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Rewiring Government

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

Kari Mah

Posts by Kari Mah


Upgrade your forms with repeating groups

Today we’re adding repeating groups, one of our most requested form features, to Screendoor.

Some forms might ask respondents to fill out the same fields more than once. If you’re building a job application, you might ask for the names of a few references, along with the contact information for each. And if you’re hosting a business registration form, you might ask a few questions about each business partner involved.

For example, here’s an excerpt from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’s Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status:

Repeating groups make it super easy for admins to ask for this kind of information. Once you create a group, you can add as many fields to it as you’d like.

Repeating groups also make it a lot easier for respondents to fill out your form. Since each group only needs to show up once, your respondents will spend a lot less time scrolling through unnecessary duplicate fields.

Like everything in Screendoor, repeating groups really shine when it’s time to analyze and collaborate around responses. Screendoor knows that every answer to a field in a repeating group is related, so we’ve made it easy to search inside their answers and view those answers right inside the responses dashboard.

If you’re creating a new project, you can get started with repeating groups right now. Just drag a repeating group into your form and start adding fields to it.

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Join the CPNN community call featuring ProPublica and Screendoor

It’s an exciting time if you’re in charge of community engagement in a newsroom. Technology has made it easier to ask readers to contribute to your reporting. But with all the new tools and platforms out there, you might be wondering: what’s the best way to get started?

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Crowdsourcing the news with Screendoor

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism recently published “A How-To Guide to Crowdsourcing,” featuring a case study of ProPublica’s groundbreaking strategies for targeted outreach. The report describes how the news organization uses Screendoor to solicit personal stories that become the foundation for many of its investigations.

In the process of collecting and analyzing thousands of personal contributions, unexpected stories emerge. This was the case with ProPublica’s Reliving Agent Orange investigation:

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Introducing Shortcuts for workflow automation

Behind every form is a unique workflow process. While some forms require a single approval, others go through multiple rounds of sign-offs. The greater the number of manual tasks involved, the greater the chance of human error.

Automating the steps in your workflow can reduce misunderstanding among your team, prevent responses from slipping through the cracks, and enable you to close the loop with both colleagues and respondents. Plus, it’ll save time spent carrying out tasks one by one.

Today we’re introducing Shortcuts, a new feature that brings workflow automation to Screendoor.

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DOBT at the Code for America Summit

The DOBT team will be at the Code for America Summit in Oakland this week! As in previous years, we look forward to seeing on display a mix of grit and pragmatic optimism that’s characteristic of a community we’re proud to be a part of.

Oakland skyline

Here are some of the sessions we have our eye on:

If you spot one of us, make sure to say hi! Let’s talk open data production, form design, remote work meetings, or all of the above.

Image used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

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How ProPublica uncovers stories with Screendoor

If you want to find a community of engaged readers, look no further than ProPublica. The independent, nonprofit newsroom routinely asks the public to help with ongoing investigations.

Together with the Virginian-Pilot, ProPublica reporters are exploring the effects of Agent Orange exposure on Vietnam veterans and their children. They’re using Screendoor to collect stories from both those who served in Vietnam and their family members.

Photo of Marines in Vietnam c. 1967

“Members of 1st Recon, Vietnam, ca. 1967” by Michael R. Travis is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It’s been 40 years since the fall of Saigon, but veterans and their families continue to reckon with the legacy of the Vietnam War. We’re proud that Screendoor has played a role in helping nearly 3,000 veterans tell their stories.

Read the first article to come out of this investigation. And if you’re a journalist who wants to learn how Screendoor can help you crowdsource your reporting, write us at hello@dobt.co.

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Webinar: Find your next hire with Screendoor

Want to learn how Screendoor can help you make your next great hire?

You’re in luck. In our upcoming webinar, DOBT Co-founder and Chairman Clay Johnson will share how he and the other directors of the Chattahoochee Hills Charter School used Screendoor to hire the school’s new principal.

Wednesday, August 19th at 10am PDT/1pm EDT

In this webinar, you’ll learn how to…

  • Screen applicants quickly
  • Schedule multiple interviews without going crazy
  • Evaluate top candidates fairly
  • Keep your hiring committee on task
  • Respond—with data!—when candidates ask why they didn’t make the cut

Plus, if you already use Screendoor, you’ll pick up a bunch of tips to help you manage responses more efficiently.

Space is limited, so click here to reserve your spot soon!

Can’t make it? We’ll miss you, but sign up and we’ll send you a recording once it’s ready.

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What's new for Screendoor project reviewers

Teams in government and nonprofit organizations who use Screendoor for innovation challenges often call upon subject matter experts (SMEs) to help them identify the most promising entries. These collaborators are invited precisely for their domain knowledge, not their dexterity with software. They’re most likely pressed for time. Instead of learning the ins and outs of Screendoor, they should be able to review responses right away.

To shorten the learning curve, we made some changes to the first-run experience for reviewers:

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Three more form design tips

This is the second installment of “Build Better Forms,” a series in which we review online government forms and suggest some improvements.

As we discussed in our first post, a clear and intuitive form reaps many benefits:

  • lower data processing costs,
  • fewer support requests,
  • higher completion rates,
  • and greater citizen satisfaction.

Let’s run through three more ways you can improve your form:

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Goodbye, FormsCentral. Hello, Screendoor.

Adobe will retire FormsCentral in late July. If your agency or government has relied on FormsCentral to build and publish web forms and fillable PDF forms, what should you do?

Give your citizens a break

Filling out a form is a tedious yet necessary task, one from which few are exempt. The easier it is for your citizens to fill out a form, the quicker they can get on with their day.

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Three ways your form confuses your users—and how you can fix them

Filling out a form is hardly a pleasant experience, but a clear and simple form can go a long way in easing the pain. Everyone wins: respondents complete it without any issues, and you, in turn, avoid chasing down missing data from incomplete forms. You get exactly the information you need.

We’ve helped our customers improve their forms in Screendoor, and we’re ready to share what we’ve learned. Inspired by the “teardowns” on User Onboarding, we plan to regularly suggest improvements to government forms we find online.

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Get a live demo of Screendoor for hiring and fellowships

If you’ve ever sat on a hiring or fellowship selection committee, you know how difficult it can be to identify top candidates. Keeping track of application materials. Delegating application review to your colleagues. Taking note, at each round, of which candidates have made the cut.

Hiring and fellowship selection with Screendoor can bring order to chaos. Take it from our following customers who use Screendoor exclusively for this purpose:

This Wednesday, join DOBT CEO Joshua Goldstein for a live demo of Screendoor. You’ll learn how we can help you and your colleagues work together to find your dream candidate from a pool of applications.

It’s free. And it’s only 30 minutes, including time for questions at the end.

So if you have 30 minutes to spare on Wednesday, May 13th at 10am PST (1pm EST), head over to http://join.me/departmentofbetter.

See you there!

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Cut down your backlog of public records requests & achieve greater transparency

In recent years, we’ve seen tools like MuckRock, FOIA Machine, and Alaveteli improve how journalists and citizens ask for public records and share what they find. But on the other side of the request is you, the government employee tasked with processing and replying. Requests and follow-up inquiries pile up in your inbox, waiting to be logged into a database management system that is slow and out-of-date.

There’s a better way. Screendoor enables you to collect and process public records requests more efficiently, with less stress and greater transparency. Our software has been battle-tested on the front lines at every level of government: USAID, Colorado Secretary of State, the City of Oakland, and the City of San Francisco all use Screendoor to manage information collection workflows.

Backlog, be gone

Screendoor comes with a full suite of features to streamline your records request process:

Stay on top of all incoming requests.


Set up statuses to keep track of a request through each stage of your workflow.


Add labels to categorize requests and further ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Manage and delegate requests.


Assign a colleague to review a request. Discuss related tasks with @mentions and notifications.

Keep your citizens informed…


…with an email acknowledging the request.

notify status

…with a notification email, sent each time the status of a request changes.

socrata sync

…with an archive of requests published in your open data portal.

Let the light in

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws are hallmark efforts to create a more transparent, open government—one accountable to all its citizens. Our co-founder and chairman Clay Johnson serves on the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee, so we’re committed to the success of these laws. We recognize, too, that this success depends on proper implementation and oversight.

In the face of budget constraints, compliance at every level of government remains underfunded. Screendoor provides a low-cost avenue for agencies and offices to fulfill public records requests with greater transparency.

We encourage you to see for yourself! You don’t have to upend your current process for managing requests before trying Screendoor. Contact us to request a free trial and pilot a new workflow within your agency or office, risk-free, or learn more on our website.

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Sharing and Previewing Screendoor Project Templates

As we mentioned last week, increased user efficiency is one benefit we track when we measure the return on investment in Screendoor. Our software saves you time, so you and your collaborators can focus on managing submissions and making decisions swiftly.

Among the many Screendoor features that serve this goal is the project template. We think you’ll find our drag-and-drop form builder and project wizard simple to use, but you shouldn’t need to build a project from scratch if another Screendoor user has created a similar one before.

Instead, create a project with a template—either from our template library or the list of templates in your Screendoor account. This allows you to reuse configuration settings and form components from an existing or archived project. As for the settings and fields you don’t want to reuse, you can delete or edit them in the project wizard easily.

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