Editing Abilities in DreamAgreement tool
We will attempt to show below that we comply with the requirement of not making unwarranted changes to the agreement after signatures have been added, while also keeping open a possibility for exceptional changes, should there be a need.
If you do not agree with our interpretation, we hope that you can see that we have put serious thought and effort into designing the solution. In fact, the DreamApply software has supported generating Learning Agreements for several years and the new tool combines the accrued experience of 3 years of helping universities solve this problem and generating thousands of Learning Agreements in the process.
We are looking for community feedback in order to decide on how to proceed. At the end, there is link to a poll, to help us decide the further direction of the development.
In a PAPER-based (or PDF for that matter) process, it is intuitive that each time at least one signature is added to the document, there should never be any changes to the document. We leave aside the fact that PDF documents are actually not difficult to forge with Photoshop, something that our cryptographically signed approach is completely immune to.
Even with paper/scanned documents, however, we recognised that it is not too uncommon for universities to need to make changes still, in exceptional circumstances. For example, if the student’s address has changed or there is any other honest mistake, and the signatories agree that this warrants a revised agreement, it is easy to take a new blank sheet, fill and sign the agreement and perhaps even mutually destroy the flawed copy. Problem solved. From our research prior to this, as well as our experience offering a LA generation tool for several years for our clients, it is actually relatively common. Our previous generation tools did not make it easy to make such changes, a shortcoming that was felt by all users and motivating us to correct matters.
With a DIGITAL approach, we believe that the paper-based logic cannot be directly applied. It would, in fact, have been (and still is, should this be required) much easier for us to make the agreement completely frozen once a signature has been added. However, in case there is an exceptional situation to correct some data, the tool would then not allow for this and any such corrections would need to be made again “on paper”, limiting the tools eventual usefulness.
There might also be a process to unfreeze the agreement, perhaps through some adjudicator or as a support request, but we believe that when people can solve problems on their own, it is usually a much better experience.
How we have solved this problem?
Every time there is any change on an agreement, a completely new digital revision of the agreement is created.
Any changes to the agreement (furnished with signatures or not) is immutable – meaning it will never be overwritten.
This allows us, for example, to display you a very comprehensive audit/history log of each and every change that has been made by any party, great for tracking any changes even before signatures have been added. Please see the illustration on the right.
The fact that we keep history of any changes also allows for a 3rd party independent auditor to verify the integrity of the signed agreements. If there has been any illegal changes to any signed agreement, it will be impossible to pass the audit.
We have intentionally set the bar very high for us, in order to provide you with the high level of confidence that is required for such a critical task.
In practice – if there is any change to a signed agreement and a new revision is created, the signatures that have been added at this point become invalid.
In the initial version of the tool, they even disappear the moment you made a change in the document, strictly in line with the above reasoning.
This, however, was found to be unnecessary to some initial users and we instead opted to show the expired signatures, but label them clearly with the text “This signature is for a past revision. See changes since then“, as shown above.
This links again to the aforementioned audit log, helping you to see immediately, what is the reason for the change and which party is responsible for this. In addition, at the top of the document, there is a clear display of the current status of the agreement, listing any parties that have signed the agreement, as well as those that now need to re-sign it to validate the latest revision.
The screenshot below depicts what the student will see in case the sending coordinator has taken the liberty of making some changes after the student has already signed the document. It is clear for the student that he/she needs to re-sign the document.
There are still 2 improvements that we would suggest that we implement:
1) Since the post-signature editing is meant for exceptional changes it would certainly be a good addition to have a warning dialog before a user attempts to change an already-signed document, invalidating all the signatures at this point. We completely agree, that such a drastic step should be less easy to do.
It would probably be enough to deter students from making any cosmetic changes and would limit them to only use this feature in case there is a serious problem with the data that they have entered.
2) There will be a daily reminder that will send you an email every morning if there has been any changes in any of your agreements that you work with. Also there would be a list of agreements that reached the required 3 signatures, so that you can know immediately when some of your agreements are fully signed.
We are also actively thinking about how to make the document frozen in such away that does not limit the usefulness of it. Your feedback to our reasoning above will have a big impact on our further direction of the tool. If the community indeed decides that the exceptional changes are a small problem and you would be better off with completely frozen documents, we are happy to bend the tool to your requirements in a very quick time.
If you wish to help us develop the tool further, please fill this 1-minute feedback for so that we know your position on this matter: