Department of Better Technology

Making government software awesome.

Creating an Unbelievable Citizen Experience, Part 3: Many hands make awesome work

This post is the third in our “Creating an Unbelievable Citizen Experience” series, highlighting the features and benefits of our flagship product, Screendoor.

If you’ve been following along with this mini-series, you’ve heard our pitch over and over again: the most drastic way you can improve the citizen experience is by making the necessary interactions with government quicker and easier, and that Screendoor is designed to accomplish just that. But did you know that in addition to saving time for your citizens, Screendoor can also help you and your staff save time and money?

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Written By
Adam Becker

Creating an Unbelievable Citizen Experience, Part 2: Pick the best in 5 minutes or less

This post is the second in our “Creating an Unbelievable Citizen Experience” series, highlighting the features and benefits of our flagship product, Screendoor.

We’re on a mission to drastically improve citizen experience, but we’re taking it on from behind the scenes, not in social networks or discussion forums. You can “engage your audience” all day long, but if basic functionality is still clunky and your employees are still spending valuable time on cumbersome tasks, your citizens will remain less than impressed. So last week we talked about getting your forms online quickly and easily, and now we’ll show you how Screendoor can help you spend time wisely by smart sorting and easily evaluating your responses.

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Written By
Sid Burgess

Creating an Unbelievable Citizen Experience, Part 1: The 15 Minute Form

This post is the first in our “Creating an Unbelievable Citizen Experience” series, highlighting the features and benefits of our flagship product, Screendoor.

When agencies consider ways to improve user experience for citizens, their thoughts often turn to public engagement in the form of social media and other outreach strategies. While admirable, these communication efforts fail to address the more basic, everyday interactions that citizens have with their governments. Things like applying for licenses, permits, or positions usually involve an unavoidable form.

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Written By
Sid Burgess

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.

Written By
Adam Becker

Why We Design for Bureaucrats First

What is it, exactly, that’s so frustrating about a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles? Is it the color of paint on the waiting room’s walls? Or their choice of pens for the written tests? Does your exasperation with the local DMV have anything to do with the place’s design or aesthetic?

I bet not. I bet your frustration doesn’t have to do with the quality of your experience at the DMV. Your chief complaint with the DMV is probably that you have to go there at all. The DMV could be as nice a five star hotel and we’d still find a reason to complain about it if we have to interrupt our day to go there. If people are compelled by law to take time away from their work and families, no amount of “designing a great customer experience” is going to keep frustration at bay.

The default assumption in the civic technology community is that people want to engage with government. This is an assumption that needs to be tested. I believe that most people want to engage with their government about as much as they want to engage with a hospital. Which is to say: we don’t want to be there, but when we have to go, we want everything to work efficiently and with a minimum of hassle.

At DOBT we build tools for bureaucrats, not for citizens. That’s why our first big product is Screendoor, which makes it easy for government to capture and process information. For most people, it’s not the voting booth or the town council meeting that defines their primary relationship with government; it’s the form. Screendoor makes that form, and all the processes behind it, a fantastic experience – but most importantly, a shorter and more manageable one. When the work of bureaucrats is streamlined, citizens benefit.

Now approaching its first birthday, Screendoor is being used in all kinds of ways, from revamping procurement practices to hiring innovation fellows to granting musicians permits to perform at their local farmers market. Screendoor completely eliminates cumbersome PDF forms and the complex and expensive computer systems that sit behind them.

The bulky, costly, and unreliable “enterprise” approach to so much government technology today is demonstrably failing its stakeholders, from the healthcare.gov debacle to the Pentagon’s pending $11 billion health care records catastrophe. Screendoor helps small towns and large federal agencies turn million dollar problems into thousand dollar problems. That’s the savings you get from bureaucrat-oriented technology built with modern tools and agile development.

If you’re thinking about new ways technology can help you engage with your constituents while saving money, a great starting place is your own office. How can bureaucrats work together towards the goal of providing a better service experience to citizens? Before focusing on your organization’s blog or social media presence, think about the online interaction that your citizens really want to have with your office: a clear, easy-to-complete form that gets their problem solved quickly.

With the right tools in the hands of bureaucrats, we believe that government can deliver great service – without the wait in line.

Written By
Clay Johnson

New Service Status Page

Last week, we experienced a small period of downtime due to a network issue in our underlying data center. While small incidents like this one can happen to anyone, we realized that we needed a way to keep our customers informed about the status of our services. I’m happy to announce that now, you can see current and historical uptime data for our apps at status.dobt.co, as well as subscribe to be notified of future outages and planned maintenance.

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Written By
Adam Becker

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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Written By
Clay Johnson

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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Written By
Adam Becker

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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Written By
Adam Becker

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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Written By
Clay Johnson

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