Defining Collaborative Innovation: Chicago Department of Public Health’s Twitter Foodborne Reporting App

I’ve been reading a lot about innovation lately. Technological Innovation. Social Innovation. Disruptive Innovation.

But after reading a piece on collaborative dialogue, it solidified a term that defined what me and a whole bunch of other civic-minded thinkers have been working on for the last few months: Collaborative Innovation.

We all know that innovation can mean a new idea, method or device, but innovation must change the status quo. And that change is done by working across all types of disciplines. Gone are the sole experts that everyone used to rely on. Health care needs public health, who need nonprofits, who need government, who need programmers, who need civic volunteers, etc, etc. It’s how we learn from each other, take advantage of each other’s strengths, and create some awesome tools together.

Enter the Food Safety Project that started out as an innovative idea and made into a reality by collaborating with many people to benefit everyone in Chicago. This app, now called FoodBorne Chicago, is a great example of a practical application that merges public health practice with social media.

Chicago Department of Public Health Photo

You could think of this as part Awareness for using 311 to report potential food violations, part Behavior Change to facilitate resident food establishment reporting through Twitter @FoodBorneChi coupled with a seamless online 311 system to track the progress of a complaint, part Prevention and Intervention against foodborne illnesses through more focused inspections that curb future exposures, and part Community Engagement using Chicago volunteers reaching out through Twitter to Chicago residents.

You can read, in layman’s terms, how the app works here, view the source code and issues tracker on GitHub here, or read the technology behind the app and it’s importance to public health here.

But I want to concentrate, right now on the people that made it happen. This list below doesn’t do justice to illustrate every contribution made or the amount of communication, time, expertise and dedication that all these wonderful people have donated. I’m so very humbled to have been asked to help out. Thank you to all of these government and civic hackers and do-gooders for making this happen.

The following is taken from the Food Borne App website:


This project has many contributors doing a myriad of positive things that fit together into this people-focused timeline:


Thanks, most of all, to the CDPH Food Protection Division, for actually doing the inspections that help keep us safe. All the tweets in the world can’t put a thermometer in a dairy case.

Thanks for that!

Finally, in the spirit of civic-minded volunteering, if you’re in Chicago, drop by Open Gov Hack Night, every Tuesday at 6PM to 10PM at 1871 in the Merchandise Mart, hosted by the people behind Open City Apps.

They state on their website, “Come join a group of passionate folks working at the intersection of open government, cities, and technology. This will be an evening of civic tech hacking, collaboration, learning and networking.” I couldn’t have said it better.

RSVP on Eventbrite today.


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