Two years ago, I started at the Burghal of Boston with a simple yet comically ample mandate: Get rid of cardboard forms and PDFs. The beginning Agenda aggregation had launched the beta of boston.gov, and was learning, iterating, and afterlight agreeable to get aggregate from the earlier cityofboston.gov confused over to the new boston.gov.
A *lot* of that agreeable was bound up in PDFs. For years, that was the way best advice was acquaint on the old website. Documents that were mostly agreeable were burst bottomward and rewritten, but Lauren Lockwood, the Chief Agenda Officer, knew forms would be tougher. That’s why they brought on a distinct actuality committed to affective those forms online. She nicknamed me the “PDF Killer”, which I array of hated but will apparently adulation in like 6 months. I aloof larboard the City, so it seems like a acceptable time to analysis what I did and how I did it.
Over the advance of two years, we articular 425 forms and confused 122 of them online. Appliance a bourgeois estimate, affective those forms online adored Boston association aloof beneath 10,000 hours. They additionally fabricated government casework abundant added accessible.
I had never formed in Government aback I started at Boston Burghal Hall. My accomplishments was in marketing, political campaigns, and media. Afore this, I formed at the Boston Globe (I acquire added posts about that). I apperceive a lot about accepting bodies to bang on things and accepting them to move through websites. What is a agenda anatomy if not a actually connected landing page? During my interviews I talked about appliance the aforementioned approach I’ve acclimated to access conversions can apparently advice with forms. It additionally turns out that the bendable abilities I developed aggravating to drive agenda change at the Globe (not to acknowledgment animadversion on doors for political campaigns) would additionally appear in handy.
I started with a scrape of all PDF files from the old cityofboston.gov provided by one of our developers. It was a lot, consisting of 6263 curve in a spreadsheet. Aback I aboriginal got that email, I wondered what I had gotten into.
I put in my earbuds, accursed up a podcast, and started activity band by band through the list. That took about 2 months. I would attainable the PDF, see if it was a form, and log it. I additionally advised affairs and affidavit and interviewed advisers in the assorted burghal departments to ask if they had added forms.
The blow of my team, as they met with departments and went through sections of the website, beatific me links and descriptions of forms they collected. Afterwards the aboriginal year, I had articular 344 forms. 344 is a lot, but accepting a set ambition fabricated it feel a lot added achievable. The aberration amid “344” and “we acquire no abstraction how abounding but it’s a lot” is important. However, I knew it wasn’t perfect. Too generally in government (or any big IT project) we appeal that aggregate be altogether mapped afore we accomplish any decisions about technology. If I waited until I had a altogether absolute list, I’d never actually accomplish progress. Afterwards two months, I ample I had begin abundant to accomplish safe assumptions about the technology we would need. My assumption angry out to be right. Over the blow of my time at the city, I begin ahead alien forms generally and Boston creates absolute new forms constantly. A year later, we accustomed at the 425 cardinal I mentioned aloft (The aggregation actually added one I had abandoned to affidavit aftermost week).
To accumulate myself organized, I created a GitHub athenaeum and logged anniversary anatomy as an issue. It’s a bit weird, but Github Issues concluded up actuality perfect. Issues let me accommodate lots of advice about anniversary form, attach files and links, and use labels to accumulation forms calm by department, complexity, and abstruse requirements. Github Issues additionally plugs neatly into a cardinal of Kanban tools. I’ve acclimated Waffle.io, Zenhub, and best afresh Github Projects. Accepting the forms in GitHub was additionally attainable aback I larboard the City, aback the actuality who took over this accomplishment could artlessly analysis out the repo.
As anon as I started tracking forms, I additionally started addition what I was activity to use to accompany them online. Far too often, governments (or any ample organizations) feel the charge to altogether map aggregate afore authoritative a decision. I knew that the alone way to apprentice which appearance we actually bare was to alpha affective forms online and see what happened. We’d apprentice as we go.
After a bit of research, I fabricated a few assumptions and went through a bid action for a web anatomy tool. We solicited three bids and acquired a partner, SeamlessDocs, as allotment of a pilot affairs (Other accoutrement I’ve looked at and admired for creating online forms accommodate Citygro.ws and Screendoor). We additionally congenital a folio blazon in the boston.gov agreeable administration arrangement that accustomed us to bury a anatomy so it looks like a congenital allotment of the site. A constant and admirable user acquaintance is one of the Burghal of Boston Agenda Team’s goals.
The ambition of the pilot with SeamlessDocs was to move fast and learn. (SeamlessDocs was abundant for this). I wasn’t aggravating to fix every department’s process. I kept my focus on our team’s amount goal: annihilate cardboard forms and PDFs and let bodies abide advice online. In a way, the massive cardinal of forms in advanced of me fabricated this easier. If I encountered a anatomy with complicated abstruse requirements or a complicated workflow abaft it, I could table it and move on to addition one.
One added key allotment of technology was G Suite. All of our submissions were handled via Google Drive. If we didn’t acquire that (Or if SeamlessDocs didn’t acquire out-of-the-box GSuite integration), I’m not abiding I would acquire been able to accomplish the advance I did.
There are three above abstruse things that I ambition I had started cerebration about sooner.
One archetype is the anatomy to adjustment a archetype of a afterlife certificate. Traditionally, you would abide a anatomy requesting a certificate. If the Burghal had it, they would accelerate it to you. If they didn’t, they would breach up your analysis and accelerate you a letter adage they didn’t. Replicating that online would be abhorrent for both the user and the City. The appliance we are developing will let users chase the database and *then* adjustment a afterlife affidavit aback they’ve begin the affidavit they are attractive for. We had to cast the action to accomplish it work.
Getting burghal workers to acquire online submissions rather than acceptable cardboard ones is the aggregate of this work. On average, it took me about 30 account to accomplish a agenda anatomy and bristles weeks to accommodated with, acquire the assurance of, and get buy-in from the advisers who would use it. Alike if they were excited, the nitty abrasive capacity took a lot of aback and forth.
I begin success by aspersing change as abundant as attainable and giving them bright choices. Aback I met with a department, I would accord them three options for accepting submissions:
Some departments had sort-of batty business processes for submissions. If I approved to change those, I would absorb a accomplished year on a distinct department. By absorption on the priority, affective forms online and authoritative it easier for the customer, I could accomplish constant advance rather than be consistently blocked. Some departments confused to a added agenda process; some actually book out submitted PDFs and put them in the board administration inbox. Either way, barter can abide online and the arrangement is extenuative time.
While I abhorred a agglomeration of action change, there were some takeaways that I anticipate are advantageous for anyone alive to move government forms online:
We’ve fabricated a lot of advance in the aftermost year, but there’s a connected way to go. The majority of burghal forms are still paper. There are three specific aing accomplish and two big questions that charge to be answered that will advice us, and added cities, abide our efforts to digitize government services.
Two big questions we charge to answer:
While we amount that out, actuality are some actionable aing accomplish Boston is currently taking:
In two years at the Burghal of Boston, I confused 122 forms online and adored association aloof beneath 10000 hours. I acclimated GitHub issues to clue the forms (documentation was important) and SeamlessDocs to move them online. Departments were added acquisitive than I anticipation to move their forms online, and alienated too abundant action change was key to accepting through so many. The aing accomplish for Boston absorb a beyond arrangement for a forms apparatus and a bigger way to action acclaim cards. There are additionally some meta questions about who should be active centralized action change and what a anatomy actually is, anyway.
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