Department of Better Technology

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

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

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!

Written By
Adam Becker

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:

Written By
Adam Becker

Why our free trials no longer have an expiration date

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.

Written By
Adam Becker

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!

Written By
Adam Becker

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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Written By
Aviv Nitsan

Making Government More Effective and Inclusive

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.


Written By
Joshua Goldstein

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 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 →

Written By
Clay Johnson

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 →

Written By
Adam Becker

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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Written By
Adam Becker

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