June 2020
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
As our region enters its fourth month facing COVID-19, every unit of our government continues to wrestle with multiple, parallel objectives:

  • Addressing evolving public health concerns, particularly as our region begins to reopen
  • Reducing and recovering from the social and economic impact of the virus
  • Addressing structural inequities that underpin and exacerbate the above objectives 

Since March, Civic Consulting Alliance has mobilized to support a cross-sector, comprehensive, and inclusive COVID-19 response and recovery that centers equity. To date, we've redeployed 75 percent of our staff and secured more than a dozen pro bono teams across at least as many workstreams with the City of Chicago, Cook County, the State of Illinois, and philanthropic and community stakeholders.

The article below provides a compelling example of the critical impact of this work through our collaboration with the City of Chicago's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to provide rapid and equitable financial support to Chicago's small business owners most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Leveraging Data Visualization to Equitably Support Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Chicago earlier this year, thousands of restaurants, shops, salons, and other small businesses were required to shut their doors as part of the public health response. In an effort to support Chicago’s entrepreneurs through this crisis, in April and May, the City launched two programs:

  •  The Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund to provide $100 million of emergency cash to small businesses and nonprofits through loans of up to $50,000; and
  •  The Microbusiness Recovery Grant Program to provide $5,000 grants to up to 1,000 small businesses that cannot afford to take on debt during this challenging time.

Demand for these programs greatly exceeded available funding, with more than 4,500 Microbusiness Grant applications received alone.

" We were committed to distributing funds using an equity framework. We needed a tool to make informed, systematic decisions, and to assess if we were achieving that goal. "
- Kenya Merritt, Chief Small Business Officer

Civic Consulting Alliance and our pro bono partner Slalom worked with Kenya and her team to build dashboards to track the number of applicants, which neighborhoods they represented, and the demographics of applicants—including race, gender, and industry.

“The dashboards enabled us to visualize applications and fund disbursements, so that we could ensure that funding was reaching a diverse group of business owners across the city, and particularly those communities most in need.”
- Kenya Merritt, Chief Small Business Officer
Caption: Maps from the Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund dashboard show the percent of small businesses that applied (left) and the percent of applications approved (right) by community area (CA). The difference between the maps reflects the impact of the City’s equity framework.
As a result, approximately 55% of the businesses that received a Microbusiness Grant are owned by women, 45% of recipients are Black, and 34% are Latinx. On average, recipients have two employees and have been operating for 10 years.

The dashboards also support longer-term policymaking. The visualizations have allowed City leaders to understand which industries have the greatest need for financial support, and which communities may need more technical assistance in order to benefit from such programs in the future, given the small percentage of businesses that applied for funding in those areas.

The dashboards have also helped the City quickly and flexibly communicate data to stakeholders, such as the public and aldermen, so that they can adjust their efforts as may be needed in order to better support small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.

Being able to understand and to respond to the needs of Chicago’s small businesses is critical as we move out of COVID-19 crisis response and into the recovery. This knowledge is even more significant in the wake of the death of George Floyd—which shone a bright light on our society’s stark inequities and structural racism, and which sparked vandalism that hurt many of the small businesses that were already struggling the most.

As our communities and small business owners continue to recover from these dual events, we hope that this work will support the City’s efforts to prioritize equity during a time of extreme need and urgency.
Spotlight: Lydia O'Connell
Lydia O'Connell was with us as an Undergraduate Fellow from Northwestern University from April to June.
What project work were you involved in during your time at Civic Consulting Alliance?

I worked on a project with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that was focused on strategic planning to accomplish the 5-year vision they have to increase student attainment. As part of this work, I conducted a landscape analysis aimed at understanding the full range of services, supports and strategic initiatives CPS is focused on to improve early literacy education.

What will you take away from your time at Civic Consulting Alliance?

I was impressed by the team’s dedication, especially as we adapted to working remotely due to COVID-19. I appreciated seeing the day-to-day steps that are required to achieve an ambitious goal, and the labor and creativity that are required to tackle complex problems. 
What was your most memorable experience during your time at Civic Consulting Alliance?

Several CPS leaders said our project took an approach the District hadn't tried before. It was exciting to work closely with these leaders and to see my own ideas shape the work.
How has your time at Civic Consulting Alliance helped you develop professionally?

I would like to work in the public sector, and this experience was invaluable because it introduced me to people who are committed to overcoming the unique challenges that face our public institutions. My time at Civic Consulting Alliance also expanded my view of how private sector leaders can make valuable contributions to public sector work. 

In partnership with Northwestern University, we provide a semester-long Undergraduate Fellowship. We periodically work with other undergraduate institutions on shorter internship opportunities. Please visit our   Fellowships   page to learn more about our range of fellowship opportunities.
In Other News...

  • The City unveiled a new data dashboard where residents can explore data about COVID-19 within their communities. The dashboard was developed by the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team and the CDPH Office of Epidemiology, in collaboration with Civic Consulting Alliance and our pro bono partner Slalom.



  • Last month, Cook County recently released its COVID-19 response plan, developed with assistance from Civic Consulting Alliance, which lays out how the County plans to continue its commitment to advancing racial equity while moving towards recovery.
Questions? Comments? Contact Marie Akerman