frozen fingers = blurry photos

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Chicago for the first time as a guest speaker at the Booth School of Business. This was my first trip to Chicago, so I learned some of the typical lessons (all of them involving the temperature). More interesting than the weather was the chance to learn more about what’s happening in Chicago around public safety, community-police relations, and civic tech—and where My90 might fit in. Here’s what I found:

#1 Chicago is ahead of the text messaging curve

The University of Chicago Crime Lab is a kind of mecca in the field of data-driven public policy. I had a chance to sit down with Monica Bhatt and Max Kapustin to discuss their work and the Crime Lab’s collaboration with Ideas 42, which uses behavioral science to tackle a long list of social problems. I learned about some specific initiatives, including Chicago’s anonymous gun tip line (including sms) and ChiTEXT, an sms app to answer FAQs and receive updates. We also had unresolved questions, which I offer to you in hopes you have some good articles you can send our way:

  • What are the best practices around using sms as a public safety tool? The field is changing so quickly that it can be hard to keep track, and there’s a need for practitioners to find this information quickly
  • In a city with an “extreme credibility gap,” as Max put it, are outbound messages going to scare people off? There may be a critical difference between people actively signing up for a messaging service compare to receiving messages as a result of being part of a program, especially around issues requiring anonymity. Is there research to back this up?
  • How should companies update privacy policies and practices in 2017, especially when they specializes in anonymous conversations? Should servers be located in Canada, for example?

#2 There’s no single “Chicago” when it comes to public safety

Public sentiment and public safety have already been well documented in Chicago (see this New York Times poll from 2016). What stuck with me more were the stories people told me about their experiences living in Chicago. One of my Lyft drivers, D., talked about the police pulling him over and searching him for drugs because the light above his license plate wasn’t working. It wasn’t a one-off experience. Another friend, J., told me that unless you lived in South Side, the gun violence epidemic was virtually unfelt in the rest of the city. These two people, different in terms of their ages, ethnicities, income levels, genders, and education brackets, were living in two very different cities.

#3 Those Booth students are smart

Speaking at two Booth classes meant that I had a chance to address two separate groups of extremely smart, accomplished people. My90 launched last summer, and we’re working our way through some tough questions. In addition to going over My90, our results to date, and design thinking, I wanted to know what the MBAs in the room thought about the following:

  • What’s the best way to achieve viral growth in neighborhoods? Nextdoor figured this out using a web-based platform, and we’re working on our own strategy for our sms-based platform
  • What feedback loop do our users want?
    We discussed what triggers, actions, variable rewards, and investments the My90 feedback loop could have. A big key to the loop is having a Chief of Police acknowledge neighborhood feedback. And as a spin-off question —
  • What type of “reward” do our users want?
    How can we make My90 a satisfying, addictive experience? Seeing changes in your neighborhood may do it, but those changes may take time. Likewise, being acknowledged by a Chief of Police is important, but not necessarily instantaneous. How can we develop fast, fun processes for something that is usually slow, scary, and ineffective?

The trip was equal parts thought-provoking and inspiring. Thank you to Stonly Baptiste from Urban.Us and Abbie Smith of the University of Chicago for the opportunity to join their classes. And if you have your own articles, questions, or lessons learned when it comes to community-policing, behavior science, and civic tech, please do send them my way. Thank you!

My90 got its name from a police sergeant who said, “we miss 90% of the story when we talk to the public.” My90 helps people take control of this missing 90% to improve community-police relations and make neighborhoods safer. Learn more about My90 & get in touch at