I work with open data and create tools in Chicago to improve the public good. Read more »
Founder and Partner at
A civic technology and consulting company in Chicago
Lead Organizer of
Chi Hack Night
Chicago's weekly event to build, share & learn about civic tech
Group that create apps with open data to improve transparency and understanding of our government
Derek is an entrepreneur, developer and one of the leaders of the civic technology community in Chicago. He is founder and partner at DataMade, a company that tells stories and builds tools with data, co-founder of Open City, a collective that makes civic apps to to improve transparency and understanding of our government, and organizer for the Chi Hack Night, America's premier weekly event for building civic technology with open data.
Or, how I got started in civic tech.
In the beginning, there was open data
In August 2011, I was working for a dev shop in Chicago called Webitects when the City's recently elected mayor (Rahm Emanuel) decided to start releasing some interesting data on the city’s Data Portal. At the time, I already had an interest in government and technology and had volunteered my tech skills to the Obama campaign in 2008, but this data gave me a way to engage with my local government and community that was completely new.
Paul Baker, my boss at Webitects, decided to put a group together — Chad Pry, Nick Rougeux, Ryan Briones and me — to take one of these newly released datasets on lobbyist disclosures to create our first "civic app" called Chicago Lobbyists.
The app, which I like to describe as a "Facebook for lobbyists," allows you to see who the top paid lobbyists are, who's hiring them, and who in government they are lobbying. Through this app, this raw, open data was made accessible to average citizens (like ourselves) in a way that was easy to understand and delightful to interact with. The response from the City, local press and tech community was immediate and positive.
Co-founding Open City
At this point, I was hooked on making civic apps. I continued collaborating with Paul, Nick, and Chad to build new apps with other available datasets like ChicagoBuildings.org, which tracks vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago, and Look at Cook, a visualization for exploring Cook County’s budget over time.
Through the OpenGov Chicago(-land) Meetup run by Dan X. O’Neil and Joe Germuska, I met and collaborated with Juan-Pablo Velez and Forest Gregg to create ClearStreets, an app to track where snow plows go during a snowstorm. This got us our first big exposure in the Chicago Tribune.
I eventually found myself among a core group of volunteer developers, designers and policy wonks who all shared a common goal: to create apps with open data to improve transparency and understanding of our government. We knew we had a great thing going, so in January 2012, we decided to give it a name and call ourselves Open City.
The Chi Hack Night
In order to better facilitate collaboration and get work done outside of our regular 9-to-5 jobs, we decided to start meeting regularly every week. Our first meeting consisted of Juan-Pablo Velez, Scott Robbin, Tom Kompare and myself.
We dubbed this event the Open Gov Hack Night, made it open for anyone to attend and publicized it on the OpenGov Chicago Google Group. The idea of a friendly place to talk about civic tech and get work done was apparently very appealing to a lot of people.
Now, going on for its third year, the Hack Night draws 60-70+ developers, designers, researchers, journalists, policy wonks and curious citizens who all want to build or learn about open data and civic tech.
Starting DataMade, a civic technology company
In the Summer of 2012, I was approached by Dan X. O’Neil, the new Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, to work on some projects (Connect Chicago and Chicago Early Learning) as a consultant. I had already decided to go part-time at Webitects to devote more time to Open City, and it seemed like it was finally time to strike out on my own.
I formed my own LLC, called it DataMade (my wife Aya’s idea) and got to work. At the same time, my collaborations with Forest Gregg continued on projects like CPS Tiers, Dedupe and Councilmatic. In January 2013, Forest joined DataMade as a partner.
Since then, DataMade has grown to five people, including Eric van Zanten, Cathy Deng and Michael Castelle. Our clients include many notable universities, nonprofits and municipalities, including University of Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times, The Associated Press, LISC-Chicago, The City of Gary and Macoupin County, IL.
Since my first civic app back in 2011, I have steadily become a leader in the open government movement in Chicago. Our applications, approaches and ideas have spread to cultural institutions like the Chicago Architecture Foundation via their City of Big Data Exhibit, to academia via programs like the The Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, to the Chicago startup scene, and even back to the City of Chicago and their ambitious Tech Plan.
Some people worry about the sustainability of the open government movement. How do we keep it going? Will it last?
For me, the plan is to continue shipping awesome things, to continue growing DataMade as a company, to continue serving journalists, academics and governments in working with technology and data, and to take on new projects and clients that have a positive impact in the world.
It's going pretty well so far.
Last updated on Nov 29, 2015