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Rewiring Government

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

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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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Introducing our podcast, Rewiring Government

Every day, we talk to people in government who are interested in pushing their city, state or federal agency to become a better provider of digital services. They frequently ask us for advice and we are happy to share.

One thing struck us recently: despite living and breathing GovTech, we know only a fraction of the stories and hard-won lessons from our colleagues working in the guts of government to make change.

That’s why we’re going to try something new: the Rewiring Government podcast. Starting with the Presidential Innovation Fellows, the Code for America fellows, and other GovTech leaders, we’ll dig deep to identify how change in government actually happens.

Rewiring Government will feature:

  • Big Thinking and Implementation. We want to hear stories from people who are willing to both think big and get their hands dirty with the implementation details.

  • Optimism and Earnestness. We want to explore how to navigate the institutional pressures aligned against change makers. It’s easy to be cynical in these contexts, but we won’t be.

  • Operationally Relevant Advice. Every experience is unique and idiosyncratic, but we are convinced that there are generalizable lessons and an audience that is hungry to hear them. Beyond technical best practices, we want to hear what it takes to make an implementation a success.

We’re also excited about this podcast because we think it can be a first cut of history of Obama-era GovTech innovation. So much has happened at every level of government since 2009, so as we enter the last year or so of this particular chapter of GovTech, we think this podcast can help capture these important lessons.

I really enjoyed speaking with our first two guests. Right now, you can hear Justin Erlich, the Data and Technology Advisor to California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Soon, we’ll have Rachel Lunsford, former product manager for the Blue Button at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Enjoy!

Interview: Justin Erlich on gaining insights from open data

Quote from Justin Erlich, excerpted from the transcript below.

In the first episode of our podcast, Joshua Goldstein, our CEO, talks to Justin Erlich, the Data and Technology Advisor to California Attorney General Kamala Harris. We discuss Kamala Harris’ launch of OpenJustice, one of the most high-profile criminal justice transparency initiatives in the country, especially relevant given the public debate around racial bias in policing.

Use the player above to listen, or subscribe! Just add https://dobtco.libsyn.com/rss to your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to subscribe on iTunes and Google Play soon. And if you like this episode, tell your friends.

A lightly edited transcript is below.

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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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