Logo for The Department of Better Technology.

Rewiring Government

The Department of Better Technology helps governments deliver great digital services to the people who depend on them.

Joshua Goldstein

Posts by Joshua Goldstein


Creating a safe and respectful working environment

We feel compelled to offer this response to recent media reports concerning Clay Johnson. The reports describe cases of sexual harassment and misconduct throughout Clay’s career. Clay was a founder of The Department of Better Technology (DOBT), who stepped back from active involvement in 2014 and remained an advisor to the company until it was acquired by CityBase in August 2017. The media reports do not mention any incidents at DOBT, nor are we aware of any such incidents. There were no complaints about Clay’s behavior, formally or informally, during his tenure at DOBT. By all accounts, he treated his colleagues at DOBT with thoughtfulness and respect.

At DOBT we firmly believe every employer owes its employees a safe and respectful working environment. We do not tolerate any form of abuse or harassment.

No one should have to face harassment, bullying or verbal abuse based on any identity. Every workplace, including DOBT, can and must do better at ensuring everyone, particularly those who have been historically discriminated against, are not only treated with respect, but can fully participate in an inclusive environment. This starts with clear and concise policies on workplace behavior, but also includes diversity training, actively recruiting diverse candidates, and ensuring that people of all backgrounds get the same access to mentorship, advice and promotion.

That commitment clearly expressed in the Workplace Tolerance section of our Employee Handbook states:

“DOBT is unabashedly pro-woman, and pro-diversity. This can’t be overstated enough, and it’s something we seek out in the other people that we hire. That said, some people, because of their cultural upbringing may not even be aware that their statements or actions do make people feel uncomfortable. While we do not want to create a ‘safe place for bigots,’ we also don’t have a zero-tolerance policy for anything other than making the same mistakes over and over again. And just to restate it: we won’t hesitate to fire you if you’re making your peers feel uncomfortable because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, or any other way that people you work with choose to identify.”

At DOBT we believe in achieving systemic, lasting change. This change starts with us, our values, and our culture.

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DOBT has joined CityBase

I’m pleased to announce that, as of today, the Department of Better Technology (DOBT) has officially been acquired by CityBase, a Chicago-based GovTech company that provides payment and digital service infrastructure to cities.

First and foremost, I want to let you know there will be no disruption to Screendoor service. Our team will continue to work on the product and respond promptly to support requests at support@dobt.co.

We started DOBT in 2013 with the aim of becoming the 37Signals of government software. Since 2014, we’ve worked exclusively on Screendoor: building our team, moving (mostly) to Oakland, and expanding our customer base to include a remarkable mix of cities, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofits and media companies.

We decided to join CityBase because they share our belief that individuals and businesses alike should be treated with dignity when they interact with government. Working within a larger company gives us more resources to execute on our roadmap for Screendoor, and our complementary product offerings will allows us to deliver more value together than would could apart.

On behalf of the entire DOBT team, I want to thank you for putting your trust in us. It’s been a joy to get to know so many of you, and we look forward to continuing to serve you as we enter a new chapter in our company’s story.

We’re eager to share more in the months to come. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at jg@dobt.co with any questions or concerns.

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Against the Executive Order on Refugees and Visas

Picture of the American flag.

Yesterday, I joined fellow tech CEOs and investors in pledging to stand in opposition to the Executive Order on Refugees and Visas. The pledge affirms our commitment to:

  1. Supporting all our people regardless of their religion or national origin and to raising our voices forcefully against such actions [that restrict freedom of expression, religion and movement] at all levels of our government.

  2. Providing whatever support necessary to any of our employees and their families affected by the Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

  3. Encouraging an open and honest dialogue on the importance of inclusivity and equity in enabling shared success and prosperity across America.

In December, we also signed a statement on civil liberties with the following pledge:

  1. We pledge to unconditionally protect our people from the erosion of their civil liberties, and to speak up and resist such attempts.

  2. We categorically refuse to contribute our skills or platforms to any effort that infringes on civil liberties by any government agency.

  3. We accept a responsibility to partner with communities where the effects of rapidly changing technologies have hurt our fellow Americans. As a business community that has built a formidable leadership and impact globally, it is our patriotic duty to find innovative ways to help create New Economy jobs throughout our country.

The Executive Order is against our values as a company and as a country. It fails to achieve its stated goal of keeping America safe, and it assaults the core American ideals of civil liberties and equal protection under the law.

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Interview: David Robinson on ethics and civil rights in a big data world

Quote from David Robinson, excerpted from the transcript below.

In this episode of Rewiring Government, CEO Joshua Goldstein talks to David Robinson, principal at Upturn, about civil rights in the digital age. They cover big data, the ethics ruling company research labs, and ways to hold algorithms accountable, particularly when it comes to poor, vulnerable, or otherwise disadvantaged people.

Use the player above to listen, or subscribe on iTunes and Google Play! You can also add our RSS feed to your favorite podcast app. If you like this episode, rate and review us on iTunes, and tell your friends.

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Interview: Swati Mylavarapu on government service delivery and reinventing citizen experience

Quote from Swati Mylavarapu, excerpted from the transcript below.

In this episode of Rewiring Government, CEO Joshua Goldstein talks to Swati Mylavarapu, a partner at VC firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, about the challenges and opportunities for software startups, and tech companies more broadly, in helping government improve the way they operate and deliver public services to citizens. The conversation is bookended by some bigger picture questions about the role that technology companies play in solving some of society’s largest problems.

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Interview: Alex Howard on engaging citizens with government and making data meaningful

Quote from Alex Howard, excerpted from the transcript below.

In this episode of Rewiring Government, Josh talks to Alex Howard, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. They discuss how government harnesses technology to regain trust, the surprisingly meaningful impact of nonprofit tax data, and trends in open government and police accountability.

Use the player above to listen, or subscribe on iTunes and Google Play! You can also add our RSS feed to your favorite podcast app. If you like this episode, rate and review us on iTunes, and tell your friends.

A transcript of the interview is below, edited for content and flow.

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Interview: Rachel Lunsford on creating the Blue Button program and “Midwestern nice”

Quote from Rachel Lunsford, excerpted from the transcript below.

In this episode of Rewiring Government, Josh talks to Rachel Lunsford, the project manager of the Blue Button Initiative at the Veteran Affairs Agency. They discuss the program’s development, managers who say “yes,” user feedback, and using “Midwestern nice” to get things done.

Use the player above to listen, or subscribe on iTunes and Google Play! You can also add our RSS feed to your favorite podcast app. If you like this episode, rate and review us on iTunes, and tell your friends.

A lightly edited transcript is below.

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DOBT joins 500 Startups

I’m happy to announce that the Department of Better Technology is the first GovTech company to be accepted into 500 Startups, a prominent Bay Area accelerator program.

This is great news, not just for our company, but for the entire GovTech sector. We’ve known for a long time that government has the potential to become a startup-friendly SaaS category. When there is a job to be done, smart people in government want to be able to choose the best software to help them achieve their goals. They want software that is easily configurable, automatically updated, and beautifully designed. This notion has been validated by our amazing customers who have said “no” to the status quo of legacy vendors, onerous consulting contracts, and software from the 1990s.

A small handful of keen investors have recognized and supported companies working in this space. However, getting into 500 Startups is another signal that the VC community as a whole is starting to take GovTech more seriously, and that our customers don’t just represent iconoclasts and outsiders, but are part of a seachange in how people in government are thinking about and purchasing software to help them get things done.

When we got started, a common refrain in Washington and Silicon Valley was, “You can be a company that builds great software, or you can be a company that sells to government, but you can’t be both.” We are thrilled that the software industry, investors, and most importantly our customers are recognizing that this dichotomy no longer rings true.

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Introducing our podcast, Rewiring Government

Every day, we talk to people in government who are interested in pushing their city, state or federal agency to become a better provider of digital services. They frequently ask us for advice and we are happy to share.

One thing struck us recently: despite living and breathing GovTech, we know only a fraction of the stories and hard-won lessons from our colleagues working in the guts of government to make change.

That’s why we’re going to try something new: the Rewiring Government podcast. Starting with the Presidential Innovation Fellows, the Code for America fellows, and other GovTech leaders, we’ll dig deep to identify how change in government actually happens.

Rewiring Government will feature:

  • Big Thinking and Implementation. We want to hear stories from people who are willing to both think big and get their hands dirty with the implementation details.

  • Optimism and Earnestness. We want to explore how to navigate the institutional pressures aligned against change makers. It’s easy to be cynical in these contexts, but we won’t be.

  • Operationally Relevant Advice. Every experience is unique and idiosyncratic, but we are convinced that there are generalizable lessons and an audience that is hungry to hear them. Beyond technical best practices, we want to hear what it takes to make an implementation a success.

We’re also excited about this podcast because we think it can be a first cut of history of Obama-era GovTech innovation. So much has happened at every level of government since 2009, so as we enter the last year or so of this particular chapter of GovTech, we think this podcast can help capture these important lessons.

I really enjoyed speaking with our first two guests. Right now, you can hear Justin Erlich, the Data and Technology Advisor to California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Soon, we’ll have Rachel Lunsford, former product manager for the Blue Button at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Enjoy!

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Interview: Justin Erlich on gaining insights from open data

Quote from Justin Erlich, excerpted from the transcript below.

In the first episode of our podcast, Joshua Goldstein, our CEO, talks to Justin Erlich, the Data and Technology Advisor to California Attorney General Kamala Harris. We discuss Kamala Harris’ launch of OpenJustice, one of the most high-profile criminal justice transparency initiatives in the country, especially relevant given the public debate around racial bias in policing.

Use the player above to listen, or subscribe on iTunes and Google Play! You can also add our RSS feed to your favorite podcast app. If you like this episode, rate and review us on iTunes, and tell your friends.

A lightly edited transcript is below.

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The Bright Future of Digital Government Services

Today I’m happy to announce our new mission statement:

We help governments deliver great digital services to the people who depend on them.

As a company, we have our roots in procurement. RFP-EZ, the precursor to Screendoor, was built during a Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) assignment to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The product provided both a forms solution and a workflow tool that allowed teams to evaluate bids. As Screendoor started to gain a foothold in the new GovTech marketplace beyond procurement, we observed two things:

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The Data Revolution Has a Software Problem

In Dodoma, Tanzania’s administrative capital, a group of visibly frustrated economists and statisticians discussed their work inside a sweltering room. They were from the nearby Singida Region, and they were on the front lines of what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called the Data Revolution, an effort to find innovative data collection methods that can measure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Their day-to-day work is helping to answer an important question. Given primary school enrollment rates, immunization rates, agricultural productivity, and other important quantitative indicators, how well are the people of Singida actually faring?

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Powering better fellowship programs — Join us for a demo

Are you part of a team in charge of a fellowship program? If so, you are doing important work, connecting agencies and organizations to the talent they need and providing unique opportunities for service.

But you’re also likely to spend a lot of time sifting through an enormous number of applications, delegating application review to colleagues, and communicating with potential fellows.

We’re here to help! Screendoor is a web-based tool that allows you to publish a beautiful and intuitive application form and stay on top of submissions without having to pass around messy spreadsheets or email attachments.

To see Screendoor in action, check out the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Research and Innovation Fellowships catalog.

Then join us for a 30-minute demo and Q&A every Wednesday in May and June at 1PM EST / 10AM PST. Sign up here!

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Streamlining the Production of Open Data

When I worked at the World Bank, I spent a lot of time helping government agencies harness data to improve delivery of the public services that matter most to citizens. Our clients wanted to access streams of insight to improve decision-making and performance. Around this time, open data portals like Socrata and CKAN were starting to mature, and business dashboards like Geckoboard and Ducksboard were coming onto the market. While the data publication tools had never been better, the data production workflow was slow and inefficient, a cumbersome process that involved messy spreadsheets, Google Docs and manually uploaded .csv files. The open data production process was, and still is, a major barrier to the creation of timely, granular and actionable data.

typical performance dashboard

Today we’re pleased to unveil Open Data Sync, a new Screendoor feature that bridges the gap between data production and data publication. With Socrata Sync, senior managers in government can collect, approve and evaluate data from project teams and sync it to their Socrata Open Data Portal—automatically.

Performance measurement and evaluation is one area where Socrata Sync provides a solution. Chief data officers (CDOs) can work with department heads to define performance indicators in Screendoor and distribute a link to a page where frontline teams can enumerate their progress at regular intervals. Once the data has been collected, CDOs and department heads can review and discuss submissions directly in Screendoor. Upon their approval, the data is instantly pushed to the Open Data Portal. Equipped with up-to-date and widely available data, senior staff can more easily advocate for process change. This is only one use case for Socrata Sync: stay tuned for additional benefits of improving the data production process with Screendoor.

We’re excited to offer Screendoor as a cornerstone element of the data production workflow, replacing brittle spreadsheets and outdated database management systems. Our new feature reduces human or machine errors common in data collection. It also lessens the work required to maintain dashboards for end users. Furthermore, we know the data production process is never static, so we’ve ensured that Screendoor can adapt to a wide array of scenarios, such as new performance indicators, new team members and process changes.

We would love to hear what you think! Send us a message at @dobtco or sign up to create your first Screendoor project.

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Measuring Screendoor's ROI for Government Agencies

One of the great challenges of working in government today is the sheer inadequacy of the tools available to achieve an ambitious and ever growing set of policy challenges. At DOBT, we spend a lot of time thinking about to solve this problem, and how we can continue to measure and improve the return on investment (ROI) we deliver to project teams working to serve their constituents.

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Making Government More Effective and Inclusive

I am delighted to join the Department of Better Technology! The vision for this company, developed while Clay and Adam served as Presidential Innovation Fellows in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is incredibly compelling:

The Department of Better Technology’s goal is to move government into the 21st century: to work in the guts of government, to fix problems via technology, and to improve the way that people interact with it. We think that no matter what size you want government to be, you want it to work well, be accountable, and spend your dollars wisely. We think modernizing technology is a way to achieve all those things.

Screendoor, DOBT’s flagship product, is a flexible tool that enables governments and non-profits to collect and manage data in a beautiful and intuitive way. USAID uses Screendoor to place hundreds of fellows in Graduate Research Innovation Fellowships, the City of Oakland uses it to run its Grants for the Arts program, and Propublica uses it to find sources for their news stories.

While I’m excited to expand our work with municipal and federal partners, I’m also excited about working with the international development community and using Screendoor to solve difficult global challenges. Over the last few years, I’ve worked in emerging and developing economies to help front-line teams use technology to more effectively deliver the services (health, water and education) that matter most to citizens. In each of these sectors, collecting accurate data at the community level – and making sense of these data at the district or national level – is a core challenge. Screendoor is the best tool for managing this process: from the creation of a form and the collection of data on a mobile device or tablet, to getting the full picture about what these data can tell us. Screendoor is backed by a robust API, which makes it easy to sync data with existing systems and interact with your data on a map.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to join Clay, Adam, and the team. DOBT is a for-profit company, but it’s backed by the Knight Foundation and we measure our success both by how well we do and by the extent to which we help make government – the only institution that serves all of us – more effective and inclusive.


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