Strategic Overview

StrategyThe problem

Every community faces a similar challenge: there are many different kinds of health, human, and social services that are available to people in need, yet no one way that information about them is produced and shared. Instead, many organizations collect and structure community resource directory data in different ways — yielding redundant, fragmented silos.

As a result, it’s hard to ‘see’ the safety net. Many people never discover services that could help improve their lives. Service providers spend precious time verifying data rather than helping people. And without access to this information, decision-makers struggle to evaluate community health and program effectiveness. This yields underperforming systems that fail people and communities in tragic ways.

The opportunity

Among various shifts towards open data and interoperability in health and human service information systems, a tremendous opportunity recently emerged when proposed a “civic services schema” to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C approved this schema, which is now a de facto standard recognized by search engines and web platforms. This poses a mandate for governments, funders, civic institutions, and technologists to rally together around a shared goal: establish the means for openness and interoperability between the web and conventional systems of information-and-referral.

The plan

We are galvanizing collective action by 1) developing a new lightweight data exchange format — the Human Services Data Specification (aka ‘the Open Referral format’) — while 2) supporting locally-led pilots in which various institutional stakeholders are using this format to exchange open data and develop open platforms.

HSDS is designed to be interoperable with existing and emerging standards; it will be improved and validated through iterative feedback from our pilots.

Our ‘reference implementation’ is the open-source Ohana API, which exposes HSDS data; in the next cycle of Open Referral, Ohana will evolve into a toolkit that enables users to collaboratively edit and validate resource data.

See Technology Overview for more.

Anticipated benefits

  • Decreased costs of data production.
  • Improved quality of data.
  • Improved access to data through web search and an ecosystem of tools and applications.
  • Improved service delivery.
  • Better information for policy-making and resource allocation.
  • Healthier people and more resilient communities.


Read more in our Documentation.

Join our community group here.


2 thoughts on “Strategic Overview

  1. The “in our documentation” link on the /strategic-overview page 404s, doesn’t properly link to the documentation page

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