Adam Becker

With Screendoor, DOBT makes simple web forms key to better government

Screendoor

Image: DOBT

After Adam Becker and Clay Johnson completed their stints as White House Presidential Innovation Fellows working together on Project RFP-EZ, they were inspired to scale IT simplicity so that governments everywhere would no longer have to deal with traditional mediocre software solutions most legacy vendors provide.

That inspiration culminated into Department of Better Technology, a startup focused simply on building “great software for government.”

DOBT recently deployed its first product, Screendoor, aimed at making it easier for governments to create online forms to better manage incoming data and engage with citizens.

Becker shares some insights into the mission behind DOBT, Screendoor and why it’s so important for government.

What’s the background and inspiration for starting DOBT?

DOBT was born from Clay’s and my experience as Presidential Innovation Fellows. We had both worked on “civic technology” before, but neither of us had worked inside of government, and when we saw first-hand the terrible software that our governments run on, we basically said to each other, “we’ve gotta figure out a way to work on this.”

There’s obviously a few different routes you can take, but we felt that we’d be the most effective if we started a company like DOBT, where our software can be used by all government agencies, big and small.

Why focus on Screendoor as your first product?

We cover this in a bit in these two blog posts.

Basically, the civic technology community has been mostly focused on engagement, and thinking about things from the perspective of the citizen. It turns out that the root of this problem, that people don’t want to engage with their government, is that the current experience of engaging with government sucks.

Most people interact with their government through the interface of a form, and a really ugly one. It often involves printing, signing, faxing and waiting. And once that form is submitted to a government agency, it’s no easier on their end to manage those incoming responses.

Our reason for focusing on Screendoor is really two-fold:

  1. We can help government agencies create a better experience for the citizens they serve
  2. We can save time and money for those agencies by making their review process more efficient, and helping organize their data

What are Screendoor’s key features?

Frontend

We start with all of the basic “form builder” features, similar to what you’d find inside of Wufoo or Google Forms. You can add text fields, checkboxes, file inputs, etc. For users responding to forms, we automatically save their drafts, which is nice when you’ve got a long government form that you’d like to work on over multiple sittings.

Backend

The backend “review interface” is where Screendoor really shines. We offer a bunch of ways to manage your incoming responses:

  • You can assign custom rating fields (like a star-rating, or 1-10 number range) and collaboratively rank responses. We’ll total up the averages automatically.
  • You can add statuses and labels to create a custom workflow. For example, we run our hiring process through Screendoor, and applicants flow through “Incoming,” “Interviewing,” “Offer made,” and “Hired” statuses.
  • You can send batch messages to subsets of your responders, automatically merging in variables from their response. Imagine you’re running an apps contest, and have just moved the winning entries to a “Won” status. Screendoor lets you easily send a personalized message to each entrant, letting them know that they’ve won your contest.

What plans do you have for the future?

We’re focused on making Screendoor more robust, easier to use, and useful for even more use cases, and we hope that by doing these things, it’ll also help us get it into the hands of more and more government agencies.

Oh, and it’s not the most exciting thing by far, but we’re looking forward to meeting more and more security & compliance regulations. It sounds boring, but it’s something that can prevent certain folks inside government from taking advantage of an app like Screendoor.

For GovHub, all politics is personal

GovHub

Source: GovHub

When no one in Nick Gaines’ UC Berkeley freshman political science class could answer the question “Who is your state senator?,” he tuned in, dropped out and started GovHub with co-founder Adam Becker. Here, Becker shares more about their pursuit of the American dream and how they want to help citizens better engage with their elected officials.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

GovHub provides a personalized platform for citizens to learn about and interact with their officials in each level of government.

What problems does GovHub solve?

For government officials:

  • Lack of name recognition
  • Antiquated, costly public opinion polls
  • Inefficient methods for communicating with their constituents

For citizens:

  • Hard to actually find who represents you in each level of government (to find out who my city councilperson is, I have to click through about ten pages on my city’s website, including a 2mb PDF file)
  • Once you know who represents you, no good way to see what they’re doing in office
  • Communication with representatives often feels futile and is hard to get a personalized response from

What are its key features?

  • Enter your address and see the officials that represent you at each level of government.
  • See their profiles, voting records, social media updates.
  • Interact with them on our discussion board, which uses crowdsourced moderation to determine the issues that are most important to an official’s constituents. (We have Kriss Worthington from the Berkeley City Council doing our first Q+A on April 12th.)

…and some really neat things planned for the future.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

GovHub will always be free for its users. In the future we plan to charge government officials (and candidates) for the different services that can connect them to their constituents.

How can those interested connect with you?