Connect Chicago is a cross-sector civic leadership initiative that seeks to make Chicago the most digitally skilled, connected, and dynamic city in America. It is directed by a coalition of institutional funders and program partners working with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the government agencies under his leadership.

There are already more than 250 public locations across the city that train residents to use a computer, provide free Internet access, and empower residents to improve their health, education, and economic potential through technology. Still, big gaps remain. Chicago’s full civic and economic potential cannot be unleashed until every resident in every neighborhood has access to the Internet and has the skills to use it.

Over the next three years, Connect Chicago aims to raise at least $10 million to strengthen Chicago’s digital foundations and expand this network of programming.

Connect Chicago has three goals:

  1. Increase access to the Internet & digital learning opportunities
  2. Increase digital skills of Chicagoans
  3. Increase economic and civic engagement through technology

Three core strategies will advance Connect Chicago’s mission:

  1. Leadership & Coordination. Connect Chicago will provide coordination, community-building, and impact measurement across these programs citywide.
  2. Scaling Evidence-Based Programs. Connect Chicago will invest in the evidence-based, digital training programs at trusted institutions to ensure that every resident in Chicago has access to these learning opportunities.
  3. Innovation. Connect Chicago will build an Innovation Program to continually and sustainably support new, promising approaches to digital training and connectivity.

More about Connect Chicago

Connect Chicago builds community across the programs and institutions that do this work.Connect Chicago will host events, centralize program information and open training curricula, and measure collective impact across digital access and skills programming. Connect Chicago will also lead efforts to survey citywide connectivity, Internet use, and digital skills so that progress is clear and areas needing improvement can be addressed.

To expand the infrastructure of digital access & training resources across the city, Connect Chicago scales evidence-based programs in partnership with trusted institutions. Initial investments include expanding the Chicago Public Library’s CyberNavigator program citywide and integrating digital skills into LISC Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers’ programming.

The future Connect Chicago Innovation Program will solicit ideas that seek to test new interventions to increase digital skills or Internet access in Chicago. The Program may issue challenges to solve specific problems or address needs that surface from the Connect Chicago community.

Connect Chicago is implemented by the Smart Chicago Collaborative and advised by a dynamic leadership group of Chicago’s key public institutions.

The Connect Chicago Steering Committee informs the strategy of Connect Chicago and is comprised of representatives from government agencies under the direction of Mayor Emanuel, institutional funders, and program partner organizations: The Mayor’s Office, the City of Chicago Department of Innovation & Technology, World Business Chicago, Smart Chicago, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Public Schools, LISC Chicago, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Connect Chicago Technology Advisory Council helps align resources and assets and is comprised of representatives from the funders of Connect Chicago. This Council is co-chaired by Brenna Berman, the Chief Information Officer of the City of Chicago, and Shelley Stern Grach, the Director of Civic Engagement at Microsoft.

Connect Chicago thanks its community of investors that have already pledged their support to connectivity & digital skills. As of April 2016, members of our Technology Advisory Council are:

“In Chicago, we believe that the power of technology is driven by the people who use and benefit from it.”
– The City of Chicago Tech Plan

Chicago has a long history of leadership and innovation in digital skills and connectivity.Connect Chicago was inspired in part by “The City that Networks” — a 2007 report from the Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Advisory Council on Closing the Digital Divide. The Report recommended the formation of a partnership and campaign for digital excellence. From 2010–2012, Chicago made made major strides in expanding and evaluating digital access & skills programing with support from the National Telecommunications & Information Association’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP). The Smart Communities Demonstration revealed that targeted neighborhoods with digital trainings and programing interventions saw higher rates of growth in Internet use and broadband adoption from 2008 - 2013. BTOP, along with Illinois’ former Eliminate the Digital Divide Grant program, supported the creation of the loose network of 250+ public computing centers and neighborhood training sites that became the core of today’s Connect Chicago network. The CyberNavigator Program has been praised as an important component of a library in the digital age. Also, according to LISC Chicago 2011-2012 data, job seekers at their Financial Opportunity Centers who received digital skill training were 50% more likely to get a job.

Connect Chicago is the next chapter in Chicago’s commitment to digital access & skills. It is rooted in two recent citywide plans created under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership: the City of Chicago Tech Plan as well as the World Business Chicago Plan for Economic Growth & Jobs. Through investments in coordination, evidence-building, and innovation, we believe Connect Chicago will expand and sustain a thriving digital ecosystem that unleashes Chicago’s economic potential and improves the lives of its residents.

Join the Connect Chicago Meetup Group! Meet and network with the providers of public computing and digital training throughout the city. Learn about new programs, tools, and best practices for closing technology gaps. Join and learn about upcoming events here.

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