Civic ScopeAthon

About the event

Use Data. Solve Problems. Do good.

South Side Civic a CAPP-student led group is partnering with UChicago’s Institute of Politics (IOP), Department of Computer Science, and the Harris School's CAPP program to host the Third Annual UChicago Civic ScopeAthon!

While traditional hackathons are about writing code, a scopeathon focuses on understanding the purpose and use of technology in helping solve problems. Before anyone writes a line of code, it’s crucial to understand what a technology solution needs to accomplish. This understanding bridges developers and organization representatives, and the scopeathon strengthens this cross-discipline awareness.

What is Our Goal?

The ScopeAthon Mission

The main objectives of the ScopeAthon are to form cross-functional teams to scope out problems faced by civic organizations, break the problems down into manageable parts and develop a plan to address them. The solutions may or may not be entirely tech-oriented, or only parts of the solution may have a tech component.

The event brings together leaders of civic organizations, students, and community members to learn about civic hacking, civic problems, and how to work in teams to form a solution. Participants come from various backgrounds, including, but not limited to, computer science, political science and public policy, economics, geography, visual art, civic innovation and leadership, etc.

  • Learn and exercise problem-scoping skills
  • Meet civic leaders in active organizations
  • Work on real problems
  • Contribute to the civic-tech community

Keynote Speaker: Denice Ross

Solving Civic Problems with Data

Denice W. Ross is a Public Interest Technology Fellow at New America. She specializes in data transparency and civic engagement, with a focus on action at the local level.

Before joining New America, Ross was a senior advisor in the Obama White House, where she leveraged data and innovation to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of community-based federal programs. As a presidential innovation fellow in 2014, she co-founded the White House Police Data Initiative, one of the most tangible responses to the 21st Century Policing Task Force report, and she worked with the Department of Energy on crowdsourcing private-sector data to improve community resilience in disaster-impacted areas. Earlier, she served as director of enterprise innovation for the City of New Orleans, where she built a digital services team and established open data as the cornerstone for performance management and public engagement.

Prior to her roles in government, Ross co-directed the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC), a non-profit data intermediary and member of the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership. When Hurricane Katrina propelled New Orleans into the national spotlight, Ross collaborated with Brookings to track the city’s recovery through The New Orleans Index. In addition, she actively participated in numerous post-Katrina community planning initiatives, and co-founded the first new childcare center after the storm.

Denice Ross will speak on Friday, October 6, 2017 in Ryerson Laboratory Room 251. The time is 5:30 p.m.

Workshops: Problem-Scoping Toolkit

Workshop 1: Problem Discovery with Matt Gee

Workshop 2: Solution Mapping with Rayid Ghani

Workshop 3: Making the case for a data-oriented approach Alex Engler

ScopeAthon Schedule

Friday, October 6th

5:30 p.m.

Keynote Speech: Denice Ross

6:30 p.m.

Organization Introductions

7:30 p.m.

Networking Reception in the Tea Room

Saturday, October 7th

9:30 a.m.

Breakfast & Registration

10:00 a.m.

Kick-Off Speech

10:15 a.m.

Organization Presentation

10:30 a.m.

Workshop 1: Problem Discovery with Matt Gee

12:00 p.m.

Organizational Leaders Lunch / Introduction to Public Data Lunch & Learn

1:00 p.m.

Workshop 2: Mapping the Solution with Rayid Ghani

2:00 p.m.

Workshop 3: Making the case for a data-oriented approach with Alex Engler

2:50 p.m.

Presentation Guidelines

3:00 p.m.

Work Session

5:00 p.m.

Competition Presentations

6:00 p.m.

Dinner/Judges' Deliberation

7:00 p.m.

Award Ceremony


I Grow Chicago

Mission: I Grow Chicago aims to create an environment to connect and belong in order to foster wellness, justice, and dignity for all. Through sustainable farming and educational programs in nutrition, movement yoga and the arts, we foster creativity, wellness and empowerment for individuals in the community as a whole.
Challenge: I Grow Chicago is developing a case management system to better track our community's successes and needs. They are looking for help developing key metrics they should be tracking, the best system to use, and an implementation timeline and scope. Because they hire primarily from the Englewood community, a large barrier for this project is computer literacy of staff. A large part of this project will be in determining a system with an easy user interface and in staff training and development.

Upworld Inc

Mission: Upworld Inc is committed to helping young adults discover their inner greatness and potential to be personally and professionally successful. Upworld Inc provides training in 21st century skills which have proven to be essential for success, yet are not provided in traditional education systems. Our programs are real-life, team-based, hands-on, and internationally focused so that program participants can expand their horizons, explore their passions and skills, and acquire critical life and professional skills.
Challenge: The need to better find job opportunities for the students that have gone through the program and better track both those and their outcomes.

Housing Choice Partners

Mission: Where people live has a direct impact on their opportunities in life. Expanding the housing choices for very low-income residents, from high poverty and racially segregated areas to neighborhoods of opportunity, is the primary means to realize our goal; to be sure that all residents have a chance to participate in the economic vitality of the region, become self-sufficient over time, realize better health outcomes, and provide their children with access to better performing schools and employment opportunities, in order to reduce the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Challenge: How best we can predict outcomes for our clients who move to areas of better opportunity based on proven methods that correlate life outcomes with neighborhood factors

Operation HOPE Small Business Empowerment Program

Mission: The Operation HOPE Small Business Empowerment Program is designed for aspiring entrepreneurs from low-wealth neighborhoods. We combine business training and financial counseling with lending services so our clients get all the tools andresources they need to make their dreams a reality. Our program uplifts underserved neighborhoods by promoting our clients’ success and fueling the creation of jobs within the community.

Challenge: Monitoring and understanding how to improve programming by creating a user oriented tracking system for the startup accelerator

Presence Health

Mission: We will be a leader in transforming health care by delivering clinical excellence, outstanding value and exceptional experience to achieve better health for our communities

Challenge: Use public data about Illinois communities, including demographic, economic, geospatial, and health data, to provide health care workers with meaningful, targeted insights about a patient’s environmental risk factors based on where they live.

Latin United Community Housing Association

Mission: LUCHA (the Spanish word for “struggle”) advances housing as a human right by empowering communities- particularly the Latino and Spanish-speaking populations- through advocacy, education, affordable housing development and comprehensive housing services.

Challenge: Our communities face health disparities, specifically with diabetes, mental health, and asthma. As a housing and community-empowerment organization, we seek to find ways to help reduce these gaps.

Community Investment Corporation

Mission: Community Investment Corporation (CIC) is the Chicago metropolitan area’s leading lender for the acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable rental housing. CIC financing provides badly-needed investment in credit-starved communities and ensures affordable housing for Chicago’s workforce. CIC’s innovative financial programs make the Chicago region a better place to live, work, and do business.

Challenge: The housing boom prior to the financial crisis allowed for a large number of condominiums to be purchased with fradulent mortgages. The resulting legal and physical issues were so insoluble that, in 2010, the Illinois legislature enacted the Distressed Condominium Property Act to resolve them. Proactively finding distressed condominiums could improve the odds that the buildings can be reclaimed before they deteriorate to the extent that demolition is necessary.

Open Book Project @ Institute for Positive Living

Mission: The Mission of the Institute for Positive Living is to promote the quality of community life with special focus on helping families solve educational, social and economic problems. The purpose of the Open Book Program is to create a love of reading and develop an appreciation for the world of ideas. Unlike other literacy-focused programs, Open Book does not teach children to read. Instead, all of its activities are designed to promote reading as a source of fulfillment, a learning tool and a necessity for personal growth and development.

Challenge: We want to address how we can expand the Reading program outside of the development we are in and reconsider the target audienc of the program. For example, should the program focus specifically on children with learning diabilities?


Denice Ross

Denice W. Ross is a Public Interest Technology Fellow at New America. She specializes in data transparency and civic engagement, with a focus on action at the local level. For an extended bio click here

Anne Dodge

Anne Dodge is the Executive Director of Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. At the Institute, she works to make the university’s urban research more accessible, while serving as a guide to the university’s wide array of civic programs and nonprofit partnerships. Prior, Anne was the Executive Director of the university’s Urban Network and an instructor at the Harris School of Public Policy. She holds a Master’s in City Planning from MIT, where her master’s thesis won the 2006 Ralph Adams Cram Award for the best thesis in the School of Architecture and Planning, and BA from Harvard with a joint concentration in Visual and Environmental Studies and History.

Emily Wiegand

Emily Wiegand is a Researcher at Chapin Hall. She specializes in data manipulation and management, database development, quantitative analysis, and the use of administrative data to guide strategic planning and decision making in the nonprofit and public sectors. She also has experience in data analysis, reporting, and visualization in the nonprofit sector, particularly in fundraising. Ms. Wiegand has a Master’s degree in public policy and a Bachelor’s degree in history, both from University of Chicago.

Sonja Marziano

Sonja Marziano is the project coordinator at Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. Sonja manages the Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup), the Chicago Early Learning Portal, and the project. In her work, she fosters sustained, meaningful collaboration with residents around data and the creation of technology.

Stephen Larrick

Stephen Larrick is the Open Cities Director for the Sunlight Foundation, where he leads Sunlight’s efforts to bring about more transparent, accountable, and participatory urban communities across the United States. His team facilitates the adoption and implementation of meaningful, sustainable open data policies and programs in dozens of American cities participating in the What Works Cities initiative, with a specific focus on helping to connect city open data efforts to resident empowerment and community impact. Prior to joining Sunlight, Larrick was Director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Central Falls, Rhode Island, where he helped lead a successful turnaround effort during a time of extreme fiscal crisis. In addition to his duties as city planner, Larrick worked closely with two state-appointed receivers and one mayor to rethink local government service delivery with a heavy emphasis on open and inclusive governance. Larrick received his Bachelor’s of Arts in Urban Studies and Political Philosophy from Brown University.

others to be announced


Ida Noyes Hall -- Library & Library Lounge
1212 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637
Enter on 59th street and the Library is to the right


Our partners, and sponsors include: UChicago Computational Analysis and Public Policy of the Harris Public Policy School (CAPP), UChicago Department of Computer Science, UChicago Center for Data Science and Public Policy (DSAPP), UChicago Urban Network, and the UChicago Community Programs Accelerator.


The ScopeAthon is open to the entire University of Chicago community as well as interested community members working anywhere from the public/non-profit sector to the private sector.

Participants will come from various backgrounds, including, but not limited to, computer science, political science and public policy, economics, geography, visual art, and civic innovation and leadership.

No. We want a diverse array of skills present at the scopeathon, which means that even if you can’t code, we want you there!

Teams will present their work to a panel of expert judges and compete for prestige at the end of the day on Saturday.

The real prize for our civic scopeathon is the opportunity for teams to continue their work after the ScopeAthon. While there is no formal pipeline from the ScopeAthon to project completion. Representatives from the Community Action Bureau, the Tech Team, South Side Civic, and other affilitated institutions will be present at the ScopeAthon.

Here’s an example of a civic problem and successful solution:

Problem/objective: A maternal health provider wants to optimize locations for birth-outcomes clinics given limited resources

Data: Birth outcomes data, census tract data

Improved Technique: Switching from analysis by county to analysis by census tract

Solution: Build a map by census tract that better illustrates the number and proportion of birth outcomes in a given area

Here are examples of the types of projects we won’t be working on:

Data exploration without a question/problem in mind (i.e. "Here’s all of our data, now tell us something!")

Building a website or app/making your website/app prettier

Register for a team when you sign up on Eventbrite. Check out our website beforehand and find some problems you’re interested in working on! We will keep updating the website with organizations that will be at the scopeathon.

A laptop will be useful on Saturday.

Saturday’s workshops build upon one another to provide a “problem-scoping toolkit” by the end of the event. Coming for just the afternoon or just the morning will diminish your opportunity to fully engage in the scopeathon. So, email us if you have concerns about scheduling conflicts.

The Civic ScopeAthon is a joint effort with South Side Civic, a CAPP student-led group, UChicago’s Department of Computer Science, and the Harris School of Public Policy.

Contact ChicagoSouthSideCivic(at) to learn more, or volunteer at the event!