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Shamus Toomey / Block Club Chicago

Here’s why we’re helping launch Civic Exchange, an open government effort in Chicago.

Last year, when we launched Chalkbeat Chicago, we had a clear sense of the journalism we wanted to do and the impact it could have on a city that, for years, had witnessed a slowly shrinking workforce of reporters. 

We also wanted to foster more conversations about public education and its critical role in civic life. So today, it feels good to announce that we’re linking arms with seven other media, tech, government, and social service organizations to launch a co-working hub and ideas series called Civic Exchange.

At Chalkbeat, our mission is to chronicle efforts to improve public education in Chicago. We have a strong network with bureaus in New York, Denver, Detroit and other cities in our corner. But when we launched in Chicago last year, we didn’t have office space. Or a printer. Or a space to hold events. Or a network of other startups that were confronting some of the same issues we were, from how to build a local brand to battling for public access to information.

The tech incubator 1871, of course, was firmly rooted in the city’s DNA. And other efforts were emerging, such as Chicago’s Literacenter, that appeared to build connections and strength among like-minded startups.

Eager to do something similar around the issues of open government and transparency, this year we joined forces with seven other organizations. 

We’re calling our effort Civic Exchange. 

We banded together to find a co-working office, complete with an events space and a skyline view, that’s far more impressive than what our limited resources would allow individually. We started a Founders Exchange that allows the organizations’ leaders to share intel on common staffing issues, information gathering, and other ins and outs of running relatively young and ambitious startups.

And we are pleased to announce that we will soon launch an ideas exchange series for the public, supported in part by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, around our shared mission of giving the public the tools it needs to improve civic life. (The McCormick Foundation is also a supporter of Chalkbeat.)

Each of the founding organizations is distinct from the others. We share a newsroom with the editors and reporters from Block Club Chicago, which is using hyperlocal journalism to cover a wealth of stories in Chicago’s neighborhoods. The group also includes tech companies operating at the intersection of open data and government (Bright Hive, DataMade, and the Center for Technology and Civic Life), the government ethics nonprofit CHANGE Illinois, social service startup mRelief, and the public engagement company Hearken.

We look forward to learning from each other — and sharing what we learn with our audiences. You can take a photo tour our new office here. And, as always, reach out if you have any tips or comments about public education, we’d love to talk about that, too: cburke@chalkbeat.org.