Strategic Overview

The 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.

Human service providers are typically not paid by their clients – nor are they typically funded on a per-client basis, at least not enough to compensate for their costs – so they lack strong incentives to spend time updating all these difference directories. As a result, even amid many well-intentioned efforts to build new ‘centralized’ resource directories, we end up with more and more sources of less and less reliable information.

So it remains 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

The Open Referral Initiative has taken a new approach to this old problem: by enabling interoperability among resource directory information systems, and facilitating cooperation among them.

We’ve developed a data exchange format that has been approved by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems as an industry standard for resource directory interoperability. Now all community resource information systems can ‘speak’ a common language, enabling this critical public information to be published once and accessed simultaneously in many ways. This is how the internet became the World Wide Web – and we’re taking the same approach to our safety net.

The Mission

We are galvanizing collective action to ensure that resource directory information is produced and shared as a public good. We pursue this mission in three ways:

  • Developing data exchange standards (the Human Services Data Specifications, aka ‘the Open Referral format’) that enable interoperability across various technologies and institutional contexts.
  • Supporting efforts to produce and share standardized resource data – including development of interoperable, open source tools, collaborative data partnerships, and open data business models.
  • Fostering a community of practice dedicated to the provision of community resource data as a public good. (You can join our community forum here!)

Anticipated Benefits

  • Decreased costs of resource data production.
  • Improved resource data quality.
  • Improved access to resource data through a diversity of channels.
  • Improved service delivery.
  • Better intelligence for research, analysis, advocacy, policy-making and resource allocation.
  • Healthier people and more resilient communities.

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