Data-Smart City Solutions


By Sean Thornton

Brett Goldstein, Chicago’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Data Officer (CDO), has left the City after seven years of public service.  His tenure marks two years of charting a significantly different course for technology in Chicago. 

Goldstein was selected by Rahm Emanuel to be Chicago’s first CDO in May 2011.  In June 2012, he was appointed CIO, holding both titles for one year.  Prior to these roles, Goldstein spent five years at the Chicago Police Department (CPD), where he became a Commander and founded the CPD’s Predictive Analytics Group, which used data to enhance police efforts.

Following his departure, Goldstein will teach at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago under a two-year fellowship.  He will also help develop a new UChicago Master’s degree program on computation and public policy.  In addition, Goldstein will work with Harvard and New York University to do research on data usage in government for more efficient service delivery. 

“We are building a city of data,” Goldstein said. “Over the past two years, we’ve done things that people said we couldn’t do—transparency, open data, prediction.  And we’re doing this in an innovative way—with people from the City and the community showing they have the brains to innovate.  The bones have now been built.”

Under Goldstein’s watch, the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) vastly expanded the city’s open data portal and began consolidating the city’s IT services.  Goldstein and DoIT also pioneered new data analytics programs for the City, such as WindyGrid and Chicago’s SmartData Platform for predictive analytics.        

His departure signals an opportunity for Chicago’s next CIO, DoIT First Deputy Commissioner Brenna Berman, who has been appointed by Mayor Emanuel, to continue the precedent for technological leadership Goldstein helped establish.    Goldstein ushered in new partnerships for DoIT, and fostered the development of internal capacity for innovative new projects and initiatives, many of which utilize open source technologies.   

In June, Goldstein gave a farewell speech to OpenGov Chicago, a weekly meet-up group for civic-minded developers, community members, and government staff.  With the aid of the City’s data portal, members of the multi-faceted group have developed numerous meaningful civic data apps for public use.

“We came into this new administration to try and do something really different…and when you want to do something like that, you can’t do it alone,” Goldstein said to the crowd of over a hundred.  “It’s been a community that’s been able to take us as far as we’ve come these past two years.”

OpenGov is one of several key partners Goldstein collaborated with during his time with the City.  Their weekly meet-ups are held at the offices of 1871, Chicago’s largest tech startup incubator, which has also embraced the City’s new style of tech leadership.  Since becoming CIO, Goldstein has held monthly office hours with entrepreneurs who wish to build civic apps.

In the past two years, the City has also partnered with Code for America on the Open311 project, in which Chicago residents can submit and track customer service requests online.  It has also forged academic partnerships with the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University, who are assisting Chicago with research on predictive analytics programs and data-related social science programs, respectively. 

“Who’s going to work in government in five years? Who’s going to work on these hard quantitative problems going forward? Well, this is what we’re doing: we’re bringing together a range of disciplines which you wouldn’t think are obvious.  This is something that works for Chicago.  We have government, we have academia, and we have the community, all collaborating to support these activities,” Goldstein said.

“These are partnerships that don’t cost the City anything.  It’s instead a philosophy where we’re working together. We realize we have shared interests, and so we’re able to collaborate.  It’s all really exciting and innovative.” 

Another hallmark of Goldstein’s leadership is his department’s building of internal capacity in data science.  Instead of solely issuing RFPs to vendors for tech projects, DoIT has employed professionals capable of programming, design and data analytics so that the City can develop programs in-house. 

The key tools for developing such programs are open-source technologies, which have licenses that permit users to have free and open access to code or software.  For example, Chicago’s predictive analytics program is being built in-house at DoIT with open-source tools.  Goldstein and DoIT are also sharing their open-source programs so that they may be replicated as well: the City has its own Github account, in which programmers from other cities can take advantage of Chicago’s innovations.

“We are building a city of data,” Goldstein said. “Over the past two years, we’ve done things that people said we couldn’t do—transparency, open data, prediction.  And we’re doing this in an innovative way—with people from the City and the community showing they have the brains to innovate.  The bones have now been built.” 

As his speech neared its end, Goldstein, a seven-year veteran of website OpenTable, felt at ease with the crowd, who listened intently for what will come next in Chicago.

“For me, it’s hard to step back, but there’s an awesome team already in place that will be stepping forward.  I’m constantly getting calls from other cities, saying ‘how have you done this? What’s the Chicago story?’ The answer: it’s been everyone working together.”

About the Author

Sean Thornton

Sean Thornton is a Program Advisor for the Ash Center's Civic Analytics Network and writer for Data-Smart City Solutions.  Based in Chicago and working in partnership with the city's Department of Innovation and Technology, Sean holds joint Masters’ degrees from the University of Chicago, in Public Policy and Social Service Administration. His work has spanned the city's public, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors. 


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