train station or providing public-school profiles at the click of a button. The City of Chicago wanted to jump on the bandwagon.
But, just as quickly as the contests grew in popularity, they fizzled. “The apps that were created weren’t sustainable,” says Kathryn Auerbach, external relations director for Metro Chicago Information Center, a nonprofit that collects and aggregates data. “The apps reflected what the developers thought the community needed, or what they thought they could sell, but not the dynamic needs of a neighborhood.”
MCIC president Virginia Carlson, a strong proponent of civic apps, took note of the problem; she offered to take the reins and find a solution.
The MCIC started to compile resources for outreach, marketing and long-term support. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation and Chicago Community Trust, the MCIC kicked off the contest in late June. Since the launch, the MCIC and its partners have forged relationships with Google and IBM, and local established tech companies.
The nonprofit believes the contest will prove that the civic tech field offers untapped opportunities.
“We’re trying to plant in [app makers’] minds that there’s a possibility of real, tangible partnerships with government and nonprofit that is economically viable,” Auerbach says.
Potential app makers can go to appsformetrochicago.com to utilize data culled by Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the State of Illinois, Cook County and the City of Chicago. The 250 data sets include locations of bike racks, TIF projection reports and popular fiction titles at Chicago Public Library.
Anyone can enter an app and vie for $50,000 in prizes. After experts determine the top few apps, the public votes—a system that, the MCIC hopes, creates an app that the community truly needs.
There’s only one problem: “There’s a pretty quick turnaround,” Auerbach says. “When Mayor Emanuel came into office, he really wanted the contest to be part of his first hundred days.”
Rolling deadlines began in early August and end in December. Go to appsformetrochicago.com to cast your vote.