Civic tech powers youth activism in Chicago

How #CivicSummer builds leadership with tech and action

The Smart Chicago Collaborative creates onramps to technology. Since 2011, this has meant instituting OpenGov hackathons for developers, hosting local civic apps, and helping social entrepreneurs incubate new businesses. After running these projects, SmartChicago realized they had no project connecting youth and technology. To fill this gap, they created #CivicSummer, a youth technology and advocacy summer camp.

Started in 2012, #CivicSummer partnered with Mikva Challenge and Free Spirit Media to teach teens how to amplify their voice and take civic action by using technology. Each Friday for six weeks, 140 youth from around Chicago listen to lectures, hear from civic hackers and entrepreneurs, and think about new ways to tackle issues facing their community.

Mikva Challenge in Chicago

Smart Chicago designed the lectures to be informative and captivating. As Dan O’Neil, Executive Director of Smart Chicago, put it, “We start with ideas that already make sense to these students, like mash-ups, and build off from there. … [To discuss an open internet] [w]e talk about Creative Commons and I show [the youth] all the pictures I have on there and that they are free for anyone to use. They love it.”

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