Smart Chicago

The CUTGroup is a project 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 Internet, and developing meaningful products from data that measurably contribute to the quality of life of residents in our region and beyond.

The Author

Daniel X. O’Neil is the Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. He’s helped make civic apps since 2000, including Killer on the Loose, CTA Alerts, and City Payments. He’s designed and delivered digital skills training on lightweight tools since 2003. He was a co-founder of EveryBlock, the innovative innovative microlocal news website, in 2007. He’s written and published four books of poetry, written and direct- ed three plays, and keeps four journals in real notebooks at any given time. More here: http://www.derivativeworks.com/, here: http://www.danxoneil.com, and here: https://twitter.com/danxoneil.

All images in this book are by Daniel X. O’Neil. Nearly 40,000 hi-res images licensed as Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juggernautco/.


Our last name is “Collaborative.” It’s how we live and how we work. With a team of just three people, there’s really no other way. Here’s a quasi-chronological list of the people who’ve helped us with the CUTGroup, and a short description of the huge contributions of each.

Julia Stasch, http://www.macfound.org/about/people/170/: Julia was a leader in the formation of Smart Chicago and has articulated many of the precepts of the CUTGroup for years. When writing the foreword to the 2007 report, “The City that Networks”, http://goo.gl/yK2k4H, she said, “digital excellence is achieved when all who wish to can integrate the Internet comfortably into their lives — a state of active and meaningful participation that increases knowledge and enhances connections across time and place.”

Terry Mazany, http://www.cct.org/about/our-staff/terry-mazany: Terry provides the framework for Smart Chicago to exist and oversees all our activities. His commitment to inclusion imbues all of our work, as it emanates from the Chicago Community Trust. His early encouragement of the CUTGroup was invaluable.

John Tolva, http://www.ascentstage.com/: John has been a supporter of the CUTGroup since the day it launched, on the inaugural meeting of Mayor Emanuel’s Technology Industry Diversity Council.

Alaina Harkness, http://www.macfound.org/about/people/158/: Alaina has always encouraged Smart Chicago to try new things.

Mark Harris and Alya Adamany of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition: http://www.istcoalition.org/. Our shared program, the Illinois Open Technology Challenge, http://illinoisopentech.org/ directly led to the creation of the CUTGroup.

Veronica Ludwig, http://about.me/veronicaludwig: Our conversations with Veronica on how to manage the Illinois Open Technology Challenge (“inviting these communities and citizens to the expo as a form of market research on existing state-specific civic applications”) were formative.

Scott Robbin, http://srobbin.com/: Scott’s website, Open Chicago (“Creating points of contact between developers and government”), http://www.openchicago.org/, launched in February 2012, and was an intellectual and technical precursor for our work. The idea that there should be a fluid relationship between developers and aldermen was just one conceptual step removed from the fluidity we now seek between residents and developers.

Chris Gansen, http://www.chrisgansen.com/. While he served as the first product manager for Smart Chicago, Chris was essential in the creation of the CUTGroup. He made the website, implemented our segmenting code, and helped design the entire system.

The Chicago Tribune Apps Team, http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/: The development team of Christopher Groskopf (https://twitter.com/onyxfish), Ryan Nagle (https://twitter.com/ryannagle), and Ryan Mark (https://twitter.com/ryanmark), created the Chicago Boundary Service, http://boundaries.tribapps.com/, which is super-helpful in letting potential testers know what ward they live in.

Kyla Williams: As the second employee of Smart Chicago, Kyla is critical to all of our work. Her years of service in nonprofits and an ease with all people makes her an invaluable voice.

Randall Walker: Randall was an important part of the Smart Chicago team when we created the CUTGroup, and he was responsible for gift card distribution early on.

Emily Escarra: Emily was an important part of the Smart Chicago team when we conducted our first tests. She was a proctor at our first in-person test and wrote the analysis for our first test, FreedomPop.

Jason Kunesh, http://jdkunesh.com/: Jason was essential in sharing his experience in sensitive UX test design as we were first planning the CUTGroup.

Adam Steele, http://www.cdm.depaul.edu/people/pages/facultyinfo.aspx?fid=148. Adam lent advice on sound UX testing very early on in the development of our process.

Julie Harpring, https://www.linkedin.com/in/julieharpring: Julie was a critical link in the creation of the CUTGroup. She designed and was the main proctor of our first in-person test, at the Kelly Library in the Englewood neighborhood, effectively giving us a crash course in the discipline of UX design. She also helped draft our tester release form.

Christopher Whitaker, http://civicwhitaker.com/: Christopher was critical in spreading the word about the CUTGroup in the Chicago civic hacker community. His steady output for Smart Chicago is always a huge asset to us. He also helped conduct a number of tests and composed the results of the Chicago Health Atlas test.

Jeff Murray of Chicago Nightlife Magazine: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nightlife-Magazinenet/59605221592. Jeff helped us with very effective email marketing early on in the project.

Bryan Thompson: Bryan did much of the legwork to get the word out into communities so that we could have representation from the entire city.

Tom Kompare, http://about.me/tomkompare: Tom was the first developer to sign up for a CUTGroup test. His genuine curiosity about people and his earnest desire to make things better makes him the model partner for this endeavor.

Melissa Harris, https://twitter.com/ChiConfidential: Melissa attended our second in-person test and wrote a great column about it in the Chicago Tribune. This led to more interest in the model and more testers.

Brian Bannon, Commissioner, and the people of the Chicago Public Library: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cpl/auto_generated/cpl_leadership.html and http://www.chipublib.org/. We’re especially grateful to the leadership and staff at the libraries where we’ve conducted tests: Kelly Library in Englewood, Uptown Library, the Hall Library in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood, the Rogers Park branch, the Mayfair branch, the Clearing branch, and the Blackstone library in Kenwood. The public library is an essential resource for our work.

Theresa Bradley, https://twitter.com/tbradley. Theresa took an early interest in the CUTGroup. Conversations with her helped solidify methodology.

Erie Family Health Center, http://www.eriefamilyhealth.org/, for hosting our test on the Chicago Health Atlas.

Brenna Berman, http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/doit/auto_generated/doit_leadership.html: As a member of our Advisory Committee, Brenna pushes us into thinking about how to use this model for civic engagement in novel ways.

Sonja Marziano: Sonja is the third employee of Smart Chicago and began running the CUTGroup in the Spring of 2014. She developed the system we use for analysis as well as for publishing raw test results. She runs the entire process— meeting with the developers, designing tests, and administering test day like nobody’s business.

Vivelo Hoy, http://www.vivelohoy.com/: Managing Editor Fernando Diaz (https://twitter.com/thefuturewasnow) brought the best possible spirit of collaboration with community members in our test at the Hall Library for EatSafe.co.

Marc Hebert, https://twitter.com/anthromarc: Marc attended the EatSafe.co test and gave us some great advice on anthropology-based design.

Ian Dees, https://twitter.com/iandees: Ian proctored the test for OpenStreetMap and is a member of the US board.

Comcast NBC Universal: http://chicago.everyblock.com/: Matt Summy (https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewsummy) and Paul Wright (https://www.linkedin.com/in/pewright) signed up for and helped proctor a test on their iPhone app, shortly after the relaunch of their website.

Waitbot, http://waitbot.com/: Dave Turner (https://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-turner/4/730/875) and friends signed up for and helped proctor a test on their wait-time app.

Two developers of Foodborne Chicago, Joe Olson, https://twitter.com/JOlson7168,  and Cory Nissen, https://twitter.com/corynissen took a great personal interest in the Foodborne test and followed up with technology changes and analytics.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation: http://www.knightfoundation.org/.  Knight was the first foundation to explicitly fund a CUTGroup test, for Foodborne Chicago.

The Chattanooga Code for America team, http://chitchatt.org/: Jason Denizac (http://jden.us/), Jeremia Kimelman (https://twitter.com/jeremiak), and Giselle Sperber (https://twitter.com/_giselles) were the first team to set up a CUTGroup outside of Chicago (http://tester.openchattanooga.com/).

Open Oakland, http://openoakland.org/: Steve Spiker and others in the opengov movement there are implementing a user-testing group to meet their needs (https://github.com/openoakland/cutgroup). Correspondence with the learned Andrea Moed (https://www.linkedin.com/in/amoeda) was particularly helpful in the organization of this book.

Lindsay Muscato, http://lindsaymuscato.com/: Lindsay organized, edited, and produced this book.

Jason Harvey, http://jasonharveydesign.com/: Jason designed this book.

Most of all, thank you to the more than 800 regular Chicago residents who make up the CUTGroup. You’re it.


The CUTGroup: 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
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Based on a work at http://www.cutgroupbook.org/.

Manufactured in the United States of America by the Smart Chicago Collaborative http://www.smartchicagocollaborative.org/ @smartchicago info@smartchicagocollaborative.org

c/o The Chicago Community Trust 225 North Michigan Avenue
Suite 2220
Chicago, IL 60601

(773) 960-6045
Made possible by funds from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Set in Scala and ScalaSans

Library of Congress Control Number 2014915706
ISBN: 978-0-9907752-0-1
Advance Proof