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Small Town





Jingwen Yang, Luisa Roubicek, Tirdad Kiamanesh, Andrew Bates




Anijo Mathew,  Panteleimon Spagis ( 14 weeks workshop )



Overview of the project



More than ever it is crucial that communities and city service agencies engage with one another to increase trust, reduce inhibition, and ultimately make the community safer and better. There are several “non-critical” situations that require interacting with police and other public services outside of 911.


The project explored how technology interventions can bring back a neighborhood feeling to the big city where trust is built between local government and residents. Small Town is a service platform that increases awareness, transparency, and efficiency of the local government and allows two-way communication between residents and their local government. Over time, residents and aldermen can have a close relationship and work together to improve their community. 


Methods & Activities


  • Interview ( alderman, first responders, residents, business owners)

  • Trend Hunting

  • Precursor Research

  • Diagram Developing

  • Workflow Diagram 

  • Information Architecture

  • Service Blueprint

  • Value Web

  • Revenue Analysis

  • Business Canvass

  • Roadmap

  • Prototyping and Validation



My responsibilities


Design research, Diagram developing, Conduct interviews, Interview protocols, Workflow diagram, Storytelling, Sketching, Wireframe, UX Design, Prototyping (physical/digital).

“How can we improve trust between communities and first responders in non-critical situations in big cities like Chicago?”


- 311, lack of awareness 


Our interviews showed that many residents do not know about 311, they are familiar with 911, and they call there even in not critical situations. This issue is more common among students and temporary residents than locals. 

Also, the definition of the emergency and nonemergency situation is different between the system and the residents. 

Research insights

Research insights

- 311 is not efficient


According to Chicago data portal (from 2013 to 2016), Chicago 311 receives many requests every day mainly through calls and there is a high percentage of duplicated requests, which causes long waiting time for residents.

"I moved to States three years ago and relocated to Chicago two years ago, I have never heard of 311. I called 911 for my house burglary, and they redirected me to 311. "

Grad Student

- Community involvement 


We participated in a city hall meeting; a project was started in the neighborhood without consulting with the community. The construction company researched people who wanted to move into that new apartment, not on the current residents. 


Also, lack of communication between first responders and communities make them unfamiliar with the neighborhood and residents.

“I think that cops definitely should get back to community policing… letting them meet these people… you are not a blue-headed monster.”

James, 57, former CPD detective

- Mismatch in actions between city gov. and residents.


Citizens use their social networks for help or leverage the power of media to solve their problems. On the other hand, City of Chicago asks residents to call 311 for assistance with non-emergency situations. They do not have any system to aggregate data from social media. 

“I am aware of 311, but I never used it. I talk to my landlord if I have problems.”​

Ann, 20, student

“I called 311. They connected me to the street sanitation, that high school, etc. But there was no response. Then I called Channel 2; everyone immediately came out.”

Ton, 55, resident

"I Should know which ward I am in and who my alderman is"

Bates, 44, resident

- Wrong assumption about the system


Requests are handled at the city level while the local governments are responsible for taking care of the claims and respond to them. The system doesn’t have local level engagement although they are the people who can bring change. Also, there is no system to give feedback or communicate with the person who submitted the claim. 

"I am not quite as involved with the local level as I am more at the city level or at the state level (...) And see the minor changes in the neighborhood."

Chicago Resident

Both alderman and residents found there is little local level community engagement. The awareness about the alderman and their responsibilities are low, so few people look for alderman's help directly.

“There is less local level engagement, especially for new residents and younger generations ... People use social media only as a compliant platform. ”


"What I do is advocate for my residents to get the city to do it’s job.”


- Michele Smith, Alderman of 43rd Ward


* Alderman: The City of Chicago is divided into 50 legislative districts or wards. Each district is represented by an alderman who is elected by their constituency to serve a four-year term. 



We do not live in Chicago.

We live in our neighborhood.

Small town

Opportunity space 

Opportunity space


is a service platform that

  1. creates awareness

  2. aggregates data

  3. enables two-way communication


Meet Selina: she is 24 years old and moved to Chicago for her grad school recently. She studies Public Policy in UC. This is the first time she lives alone. She leased a studio close to the college. When she signed the contract, she received a welcome letter from Alderman of her ward. It provides information about the city, city structure, ward, and other needed information.

The Other day she walked to the bus station with her friends. It was a snow storm last night and the city covers with snow.

When she reaches the bus station, she realizes the signage was broken by the storm.

She remembers in the welcoming package was mentioned she can report any problems through social media by using her ward's specific hashtag, #STC51

So she takes her phone out and uses her favorite social media, twitter, and tweets a tweet about this problem. She adds a picture and location to make her report more accurate.

Around the same time, the alderman of the ward 51, Bruce arrives at his office. He would like to check the neighborhood performance.

After signing in, he sees the dashboard of the ward 51. He sees lots of different reports about the problems in his neighborhood.

On the right side, he sees what residents care about by most posts, most positive and most negative.

By clicking on any of them, he can see them mapped on the top of the city map.

In order to get a better view of the neighborhood, he puts on hololens and sees the data visualization on the 3d model.

He decides on how to distribute his workforce to maximize the outcome; now it is the time to notify the ward residents about his decisions.

During the day he can check the progress and the residents feedback on his panel.

Now, after taking care of the snow removal reports. He wants to take care of other issues.

So he goes back to the dashboard and sees the cases by type. (City service, public safety, and campaigns.) All the posts go through sentiment analysis and sentiment is visualized. He sees the case “signage damage” is new and among other posts has the most negative review.

Then he checks the detail of the signage damage.

He posts: we noticed (…) Please be careful when you walk by. As his account is linked to the social media accounts, the post is sent to facebook, twitter and next door with one click.

Selina receives a reply on her post. Now she knows the city is awared of the issue and they will take care of it at a proper time.

After taking care of all of these issues, alderman Bruce has a meeting with the alderman of the ward 52. These two wards are neighbors. There is an abandoned factory in their neighborhood. The owner informed them that he wants to invest in his property, but he doesn't have any idea what would be good for the community.

So the two alderman decides to create a poll and asks the residents to vote for different options.

Anchor 1

How does it work

Small Town increases awareness and transparency of local governments among residents through welcome package and neighborhood touchpoints. And it improves efficiency and performance for local governments and allows two-way communication between residents and their local government. 

How it works
Website demo

Create awareness


To create awareness we didn't limit ourselves to digital. Flyers are available in the public spaces such as libraries and post offices. Also, when new tenants sign contract with their landlord; they receive a welcoming letter from their alderman with necessary information and the dedicated hashtag to their ward. 

Data aggregation


The system aggregates data from different sources through social listening. It gets data from neighborhood networks on which residents post events, concerns, and campaigns as well as social media.It also gets city data from the Chicago data portal which has data from multiple service providers, for example, crime data from the police department.

Sentiment analysis

After getting post data and filtering, the system will cluster the relevant ones. Then the algorithm will analyze the sentiment of the posts, whether it is positive, neutral or negative. With that, we can get the overall sentiment of each case which helps with the decision making.

Data visualization geolocation


The geolocation of the requests and posts show on the website and mixed reality installation. When it combines with other data (e.g., traffic prediction), it starts to make sense and informs decision making.

Data visualization performance


Alderman can also track the performance, not only through the number of posts and sentiment but also the performance score. It is inspired by Boston city score, which gives each 311 service a score every day. For example, if graffiti is removed on time, the score will be 1. If less time is used, the score will go up.

Push post to different platforms with one click

On our platform, alderman can also track the performance, not only through number of posts and sentiment, but also the performance score. It is inspired by Boston city score, which gives each 311 service a score everyday. For example, if graffiti is removed on time, the score will be 1. If less time is used, the score will go up.



Awareness + Transparency + Communication + Performance


“What I love about what you just showed me is that you are posting that we are DOING something.”

- Alderman Smith


Value web

Small Town Chicago is not a for-profit organization. We rely on government funds as the system saves money for the local government and increases their performance.

Value web
Full report

Some of the notable Challenges behind the scene.

Backstage challenges

- Abstract the complexity 


This is a hugely complex system. There are lots of different stakeholders involved. The first challenge was to talk about the system and showcase our direction while we didn't have any solid concept yet. We had to do it in front of the Motorola Solutions representatives after we finished the research phase. We needed to inform them about our direction and received confirmation for the rest of the project.  For this case; I abstracted the complicated value map of the system to a new framework to explain our thoughts.

The picture above shows how the platform works right now. The picture below-left shows the same system in another format. As you see, the relationships between the different stakeholders are not transparent. Residents requests and voices lost in the system. The situation reminds me the Schrodinger cat theory. Residents do not know that whether their voice has heard or not, and why the decisions have made. 

- Lost in the system


We tried to solve the whole ecosystem, so we created the flowchart of the activities that each stakeholder do in the system. The result is in the picture below. A huge complex system which needs years of work to solve it. It was apparent that we were going in a wrong direction. Therefore we step back. We realized other platforms such as Twitter, Nextdoor, facebook, etc are already cover part of the system. So instead of inventing wheels from scratch. We focused on the gaps.

The framework on the right shows the ideal situation. We didn't know how to achieve this system or which part of the system was more interesting for us. But this was the best way we could give our audience a clear idea of what we were looking for in this project.

Current Situation

Ideal Situation

After we reduced the system to the gaps, we found our opportunity space. Our research insights supported these new gaps. In the picture below, I am describing the new chart to my team. If you compare it with the previous image, you can see the difference. In the later iterations, we made the concept more and more simple. 

- Physical Assets to present the Idea


We realize that, although the concept is simple we needed to be smart about the presentation. It was possible that audience lost in the details. Especially about the augmented reality. So I created a model of the city and signage to show the types of reports. The craft stems to display the traffic prediction in that area.

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