1. Introduction

A how-to on civic tech engagement

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, digital skills, and community engagement 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.

How it works

Here’s the call to action we use on the CUTGroup website:

Be a tester, get paid

The Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) is a set of regular Chicago residents who get paid to test out civic apps.

  • Fill out a CUTGroup profile and sign up to be a tester of civic apps, and we’ll send you a $5 Visa gift card
  • If and when you are chosen to test a civic app, you get paid a $20 Visa gift card

There is a large and growing community of “civic hackers” in Chicago—technology developers who make websites, mobile apps, and other tools that often have specific use in Chicago. The goal is to make software that helps make lives better in the city. What’s currently missing? The people.

That simple proposition has worked for us, giving us hours of great discussion and dozens of useful insights about what people really need out of civic technology in Chicago. This book shows you how it can work for you.

The CUTGroup is the work of Smart Chicago

The CUTGroup is an initiative of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. We work on increasing access to the Internet, improving skills for using the Internet, and developing meaningful products from data that measurably contribute to the quality of life of residents in our region and beyond.

The CUTGroup is a central program for Smart Chicago because it cuts across our three areas of focus:

  • Access: the majority of our tests are conducted in public computer centers. This allows us to celebrate and promote these important connectivity points, and it also helps draw together human networks
  • Skills: we focus on “on ramps”, and everyone who participates in a CUTGroup test is on one of these ramps. We deliver rudimentary digital-skills training to testers, as we’re often introducing them to new technology. We train developers how to design tests and engage residents in order to gather concrete feedback for their products. And we, as the Smart Chicago team, never leave a test without new skills and knowledge
  • Data: by helping improve existing websites and apps, and by encouraging the creation of more effective and popular products in our field, we help deliver on the goal of creating a strong civic technology sector of the technology industry

This unique framing—access, skills, and data lead us directly to the creation of this program. This framing existed in the founding of Smart Chicago, which was first conceived in the 2007 report “The City that NETWorks: Transforming Society and Economy Through Digital Excellence.” This book is our attempt to share our processes on this particular program, and we have a great desire that you will share our methods as well.

Map showing CUTGroup tester coverage across the city.

Map showing CUTGroup tester coverage across the city.

Sonja Marziano conducting a CUTGroup test at the Chicago Public Library Clearing Branch, 6423 W. 63rd Place.

Sonja Marziano conducting a CUTGroup test at the Chicago Public Library Clearing Branch, 6423 W. 63rd Place. 


« Next Chapter: 2. Origins |