Department of Better Technology

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

Defeating the Culture of No, Part I

Have you ever sat in a meeting, tried to move things forward, and instead of a constructive meeting about possibilities, it’s become an open session on why anything proposed isn’t possible? Have you ever worked in an environment where most of the meetings you’ve had end up this way?

Chances are, if you’ve ever worked in government or you’ve ever worked in the enterprise, you have. Whether it’s just that one cynical guy in the corner, your general counsel’s office, or, well, you, anybody who has worked for a reasonable period of time has encountered this kind of culture. I call it the “Culture of No.”

The Culture of No is a pervasive culture that’s awful to work in. It’s a culture of mitigation. It’s the culture that prefers short-term preservation at the expense of long-term lifespan, and it works tirelessly to protect incumbency above all else.

The Culture of No is not native to government, but it thrives especially well in democratic governments and regulated bodies. But the Culture of No can thrive anywhere it’s not kept in check: your local non-profit, a small start-up, city hall, or a Fortune 10 business. At its best, the Culture of No provides friction for obviously good ideas to move forward and thrive. At its worst, it grinds at our ability to get things done.

So what can be done about the Culture of No? How do we get past it?

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Written By
Clay Johnson

Three ways your form confuses your users—and how you can fix them

Filling out a form is hardly a pleasant experience, but a clear and simple form can go a long way in easing the pain. Everyone wins: respondents complete it without any issues, and you, in turn, avoid chasing down missing data from incomplete forms. You get exactly the information you need.

We’ve helped our customers improve their forms in Screendoor, and we’re ready to share what we’ve learned. Inspired by the “teardowns” on User Onboarding, we plan to regularly suggest improvements to government forms we find online.

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Written By
Kari Mah

Get a live demo of Screendoor for hiring and fellowships

If you’ve ever sat on a hiring or fellowship selection committee, you know how difficult it can be to identify top candidates. Keeping track of application materials. Delegating application review to your colleagues. Taking note, at each round, of which candidates have made the cut.

Hiring and fellowship selection with Screendoor can bring order to chaos. Take it from our following customers who use Screendoor exclusively for this purpose:

This Wednesday, join DOBT CEO Joshua Goldstein for a live demo of Screendoor. You’ll learn how we can help you and your colleagues work together to find your dream candidate from a pool of applications.

It’s free. And it’s only 30 minutes, including time for questions at the end.

So if you have 30 minutes to spare on Wednesday, May 13th at 10am PST (1pm EST), head over to http://join.me/departmentofbetter.

See you there!

Written By
Kari Mah

Why your agency should consider a “procurement pilot”

rfpez screenshot

Pictured: RFP-EZ, a pilot project in federal IT procurement.

If you’re a follower of DOBT and our blog, you know that we’re a bit obsessed about government procurement – in fact, some of our most widely-shared posts have been on the subject. But when Clay and I first met in 2012 during our Presidential Innovation Fellowship, procurement wasn’t discussed outside traditional government circles, especially not by the “civic tech” or “civic hacking” community.

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Written By
Adam Becker

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.

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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

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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

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