Department of Better Technology

We make great software that helps governments and non-profits better serve their communities.

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to offer Screendoor as a cornerstone element of the data production workflow, replacing brittle spreadsheets and outdated database management systems.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.

Written By
Joshua Goldstein

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.

Read more →

Written By
Josh Rubenoff

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.

status

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

labels

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

Manage and delegate requests.

mentions

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

Keep your citizens informed…

confirm

…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.

Written By
Kari Mah

Using Turbolinks to hack JavaScript's beforeunload

Want to jump straight to the JavaScript library? https://github.com/ajb/beforeunload.js

If you’ve ever implemented auto-save behavior in a web app, you’re probably familiar with JavaScript’s beforeunload event, which is the “hook” that lets you stop a user before they leave a page. This is what it looks like in Chrome:

beforeunload alert

Read more →

Written By
Adam Becker

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!

Written By
Adam Becker

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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Written By
Kari Mah

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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Written By
Joshua Goldstein

Understanding the Culture of No

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.”

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Written By
Clay Johnson

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 →

Written By
Adam Becker

Managing design remotely

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:

Drawing of horseshoe desk configuration.

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.

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Written By
Josh Rubenoff

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