Chicago techies just launched a new platform to boost civic engagement

by Andreas Rekdal
July 12, 2017

From grassroots organizations to civic groups, government boards and nonprofits, there’s no shortage of organizations working to make Chicago a better place. But for Chicagoans who want to contribute to that work, it can be difficult to know exactly where to get started.

For the past six months, a group of local technologists, entrepreneurs and community leaders have been building an online platform that connects community members with local groups and causes. That platform, GoCivic, became available to the public on Wednesday afternoon.

“We realized that there was no centralized database that citizens could access to find a way to get engaged in Chicago from a civic standpoint,” said Jeff Rosset, CEO and co-founder of the Chicago Leadership Alliance, which led the GoCivic project. “If you’re in a certain neighborhood and you want to go to local town hall meetings, or if you want to participate in social projects, there’s no single place to find those organizations, contact them and find out which opportunities are available.”

Designed as a web-based marketplace, GoCivic is free to use both for organizations and for members of the community. But what really sets it apart from similar sites in other cities, said Rosset, is the fact that it encompasses every aspect of civic engagement.

“Most of the sites out there are simply geared around volunteerism,” said Rosset. “Volunteerism is great, and it’s certainly a part of GoCivic, but we wanted it to be a complete repository of everything going on in Chicago. We wanted to provide a way for people to get involved in long-term projects, donate goods and financial resources, and attend events.”

Through localized searches, GoCivic can provide users with schedules and contact information for local organizations, aldermen and chambers of commerce in 77 Chicago neighborhoods. Users can also sort organizations by the kinds of opportunities available or by cause.

GoCivic’s platform was built on a volunteer basis by developers and designers from uBack, an 1871-based fundraising startup. Rosset said the GoCivic platform will have information about thousands of organizations and boards at launch, a number of which have already claimed their profiles on the site.

Kristi Dula, Pritzker Group’s network relationship manager, an early employee of the 1871 team and a board member at GoCivic, said her hope is that the initiative will help others like her find ways to make a difference in the local community.

“It’s an opportunity for those of us who’ve been grinding to reach a certain point in our careers to turn around and start looking for ways we can give back and help others,” said Dula. “Having watched the Chicago ecosystem grow as key players pitch in has been really fascinating, and to see this technology being run by uBack out of a space in 1871 closes the loop for me about why that has been so important.”

Although the outcome of the 2016 election has sparked a wave of civic engagement from tech leaders, including Sittercity founder Genevieve Thiers, Rosset said the election was not a factor in the timing of GoCivic’s launch.

“A year ago, we wouldn’t have had the ability to pull this off, but as we’ve added more members and built more relationships, it has put us in a position where we can garner a lot more support and energy,” he said. “We went from the conception of an idea to a finished product in less than six months, solely off volunteer labor.”

That said, Rosset believes increasing awareness around local and national issues means that it’s more important than ever to make it easier for community members and organizations to get in touch. Down the line, he also hopes to provide tools that will help organizations build targeted audiences.


Image via Shutterstock.

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