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Rewiring Government

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

Posts tagged with “Updates”

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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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 7

Discovery research and modular procurement in action.

18F takes a deeper look at modular procurement and discusses their approach to a new system for the Forest Service. The Technology Transformation Service started this engagement with discovery research, “a process used to better understand what people need from a product or service,” instead of diving into the work. In the end, this upfront feedback helped them build a better user experience and laid the foundation for a more trusting partnership. (Keep an eye out for the rest of the series on their blog.)

If you’d like to see how modular procurement works “in the wild,” look no further than the Child Welfare Digital Services (CDWS) project. CDWS is an attempt by the State of California and local agencies to implement a new child welfare reporting system “using Agile methodologies, free/open source software (FOSS) and user-centered design.” They just awarded a new contract to CivicActions, who will provide development operations management for the project.

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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 6

Tech fellows wanted.

The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (SFMOCI) is looking to add two new innovation fellows to the team. If you’re interested in joining the team responsible for consistent, forward-thinking projects, check out their blog post, or go straight to the application form (hosted on Screendoor).

New America just announced its first class of Public Interest Technology Fellows. New America President and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter says that the team “is looking to build an ecosystem for the field of public interest technology”—work that will hopefully shape the way that NGOs work with technology and data.

An update on the White House Tech Summit.

In last week’s roundup, we brought you some news about the White House Tech Summit, including Jennifer Pahlka’s reasons for attending. Luckily, she’s back with two more blog posts. In the first, she praises the truly wonderful response she received from the CfA community, from which trolls were notably missing. The second post offers a rundown of the day’s activities and talks, along with Pahlka’s impressions of the day and her fellow attendees. As you’d expect, her commentary points out the importance of truly improving government services, not just public-facing websites.

Online voting?

Voting has been a hot topic over the past few weeks, and with the recent allegations of foreign interference, most of the commentary has revolved around creating a simpler and more secure process. Predicting Our Future recently published a podcast series on online voting and the far-reaching implications of moving away from paper ballots entirely.

Do yourself a favor and listen to these three fascinating episodes. You’ll come away with greater appreciation for the complexity (and fragility) of our electoral system, plus plenty of intelligent talking points about securing elections against hacking and increasing voter turnout for your next stop at the water cooler.

Read something great this week? Share it with us at hello@dobt.co.

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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 5

GovTech funding and the path to $100MM ARR.

One potential mark of startup success is funding—namely, progressively-larger rounds of funding. Government Technology Magazine dug into the funding history for companies on their GovTech Top 100 list to find out just how much funding these companies were commanding in each round, along with the increase in capital from round to round. (GovTech funding may be gaining momentum, too. Govtech Fund recently invested in seven more companies, more than doubling their portfolio.)

Of course, healthy revenue is the other big marker of success. Nick Bowden is back with a teardown of the path to $100MM ARR. Aside from the usual suspects (access to cash and market size), he discusses how the founders’ competencies, the product’s value-add, and the team’s makeup can all affect adoption and, ultimately, the company’s bottom line.

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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 4

Federal IT: Two steps forward, one step back…

Amazon is working on a new GovCloud region, set to open in 2018. The AWS GovCloud (US-East) Region will be a bit closer to target customers in the federal government (although isolated from U.S. East AWS), safeguard against data loss from potential disasters in the Pacific Northwest, and comply with all of the same compliance standards as the existing region.

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released the latest Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) Scorecard. Even though agencies’ progress seems to have slowed across the board, USAID walked away with the first A grade ever awarded. You can view the scorecard itself here, courtesy of FedScoop.

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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 3

What the heck is a blockchain?!

The a16z podcast takes Capitol Hill to chat with Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and David Schweikert (R-Arizona) about possible applications for blockchain technologies, way beyond cryptocurrencies. The 20-minute episode will leave you with plenty of cocktail party worthy soundbites about everything from information privacy to more effective foreign aid.

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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 2

Invasion of the chatbots. (Coming to a city near you.)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services just added a chatbot to their support team. The bot, named Emma, should be able to answer most visitors’ questions, but if she gets stumped, she’ll switch you over to a live representative. In addition to streamlining customer support, the bot also knows how to handle personally identifiable information (PII) with kid-gloves; chat logs are purged after the session ends, or, if you’re transferred to a representative, the bot will scrub PII from the conversation before handing everything over.

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GovTech Link Roundup: Volume 1

Keeping up with industry news can be overwhelming, so DOBT’s weekly Link Roundup aims to be a one-stop shop for GovTech (and GovTech-adjacent) news.

In this first installment: Local governments and the companies that serve them; lots of GovTech funding; and trivia from the history of technology in the White House.

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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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Announcing Screendoor for Government

Today, we’re excited to unveil the new Screendoor for Government!

Yes, we’ve always served government, but with Screendoor for Government, we’re doubling down on our commitment to the groups that Screendoor was created to serve—cities, states, and federal agencies.

This means outlining our vision for modern and sustainable digital services, which you can see reflected in the newly designed product page and in our recently published white paper, A Vision for Paperless Government.

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GovTech 100: Department of Better Technology makes the list for 2017

For the second year running, we’ve been named as a GovTech 100 Company. This list recognizes the companies that are building technology for government as a primary customer, not an afterthought.

We’re extremely honored to be recognized, and even more proud to serve the public sector alongside the other brilliant companies on this list.

You can read GovTech’s full announcement here or view the full list here.

P.S. We made our own list of personal favorites in the industry. (Don’t miss Part 2!)

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White Paper: The future of digital government and paperless forms

We’re about to publish our first white paper.

In it, we outline our vision for the future of government, led by the complete digitization of forms and the business processes behind them.

With this white paper, we’re providing a roadmap for success and a long checklist of vital features so that anyone in the public sector can make the transition to paperless forms.

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Welcome, Victor!

We’re excited to announce another addition to our team: the talented Victor Lymar.

Victor joins us from Scribd, where he worked as a backend engineer on one of the web’s largest Rails apps in production. Before that, he studied Computer Science and Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley and graduated in 2014.

Recently, he and Adam also became lead belay certified, another stop in their quest to convert the Department of Better Technology into a rock climbing team.

Welcome to the team, Victor!

victor's headshot

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New Screendoor Feature: Say hello (or hola) to multi language forms

Today, we’re excited to officially unveil a tool we’ve had in beta for a while: multi language forms!

Great government digital services are easily accessible by default, and one big component of accessibility is ensuring users can access content in their primary language. As part of our work with the Government of Switzerland, we developed a simple way to translate your Screendoor forms into Spanish, French, Italian, or German.

Usually, we launch a feature with a simple blog post and a walkthrough, but we’d also like to let you see how one of our customers put it to use.

Want to learn how the Los Angeles Times used a translated Screendoor form to crowdsource stories for one of the coolest pieces of journalism this year? Read on for the details, along with a walkthrough video so that you can start translating your own forms today.

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Screendoor Update: Send a response to external collaborators

We think about forms all the time, since they’re what Screendoor is built upon.

Forms are the lifeblood of nearly every bureaucratic process because they make it easier to capture the correct information in the correct format, and then distribute that information to all interested parties. Often, these interested parties are from multiple offices, agencies, programs, and departments, which can make communication difficult and tedious.

We make it easy for Screendoor users to collect, review, and approve responses. But to date, it’s been harder to collaborate with colleagues who aren’t using Screendoor. Sure, you could send them an exported PDF or an Excel workbook, but those require an extra step and an extra email. That’s not exactly aligned with the goal of simplifying and automating business processes.

So, after tons of feedback from current and prospective customers, we’re working on some Screendoor updates to make it easier to make the move from your paper or PDF-based business process to an online workflow.

Our first update is a way to make working with your forms, both online and offline, a bit easier. Plus, we’ve given our PDF exports a little facelift.

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Welcome, Aidan!

We’re happy to announce the newest addition to our team, Aidan Nevin.

Aidan is a sales professional who gained experience across many industries after graduating from the University of Vermont with degrees in Psychology and European History in 2011. Most recently, he sold a SaaS reputation management platform to automotive dealerships, making him a great first hire for our sales team.

Aidan is a Vermont native living in Boston, and he and his wife recently welcomed a daughter, Bella.

(And, yes, he’s been to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory–that was our first question!)

Welcome, Aidan!

aidan's headshot

Follow @nevin802 on Twitter →

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Welcome, Becca!

We’re happy to announce the newest addition to our team, Rebecca Moore.

Becca joins us from the California Department of Parks and Recreation, where she gained first-hand experience with the many challenges that front-line government workers face. This makes her the perfect addition to our growing customer success team, as well as an adept project manager for some of our larger clients.

Becca also joins me and Kari as the team’s third California-native. She graduated from UC Davis in 2013 with honors in Classics and high honors in History.

Welcome, Becca!

becca's headshot

Follow @beccamoore09 on Twitter →

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Designing a better authentication system for Screendoor respondents

Last month, we rethought the way that respondents to our customers’ hosted forms authenticate themselves. Previously, we required respondents to create an account, which adds unnecessary friction. We redesigned the system to deliver all of the benefits of account creation with none of the downsides, taking cues from the “passwordless authentication” movement.

We wanted to give you a look into the problems we identified with our old system, the design process we used to iterate upon user flows, and how we migrated to the new system with minimal impact to our users.

But, first, if you want to try out the new system, check out one of our sample forms to see it in action.

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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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Screendoor (finally) gets a "trash" for responses

Today we shipped a major feature to Screendoor. All projects now have a “trash can” where you can send deleted responses.

Screenshot of Screendoor's trash

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Adding a new type of form field in Screendoor

Besides seeking feedback from our users, we keep a close eye on the forms they publish. Seeing all these great forms really helps us guide Screendoor’s product direction.

Here’s one example we wanted to share. Over the past few months, we’ve seen several users create form fields like these, asking respondents to agree to certain conditions before they continue:

checkbox field as a confirmation

Screendoor’s form builder lets users add checkbox fields, but they aren’t designed for a single option with a blank label. That’s why the asterisk indicating a required field appears in the screenshot above. We considered changing the behavior of checkbox fields to remove the stray asterisk. But ultimately, we decided to create a new type of field, one that would more clearly fit a user’s mental model of providing confirmation.

So, that’s all to say that we shipped a new field type today: “Confirm.” It looks like this:

confirmation field

Screendoor users can now take advantage of this new field type to create better-looking, more semantic forms that are easier to understand. And we’ll continue looking for ways to make our customers’ forms even better.

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A whole slew of Screendoor updates

We’ve been quiet for the past month or two! Here’s a peek of what we’ve been up to:

Improved message presets :love_letter:

screenshot of message presets

We’ve re-worked the user flow for sending messages. Not only can you now add a name to your message presets to make them easier to identify, you can also tweak their contents before sending them. This should be a great time-saver!

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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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Introducing Forms.fm

A forms.fm page.

We just released an update that makes your Screendoor forms better than ever. Here’s how.

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Our new style guide

Style guides and pattern libraries are infrastructure for interaction design. They allow experienced designers to work faster, maintain consistency with their colleagues, and communicate more effectively to developers. Non-designers can also use them to prototype products with less guidance. Last week, we released a brand new version of our pattern library, alongside a style guide and visual redesign.

Our new style guide.

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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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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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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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Introducing teams on Screendoor


If you use Screendoor to evaluate job applications, bids, or FOIA requests, chances are it’s a collaborative affair. Most of our customers have multiple people reviewing every submission they receive, each with a different type of expertise. Some of our larger customers, who need to evaluate a deluge of responses within a short timeframe, are delegating dozens of people from different parts of the organization to help tackle the workload.

When you’re dealing with that many people, delegating work efficiently becomes very tough to manage! Today we’re introducing project teams, the first in a series of improvements that will make it easier to help your entire organization take advantage of Screendoor. Here’s how it works.

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New Screendoor Feature: Activity Feed!

We just launched one of our most requested features, the ability to see an “activity feed” of a response inside of your Screendoor project. Here’s what it looks like:

screendoor activity feed ​ This feature makes Screendoor an even better way for you and your colleagues to collaborate and make decisions with ease. It works with your existing projects, so sign in and take a look!

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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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Welcome, Kari!

We’re excited to announce that Kari Mah has joined our growing team at DOBT. Not only is Kari a talented programmer and writer, but she has also served as a fellow at the The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, meaning that she has experience in the grantwriting and RFP processes. It’s hard to imagine a better fit for DOBT, and we’re extremely happy that she’s decided to join our cause.

kari's headshot

Follow @kari_mah on Twitter →

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DOBT's Year in Review

Wow, what a year it’s been! The time has flown by, but when looking back on what we’ve accomplished over the last twelve months, it’s truly night and day. Before heading into the new year, we want to share with you some of our proudest moments from 2014:

1. We grew the team

There’s a moment in every startup’s life when you start to feel like a “real company,” and for us, it was when the team expanded to more than just the two of us. It’s not an easy choice to join a small, fully-distributed company, and it’s humbling as a founder when you find others that share your vision. Aviv Nitsan, Josh Rubenoff, and Josh Goldstein all joined us in 2014, and we couldn’t be happier to have them on board.

2. We built Screendoor into a mature product

We’ve built a lot of software in our short life as a company, but in early 2014 we made the decision to double-down on Screendoor. Collecting and managing information is one of the core functions of government, and we saw the opportunity for our software to make a real impact. In 2014, Screendoor went from a rough beta to a mature, battle-hardened platform. Before, it was barely possible to use Screendoor without some significant hand-holding from our team, but now government agencies we’ve never even talked to are signing up and using it successfully. We’ve rolled out an extensive knowledge base, documenting every nook and cranny of the application, and shipped some seriously awesome features like e-signatures, payments, and the ability to integrate with over 300 other apps.

3. We’ve earned some stunning praise

When our users are happy, we’re happy. Here’s a few of our favorite Tweets from 2014:

4. We’ve had the pleasure of serving some amazing clients

We talk a lot about government, but we also have the pleasure of serving some truly inspiring non-profits as well. In the past year, we’ve seen organizations like Code for America and Mozilla OpenNews use Screendoor to manage applications for their respective fellowship programs. We’ve helped streamline the way they select talent, and that’s something that pays real dividends down the road. We’re extremely grateful for each and every one of our clients, and we wish we had room to name all of them here.

Looking forward…

We have some exciting developments in store for 2015, and can’t wait to share them with you. In the meantime, we’re still focused on our core mission: making great software that helps governments and non-profits better serve their communities.

Happy new year from the DOBT team!

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Screendoor feature updates

Another week, another round of awesome features being shipped in Screendoor. Here’s what we’ve been working on:

Organization-level permissions for projects


You can now assign project collaborators on a per-organization basis, which should be a great time-saver!

Email address in unsubmitted response details


We added the respondent’s email address to the unsubmitted responses page, so you can follow-up with anyone who hasn’t completed your form.

Show read/unread status on responses page


Now it’s easier than ever to track if a response is read or unread.

Better notification emails


We now send notification emails with the “from name” set to the triggering user, so it’s less likely that your coworkers will pass over them.

Still haven’t given Screendoor a try? Sign up for our free trial here: go.dobt.co/screendoortrial

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Announcing Payments for Screendoor

Have five minutes to spare? Here’s a quick screencast about payments, one of Screendoor’s new features that we’re most excited about:

Our integration with Stripe gives Screendoor users access to the best payments platform on the web. Want to give it a spin? Get in touch!

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Building a static, developer-friendly, open-source knowledge base

In our work with government and enterprise IT, we’ve seen how user support can go terribly wrong. Enterprise software is often so complicated and unintuitive that it requires a hefty binder bearing the words “User Manual.”

user manual

After experimenting with a few options, from in-app tooltips to comprehensive phone support, we decided that an online knowledge base would be our best way forward. None of the existing out-of-the-box solutions fit our needs exactly, so we built our own from scratch. Here’s how we did it.

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Another week, another Josh

Continuing our hiring spree from last week, we’ve decided to keep hiring Joshes. This week, Josh Goldstein joins DOBT as managing director. He’ll be helping me out on the business side of things as a primary point of contact for our customers, while also assisting in day-to-day company operations.

Josh brings a new area of expertise to our firm: international development. Before working at DOBT, Josh worked with Google to bring broadband to Africa, assisted at Stanford’s d.school in Jamaica, and helped launch Code for Kenya and Apps4Africa.

Screendoor has always been about accessibility – we made Bootstrap 508 compliant even before we had our first paying customer – but our commitment to accessibility extends beyond what federal law requires. All of our forms are fully mobile-compliant, and many can be filled out solely via email. Our broad conception of accessibility applies to cost as well: Screendoor is being used to turn million-dollar projects into thousand-dollar projects.

All of this makes Screendoor a great fit for the developing world – it’s no wonder that many of our very earliest customers are from the international development community. So we’re tremendously excited to have Josh here as an asset for them, and to help us continue to grow in that sphere.

Welcome, Josh!

josh goldstein headshot

Follow Josh on Twitter →

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Welcome, Josh!

One of the first things we learned when building software for government was that shininess is overrated. Sure, you can slap Bootstrap on your civic app and it’ll immediately look better than 99% of the software that governments are currently using, but when developing an app like Screendoor, everything comes down to user experience. Today, we’re excited to announce that we’ve hired Josh Rubenoff, a talented designer who will help us make our products even more intuitive and easy-to-use. (And heck, maybe a little shinier, too.)

Josh is a self-taught product designer who’s done everything from designing iPad & Web applications for the healthcare industry, to compiling a syllabus for new designers, to interviewing film directors about their work. We couldn’t be happier that he decided to bring his myriad talents to DOBT. Welcome, Josh!

josh's headshot

Follow @joshsj on Twitter →

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Aviv Nitsan joins DOBT Support!

Hey friends! First, we’d like to announce a recent addition to our team. Aviv Nitsan is a talented programmer, as well as a recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s Comparative Literature program, so it’s only natural that he’ll be doing technical customer support here at DOBT. If you find yourself in a coffeeshop in Boulder, Colorado on a weekday, you might just spy Aviv writing code, replying to support requests, or proofreading the horrendous grammar in one of my or Clay’s blogposts.

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OpenRFPs on National Day of Civic Hacking

National Day of Civic Hacking is this weekend, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue the great work that’s been done on OpenRFPs, our community-driven effort to write scrapers for government contracting opportunities. If you’d like to get involved, we’ve written up a current state-of-the-project here: https://gist.github.com/adamjacobbecker/005f3ed586964220c54d

Feel free to join us – either in-person in NYC, Seattle, or Los Angeles, or in our chatroom – and together, we can start to get this important data in the hands of the people.

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Welcome 18F!

Earlier today, the General Services Administration launched 18F, a new digital office inside of the federal government. Judging from the make-up of the organization and their GitHub repos, they’re already off to a great start. These are talented people doing important work.

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Screendoor New Features: Tables & Multi-Page Forms

We just shipped two new features in Screendoor, and we think they’re so awesome that we couldn’t wait to tell you about them.

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OpenRFPs: Day 1

This past weekend, DOBT participated in Code Across 2014, a nationwide hackathon where community members and local governments come together to develop tools and applications that improve their communities. We’ve attended events like this before, but this weekend was special because we had just launched OpenRFPs, our community-based initiative to democratize RFP data across the country.

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OpenRFPs: Open RFP Data for All 50 States

Tomorrow at CodeAcross we’ll be launching our first community-based project, OpenRFPs. The goal is to liberate the data inside of every state RFP listing website in the country. We hope you’ll find your own state’s RFP site, and contribute a parser.

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Welcome aboard, Alex!

Our mission at DOBT is to help government agencies create delightful experiences for their users, and we do this by supplying them with beautiful, modern software and technology talent. Convincing skilled engineers to work in an industry that is known for its beauracracy and sluggishness isn’t easy, but we work hard to create a pipeline where top tier technical talent can work on stuff that matters.

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Screendoor New Features: Messages, Edits, and more!

We’ve been heads-down on our flagship product, Screendoor, our software that makes it easy for you to list projects online – like jobs, RFPs, and apps contests – and find the winning responses. You might think, from our recent blogposts, that all DOBT does is yammer on about procurement reform and build silly Hubot scripts. Not so! Let’s take a look at some of the great new features we’re rolling out in Screendoor.

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Announcing Quick Consults

Today we're launching Quick Consults Whether you need to bring someone in to take a look at an RFP, figure out what's going on with some Ruby code, or work on that strategic plan, we're here to help. And fast.

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Showing Adopta some love

A little over a month ago, we launched Adopta, our version of Code for America's Adopt-a-Hydrant that let anyone set up their own Adopt-a-Anything website. While our original goal was just to see if there would any interest in such an app, we quickly realized that more than just making the app widely available, it was also our duty to see what we could do to improve it.

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Welcome Aboard Sid!

I'm so happy we managed to talk Sid Burgess into joining our team here at the Department. Sid is now the guy that links our great technology to the people who need it.

Sid's been around the space for quite some time (12 years!), and I admire his passion for using the web to improve the lives of everyday people. He's a fire fighter, a former city councilman, a combat medic and the president of a community non-profit. And now he's our new government liaison. I couldn't be more thrilled.

The notion that we can improve government by going upstream and giving people on the inside tools they love, and tools that help make great decisions just got a little more realistic. Welcome aboard, Sid!


Announcing Adopta - SaaS-ifying government software

A while back, before Clay and I had even conceived of DOBT, I tweeted:

Someone needs to create the 37signals of government software.

If you’re familiar with 37signals, you know that they’re behind Basecamp, Campfire, Highrise, and a bunch of other highly-regarded web applications. None of these apps are particular unique – there’s probably at least 10,000 other project management tools out there – but users love these apps because:

  1. They do one thing and do it well
  2. They start out free, and the price scales with the size of your organization
  3. They’re Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), so there’s nothing to install and they’re never out of date.

Our open government community has made some pretty some pretty big strides in the past decade. A lot of the cutting-edge apps and platforms that governments are using are open-source, so anyone can grab the code and deploy an instance for their city. But what happens when someone wants to use these applications, but doesn’t have the technical know-how to take the code, customize it, and host it themselves?

That’s why today we’re launching Adopta, a SaaS version of Code for America’s most-redeployed application, Adopt-a-Hydrant.

adopta screenshot

Adopt a Hydrant is one of CfA’s biggest successes. It was originally developed for the City of Boston in 2011, but the community quickly realized that it had applications beyond just adopting fire hydrants. In 2012, Honolulu launched “Adopt a Siren”, an application that allows citizens to take responsibility for tsunami sirens by checking to ensure their functionality and reporting the status to the City.

Today, Adopta empowers anyone, regardless of coding skills and technology know-how, to create their very own Adopt a Hydrant for their community. Every aspect of the site is customizable – so no matter if you want to adopt hydrants, storm drains, or banana stands, you’ll be able to tweak the website copy and images to fit.

So far this has only been a small side-project of ours, but we’re excited to test the waters and see where we can go with this SaaS-for-government model. If it piques your interest, give us a hand and help test out Adopta!

Screendoor new feature: Custom rating fields

Today we’re launching a new feature in Screendoor: custom review fields. We’ve had this one on our minds for a while, and we think that it will make Screendoor an even more effective tool for reviewing large numbers of applicants.

With all of our features we want to make sure that we keep Screendoor as simple as possible, so when adding customization to the application, we never want to create more work for you, our user. Here’s how it works:

When you create a project in screendoor, we create an overall rating field for you:

default rating fields

This should be enough for most use cases, but if you want to rank your responses on say, a combination of “skill”, “experience”, and “creativity”, it’s as easy as creating those three fields here:

custom rating fields page

This will let your reviews rank each response multiple times, and the system will automatically calculate the average rating across all fields and display it to you.

And that’s just one way to rank responses. You also have the option of reviewing by response field – so you can ask your reviewers to rate a specific section of a response, like so:

response field rating fields

Right now, you have the option between Stars, Red/Yellow/Green, a Number Range, and Free Response. Here’s what they look like, all in a row:

all fields

This should be a ton of help for anyone who is managing a ton of reviewers, or integrating Screendoor with an already-established review process. And it opens up all kinds of possiblities for new features – weighted review fields? Bid discounts for registered vendors? As always, drop us a note to let us know what you think!

What Is The Future Of Open Government?

A couple weeks ago, President Obama announced a new research initiative to map the human brain – making a significant investment of $100 Million Dollars to prevent, treat and cure brain injuries.

This is a website called Sam.gov. It launched late last year, and it’s the central hub responsible for all the databases behind government contracting. The GAO estimates that this website will cost the taxpayer $181 Million dollars.

I’d like to say that this is just a one-off anomaly, but government regularly pays millions of dollars for websites.

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