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.
The following is a transcript of a Keynote address by DOBT Founder Clay Johnson to local, state, and federal officials of Mexico on February 20th, 2015.
I think there’s a bit of a false promise in the way we think about innovation in government. The current thinking is: “if we bring in private sector innovators, then they’ll fix the government with their whiz-bang ideas.”
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.
For my first full-time design job, I was the only designer in a startup of about 15 people. Five of us sat in a horseshoe configuration in one room of the office, backs to each other, facing the windows:
Even though we were five feet from each other, we rarely swiveled our chairs around to talk. Instead, we mostly communicated through protracted Basecamp threads or private IM conversations. At this stage in my career, I had accumulated a lot of UX knowledge through books and blog posts, but I hadn’t put it into practice. Instead of turning around and having a conversation with my co-workers, I spent a lot of my time writing condescending, essay-length Basecamp posts. Most of these posts were attempts to educate my co-workers about what “good design” was, or to persuade them that even their most minute product decisions should be handled differently.
Of course, I now realize this was the worst possible approach I could have taken. Even as I invested hours of each day writing about the value of good design, I knew it was counterproductive. In fact, to avoid being on the receiving end of my rants, colleagues were shutting me out of meetings and ignoring the design phase altogether.
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:
Falling in love w/ Screendoor from @dobtco ...— Sean Park (@parkparadigm) May 22, 2014
Every time I suggest a new Screendoor feature to @dobtco, it turns out it already exists. It’s a pretty great procurement/hiring platform.— Waldo Jaquith (@waldojaquith) June 20, 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.
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!
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
If you’re familiar with the Department of Better Technology, you know that something that sets us apart from other government-focused technology firms is that we build hosted platforms. That means there’s nothing to install, and that setting up a new agency or organization takes minutes, not days. This allows us to offer a completely free trial of our applications – something we think is a necessity when selling software. We want our customers to buy Screendoor because they’ve used and loved it, not because they looked at a carefully-crafted marketing page, or a salesperson promised it would change their life.
For the past year, these free trials would last for seven days. Enough time, we thought, for a potential user to set up a form in Screendoor, collect some responses, and show their colleagues what it can do. Even though this length of time is often seen in the startup world, we have realized that in our line of work, it is nowhere near enough time to really evaluate a product. Today we’re announcing that starting now, Screendoor (and our other apps) will come with a free trial that never expires.
Why the change? We want potential customers to be able to use Screendoor for a real-world project, and we realize that in government, these projects don’t always happen overnight. We’re well aware of how long the government purchasing process can take, and we don’t want to be in the position of restricting an agency’s access to our software just because we’re waiting for the puchasing department to deal with payment.
Our hope is with these extended free trials, we’ll be able to give a lot more folks a chance to really see how Screendoor can improve their agency’s communication, workflows, and efficiency. If you haven’t tried it yet, there’s no better time to sign up and see what it’s all about. If you already have an expired free trial, just get in touch and we’ll put you on our new “Free forever” plan.
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!
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.”
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.
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.