Civic User Testing Group as a New Model for UX Testing, Digital Skills Development, and Community Engagement in Civic Tech

By Daniel X. O’Neil and the Smart Chicago Collaborative

This is the CUTGroup book, an extensive how-to on the Civic User Testing Group—a set of regular Chicago residents who get paid to test civic apps. It began with a simple idea—that civic technologists should be in communion with the people they seek to serve—and it has grown to a community of more than 800 people who work together to make lives better through technology.

In this book, we cover in great detail how we do UX (or user experience) testing, community engagement, and digital skills in one civic tech system. We cover the hardware and software you need, methods for tester and developer recruitment, test design, location scouting, and results analysis. We show detailed budgets, exact website configurations, complete text of recruitment emails, the raw results of every test we’ve conducted, and all the other nuts and bolts it takes to make a CUTGroup in your city.


To the people of the City of Chicago.
If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work.


This is not a pipe.

—René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1929

I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while.
Let’s try to work it out.
Let’s try to beat it.
Let’s try and work it out.

—Rodney King, Speech on May Day, 1992

“Elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources.”

—Jakob Nielsen, 2000