The collaborative Screendoor platform enables US government departments to process forms more efficiently.

Automation and collaborative tools finding their way into government offices

“Over 9.8 million forms are filled in every year, and the government wastes an insane amount of time processing them – whether they’re paper forms or in PDF format – entering information into a database and then going back to the people concerned,” Joshua Goldstein told the audience at the Bridge SF event which took place in San Francisco in early September. Goldstein is CEO of the Department of Better Technology, a startup which develops software packages designed to make US government administration more efficient.

Goldstein’s fledgling company has come up with a solution to the problem: a platform called Screendoor, which enables people to fill in government forms online. Nothing very new there: WuFoo and Google Forms, to name but two, already provide this service. What is different about Screendoor, however, is that it has collaborative functionality that enables government officials to manage forms smoothly and efficiently, by giving them ratings and statuses. So, for instance, forms requesting financial grants can be classified according to whether they are still waiting to be read, those where the request is being looked at, those that have already been approved and those that have been rejected.

Screendoor also makes it easy for the officials to contact citizens to ask them for additional information or tell them that their request has been approved.

By making it easier for government agencies to process information, Screendoor might well also be helping to stimulate the real economy. Underlined Joshua Goldstein: “Today, when you need a permit to rent out your apartment on Airbnb, you have to go to an office, bring along a stack of paper documents, including proof of insurance cover, etc. Just imagine if you could submit your demand online with all the necessary documents, and receive approval from the authorities without having to go anywhere…” There is still of course the question of who processes the requests. Perhaps we will see administrative chatbots arriving soon?

By Guillaume Renouard